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Amid global efforts promoting a lower-carbon future and a sustainable energy mix, the oil and gas industry is experiencing a shift around the importance of ESG reporting and accountability. Largely driven by widespread demand from the investment community, upstream and midstream operators are quickly finding ways to adopt an ESG mindset and incorporate relevant business metrics into their growth plans. By analyzing decisions at the wellhead from this perspective, producers and service companies can implement artificial lift technologies to achieve immediate and long-term sustainable advantages.
Increased scrutiny from financial markets has incentivized the industry to implement ESG reporting practices and performance metrics. For example, there has been a proliferation of performance-based sustainability-linked bonds, loans and ESG funds. These markets are expected to continue growing, and ESG will continue to have a greater impact on producers’ access to capital, going from a nice-to-have feature to a must-have prerequisite.
The adoption of ESG imperatives, particularly those aimed at reversing and mitigating environmental impacts, also support the public image of oil and gas as a critical part of the energy transition. Hopefully, with more companies communicating their efforts to support the E in ESG, consumer perceptions of oil and gas as sustainable fuels will improve.
Measuring environmental impact
The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) has published industry-specific accounting standards to help companies navigate topics relevant to their business.
As the organization defines it, “Sustainability accounting reflects the governance and management of a company's environmental and social impacts arising from production of goods and services as well as its governance and management of the environmental and social capitals necessary to create long-term value.”
From the standpoint of measuring environmental impact, some of the topics covered in the SASB standards for the oil and gas E&P sector include greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions, air quality, water management and biodiversity.
To align with the industry standards, producers should focus their sustainability efforts where they have the greatest impact on these metrics. Therefore, effective environmental stewardship goes beyond the boardroom to drive sustainable decision-making where it matters most—at the wellhead.
Sustainability in artificial lift
To demonstrate how producers can start applying a sustainable mindset in their artificial lift practices, let’s examine some of the environmental benefits associated with electric submersible pumping (ESP) systems. Producers can realize at least three sustainable advantages for their operations by using ESP technologies:
- Reducing energy requirements;
- Protecting ecosystems; and
- Recovery and reuse.
Reducing energy requirements
It is standard for producers to calculate the power costs associated with artificial lift, but it is less common that they consider how power savings translate to reducing GHG emissions. According to the EPA, 1 kWh of electricity generates approximately 1.6 lb of GHG emissions, so operators can minimize their carbon footprint by regulating power usage. In the case of ESPs, the two primary levers to reduce energy requirements for the system are the motor and the surface controller.
In the wellbore, ESPs are driven by an electric motor at the bottom of the string, which is typically an induction motor or permanent-magnet motor (PMM). Because PMMs require less energy to achieve the same horsepower at a specified frequency (Hz), these motors can achieve efficiency that is 10% or greater compared to induction motors. By calculating the hours of runtime and horsepower requirement for the well, power savings with PMM can be converted into a measurable reduction in GHG emissions.
At the surface, the ESP motor is controlled by either a switchboard or a variable speed drive (VSD). While switchboards are fixed-speed controllers, VSDs provide versatile controls to slow down, speed up and maintain the system based on how it is actually performing. Most importantly, VSDs provide energy savings because the motor does not need to operate at full load. By regulating voltage, current and power, the VSD can match the amount of work or load on a motor to the amount of energy it needs. This makes the system more efficient and also saves the operator money by reducing excess energy from being wasted.
Other energy-saving benefits of using VSDs include the ability to soft-start the drive, which reduces the initial amperage required to power up the system. All of these factors help lower demand on the power grid, thus mitigating the GHG emissions associated with power generation. Operators may quantify this advantage by calculating the difference in electricity costs for running a VSD compared to that of a switchboard and converting to GHG emissions equivalent. By coupling the power-factor performance of PMMs with a highly efficient VSD operation, producers can greatly reduce their power demand and associated GHG emissions per well.
Compared to other forms of lift, ESPs have a minimal surface footprint and produce very little noise. For example, installing and operating a gas-lift system requires a large amount of space due to the need for a compression system at the surface.
ESPs, on the other hand, are only distinguishable by the wellhead and a nearby controller at the surface, which means there are no external moving parts that could be hazardous to people or wildlife. The surface equipment that ESPs do include operate quietly, thus avoiding noise pollution that can disrupt nearby communities and natural habitats.
Finally, ESPs that are connected to the power grid or tied into an existing facility produce zero emissions because there is no engine or exhaust that could emit air pollutants. When ESPs are used in conjunction with proper gas recovery methods, operators can drastically reduce their environmental footprint.
Recovery and reuse
To efficiently produce oil from harsh downhole environments, ESPs offer durable solids handling and abrasion-resistance compared to other forms of lift. For example, Valiant’s abrasion-resistant ESPs feature pumps with a unique geometry to prevent accelerated wear and breakage associated with sand accumulation. By reinforcing the ESP construction, ARM designs help maximize the useful life of each component. When more used components pass testing, fewer materials have to be disposed or recycled, which reduces the total GHGs associated with smelting processes.
According to the World Steel Association, “Every ton of steel produced in 2018 emitted on average 1.85 tons of carbon dioxide.”
Based on the amount of equipment that passes testing, Valiant calculates that its reusable ESP inventory reduces carbon emissions by approximately 7,000 metric tons each year. Operators that have their own ESP equipment may seek to quantify what percentage of their inventory is reusable and measure the emissions that would be associated with replacing it. For new applications, recoverability and reuse may be an important factor to consider when sizing and operating ESP systems.
These are just a few examples of ways that producers can begin to characterize their operations from an ESG perspective, but they demonstrate that operators can realize both operational and environmental advantages with a continued focus on sustainability. By partnering across the value chain to quantify, report and take steps to improve on specific ESG performance metrics, operators and service companies can position themselves as responsible stewards of energy and the environment, securing future access to capital and share in the energy mix.
About the author:
Arcady Royzen is the global customer service manager with Valiant Artificial Lift Solutions. With a career built on 40 years of experience in engineering and project management, Royzen has dedicated 20 years to the oil and gas industry, working with prominent artificial lift companies including Wood Group ESP and GE Oil and Gas before joining Valiant. His areas of expertise include motor technologies, VSDs, testing and certification, and supply chain management. He also holds several patents for submersible seal technologies.
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