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E&P Plus

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the April issue of E&P Plus.
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If only we could inoculate subsurface wells against future integrity or flow issues it would be a dream come true. But there are many ways to proactively diagnose and keep them healthy and immune from unexpected “disease.”

Never has health been more in the spotlight—the health of our communities and the health of our planet. The pandemic has elevated the world’s focus on the environment and on driving down carbon emissions.

The energy sector has come under intense scrutiny as the world strives to tackle climate change. A major challenge is striking the balance between the continued need for fossil fuels, as part of a wider energy portfolio, while offsetting the associated carbon emissions.

Energy outlook

The DNV 2020 Energy Transition Outlook estimates that by 2050 oil and gas will account for 74% of the world’s energy-related CO2 emissions (Figure 1) and more than 80% emissions including CO2 equivalents. Emissions from the entire oil and gas value chain is on course to fall one-third by 2050.

The oil and gas sector is not alone in its endeavor; many major world economies have set ambitious goals to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, some even sooner. It is no longer a solitary cause.

DNV GL energy-related emissions - TGT

FIGURE 1. DNV GL predicts that oil and gas will still play key roles in the energy mix in 2050 when their value chains will account for most energy-related emissions. (Source: TGT)

Proactive and predictive diagnostics

We are constantly reminded that it is important to visit the doctor for routine checkups to ward off potential issues and/or treat issues early. We all know that prevention is better than treatment. Staying healthy does not only apply to humans or businesses, but also to wells that produce, inject or store hydrocarbons.

The road to net zero has many paths, but keeping wells healthy through proactive monitoring, diagnosing and subsequent remedial work is not only a duty, it’s good business. Furthermore, it would drastically reduce environmental fallouts as well as unplanned costs or reputational damage.

Well diagnostic companies, like TGT, can help. Application-led diagnostic products provide operators with the right information to act in advance and thus reduce potential emissions. A proactively diagnosed well has the best chance of staying healthy versus a well that is only diagnosed when problems start to appear.

Optimizing resources

But it’s not only about catching leaks and holes, it is also about optimizing resources that can have a detrimental effect on the environment. An activity that has a huge potential for improvement is fluid injection into a well system to enhance reservoir pressure and hydrocarbon recovery. Thousands of barrels of water are injected daily, but is the flow going where it should? On numerous occasions, TGT’s diagnostics have revealed the actual path and volume of injected water is different to the expectation or the plan—and this is sometimes after years of operating. With these findings, operators can reduce the amount of wasted water, cut down on water transportation and treatment, and ultimately reduce their energy intensity and drive down their emissions.

Equally important are idle wells—wells that are either abandoned or neglected. Routinely diagnosing the integrity of these wells to provide assurance they are “quiet” is highly advisable. More often than not, there are signs of subsurface activity. These wells represent a potential emission source that may prove difficult to remedy if neglected further.

A focus in the pursuit of net zero is carbon capture and storage (CCS)—capturing CO2 at the source, compressing it for transportation and then injecting it deep into a rock formation, where it is permanently stored. Routinely diagnosing the integrity of this storage facility to provide assurance that the plug is holding tight and that the CO2 is not migrating to water reservoirs or the surface will become essential, if not a legal requirement.

Data are gold

Pursuing routine diagnostics of subsurface wells to detect potential issues before they escalate is common sense, but what’s next?

Like many sectors, data are gold. With a wealth of diagnostic data at our fingertips, we can employ digital technologies and methodologies that predict when a diagnosis is needed or when a failure is imminent. With sufficient field or reservoir diagnostic data, we will be able to predict its behavior and failure modes with acceptable accuracy. Predictive modeling using digital technologies and data analytics will help reduce carbon emissions by boosting the energy efficiency of production.

It’s good for the environment and for business to stay healthy. To do this, we need to have a bold and visionary mindset that encourages proactive well diagnostics and soon makes use of predictive diagnostics.