“The best place to find oil is where it has been found already” has never been truer than it is today. More than 70% of global oil and gas production comes from fields that are more than 30 years old. Mature fields are essential to helping operators meet their objectives during low-price environments such as the one we are now experiencing. In depressed markets, operators increasingly turn their attention to high-value return on existing assets that meet the price threshold. Mature fields are predictable in terms of both production and revenue. Infrastructure is in place. The reserves are booked; they just need to be produced and converted to cash.
However, operational, technical and economic challenges also are magnified in mature fields. Contrary to the notion that the life of a producing asset ends when production runs out, the reality is that the life of the asset ends when profit runs out. The role of service providers in helping to optimize production—and thus, the revenue stream—while lowering operating costs is crucial to revitalizing mature assets economically at lower oil prices.
But what exactly is that role? And what costs are we talking about? Artificial lift presents an excellent example. Every mature asset will require artificial lift at some point, and simply procuring—and providing—an artificial lift system will likely boost production temporarily. But optimizing the asset by adding incremental production while reducing lifting costs over time requires a holistic approach, with service companies viewed and treated as trusted advisers. This in turn requires openness and superb communications.
A clear understanding of the asset requires knowledge about the reservoir characteristics and behavior, including the production history. It is imperative to have production data at the outset to understand where the reservoir is in its life. Assessing the current performance of the asset helps identify opportunities to increase production or lower the lifting cost per barrel.
Detailed technical and economic evaluations can then be performed to develop the right artificial lift systems for the right applications. What pressure drawdown is needed? How many pump stages, what type of horsepower in the motor, buildup of scale or other solids—these are among the variables that go into designing artificial lift systems. The answers to these questions and others will help the team select the best design for the specific application and assess how it will impact the field.
Optimal results are impossible without optimal design, and optimal design is impossible without accurate, granular information.
Openness and sharing of information continues to be crucial for flawless execution in the field. Both adviser and advisee must know and understand the objectives and variables to effectively monitor the system and its operation over time, and to be able to make adjustments that will extend system runlife and incrementally improve production over time. Even when the artificial lift system fails—and they all do, eventually—there is an opportunity to further optimize operations through collaborative failure analysis.
I have witnessed the benefits that can accrue from this type of approach. In a large EOR project in a very mature field with hundreds of electric submersible pumps, a close working relationship and constant web-enabled monitoring of operations improved incremental production in 2015 while saving the operator more than $7.5 million by reducing downtime and improving runlife.
The lowest price is not always the best value for mature assets. The best results and value come from an advisory operator-service company relationship and a shared, proactive approach that enables a holistic understanding of the asset, business objectives, the economic threshold, the application, the design, and operational approach to deliver a solution that meets the unique requirements of every operator and field.
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