Presented by:

E&P logo

Editor's note: This article appears in the E&P newsletter. Subscribe here.

In hydraulic fracturing operations, operators and oilfield service (OFS) companies need a reliable method to relieve overpressure events to protect workers and equipment. Smart technologies can accomplish both objectives while reducing operational costs.

In today’s oil field, operators and service companies must dig deeper to reduce their costs without sacrificing performance or safety. Oil and gas investment dollars are more difficult to obtain as the world emerges from the pandemic, forcing operators to rely on cash reserves for production activity. Limited outside investment creates a new commitment for operators to strategically assess processes and protocols to identify sustainable ways to increase efficiencies in the field while maintaining a safe environment.

Simul-frac operations

This is increasingly challenging as companies continue to push their equipment harder and pump longer hours. No matter the source, nonproductive time (NPT) threatens profitability. Given operators’ continuous quest to identify new ways to gain efficiencies, the new simul-frac completion technique has gained popularity. 

Rather than make small improvements in certain parts of a conventional fracturing operation, simul-frac operations enable companies to complete more stages in less time, which significantly reduces time on location. Normally on a multi-well pad, companies can only pump one well at a time. With the new simul-frac completion technique, companies can pump two horizontal wells at the same time with a single fleet, which immediately doubles pumping time. By eliminating the typical idle time inherent in pumping a single well, companies can maximize lateral footage gains as well as savings. And these efficiency gains can be substantial. Rystad Energy recently reported that simul-frac operations increase efficiencies by 60% compared to zipper frac projects. 

SPM Automated ARC system
The SPM SafeEdge ARC system is a field-tested smart emergency nitrogen system that is designed to quickly reduce valve component replacement kit expenses and maintenance costs. (Source: SPM Oil & Gas, a Caterpillar company)

A case for smart technology

Regardless of the completion technique used, operators and service companies must have a reliable method to set relief valves and monitor treating-line pressure. Overpressure events create safety risks for personnel and can cause maintenance costs to rise. If iron is overpressured, it can break, which can lead to NPT and increased expenses.

While the simul-frac technique enables companies to complete stages faster, it requires a near doubling of equipment, including relief valves. Smart technologies, like the SPM SafeEdge automated relief valve control (ARC) system, can eliminate the need to run two separate valves.

An OFS company began using the simul-frac completions technique in South Texas with a six-well pad configuration to enable it to double its pumping time. However, the solution the company used to set its relief valves and monitor treating-line pressure was costly, as it required two separate systems. It was also slower acting and difficult to set, which led to more pressure spikes.

Upon installing the ARC System, the company was able to run two separate valves at two separate pressures using the same controller, as compared to its previous solution, which required two distinct systems. 

Additionally, the ARC system triggered the company’s system to react as quickly as 5 ms, compared to the 40-ms reaction time it previously experienced.

Over a four- to six-month period, the company witnessed its valve triggered 200 times. The company experienced a pressure relief event during this time frame as well. Each time the valve popped, company personnel received a real-time graphed report of the high-speed data 30 seconds before and 30 seconds after the event via email, which also broadcasted to a web portal without human interaction.

To ensure site safety, the company popped the valve twice a day to test the system at each shift change. This proved to be an invaluable preventative safety measure that lasted beyond the entire job, before requiring re-kitting the valve.

The company experienced several benefits:

  • Its nitrogen valves lasted 50x longer, which enabled the company to use only 1.5 valve kits per year;
  • It saved time, as crews only needed to digitally change two numbers: set value and reset value; 
  • It prevented iron from breaking; and
  • Peak pressure remained low.

The SPM SafeEdge ARC system is a field-tested smart emergency nitrogen system that is designed to quickly reduce valve component replacement kit expenses and maintenance costs, while enhancing safety in the field. Its third-generation technology dramatically reduces the amount of nitrogen used and eliminates chatter, ensuring valves open and close as programmed, which significantly increases the life of the nitrogen valve.

It also opens its nitrogen valve faster than hydraulics, which lowers the maximum pressure spike for each event. This could mean the difference between having to take all iron in for inspection, which can result in a minimum of four days of downtime, and continuing pumping. Additionally, the backpack-sized electric-powered design can save costs and time by eliminating the need for a trailer, forklift, auxiliary power, fuel engines and heated tarps during extreme weather.

Looking ahead

The current realities of the market, significant pressures on costs and demand for higher pressures and longer pumping cycles have made it a priority of every oil and gas producer to generate greater efficiencies and performance than ever before. As companies strive to reduce completion times and well costs, new techniques such as simul-frac may be explored. Protecting people and equipment is paramount, and smart emergency nitrogen systems can safeguard both.

About the author:

Collin Garner is a product manager for the SPM Oil & Gas flow control product line. He is responsible for supporting product strategy and marketing, and he is based in Fort Worth, Texas. He joined SPM Oil & Gas in 2011 and started in the rotational engineering program before moving to a flow engineering role, where he developed a strong technical background. In 2015 Garner transitioned to product management, where he has managed a variety of pump and flow product lines.