Maintaining equipment in the oil and gas industry is a grueling business that involves taking into consideration everything from what each specific customer needs to regulatory, environmental, geological, and geographical concerns.

The financial and trade media prefer to focus on the headline-making aspects of the industry, notably oil and gas finds, extraction, and productivity. That makes sense, of course, but engine performance is a blocking-and-tackling issue that is a vastly underappreciated industry aspect. Proper maintenance of the equipment that searches for and extracts oil and gas can be the difference between profits and losses and between a top-tier producer and an also-ran. In today’s ultra-competitive environment, where margins are squeezed because of rising costs and materials, the ability to keep machines running properly is a constant priority and challenge.

Asset-driven preventive maintenance

One positive sign for a greater appreciation for engine oil maintenance can be seen in the migration from a philosophy of reactive maintenance – fix it when it breaks – to preventive maintenance. Preventive maintenance seeks to head off potential problems before they become costly and time-consuming. The next step in maintenance involves what is known as asset-driven preventive maintenance, which incorporates real-time preventive maintenance technology for both land and offshore rigs.

The gold standard for engine oil maintenance, which is still in its nascent stages of adoption among most companies, is condition-based maintenance. Condition-based maintenance is based on eliminating the root cause of equipment failure, anticipating the needs of the equipment, and extending equipment life. Condition-based maintenance monitors systems and fluids by using oil analysis to determine when maintenance is required.

Since condition-based maintenance tools can predict when maintenance is necessary, maintenance costs can be greatly reduced. Proper condition-based maintenance implementation allows routine maintenance such as safe extension of oil drains and overhauls because an operator is made aware that a potential problem requires attention before it becomes a critical issue.

While companies can put their own spin on equipment maintenance, Nabors Industries Ltd. has been an early adopter of condition-based maintenance for the benefit of its array of land rigs across 25 countries, ranging from the frigid temperatures of northern Russia to the heat of Saudi Arabia and all types of weather in between.

Bypass oil filtration, oil analysis

Two key aspects of condition-based maintenance that Nabors has incorporated are bypass oil filtration and oil analysis. Bypass oil filtration acts as a dialysis machine for engine oil. It diverts a small amount of lubricating oil out of the engine, which is then cleaned of solid, liquid, and gaseous contaminants and fortified by the right amount of base additives to maintain viscosity and proper balance. In this way, lubricating oil remains free of contaminants and is able to help to cool, lubricate, and seal the engine.

Oil analysis provides continuous monitoring of the oil’s condition, including viscosity and abrasive solids, which provides a good measure of the state of the engine. The only time the oil requires changing is when the indicator shows the oil needs to be changed. The clean oil – bypass filtration can keep it clean for very long periods of time – is then fed back into the engine. Instead of an oil change, an oil sample is taken, and the disposable filter is replaced. Importantly, these steps can be implemented in a matter of minutes without the need to shut down the engine.

After assessing the benefits of bypass oil filtration in 2009, Nabors began using it on CAT 3512 engine/generators used to power oil rigs. Using Puradyn Filter Technologies Inc.’s TF-240 model, which provides microfiltration for engines with an oil capacity of up to 322 l (85 gal), Nabors has used the system in multiples to fine-filter engines that hold amounts of lubricating oil in excess of 1,500 l (400 gal). Oil analysis results showed that drain intervals on equipment used in international operations were safely being extended from 500 hours to 2,500 hours, which prompted Nabors to outfit all rig engine/generators.

In 2010 Nabors installed more than 700 bypass systems, successfully and safely extending oil drain intervals from 1,000 hours to more than 3,000 hours.

Condition-based maintenance

Nabors has advanced the next initiative to implement an onboard oil condition sensor. In taking the program a step further and implementing the sensor, Nabors will now be able to monitor its engines’ oil condition in real time, all the time, while the engine is operating.

Working with another subsidiary, Canrig, Nabors was able to incorporate the engine oil condition sensor monitoring capabilities into its subsidiary software platform, , to provide real-time well data gathering and distribution.

Taken together, bypass oil filtration technology, oil analysis, and an onboard oil condition sensor allow Nabors to progress from a standard preventive maintenance program to a condition-based maintenance program to a new level of world-class maintenance, providing asset management to the organization. In addition to saving millions of dollars annually, there also is a significant positive impact on Nabors’ environmental footprint in each of the countries in which it operates.

By using the condition-based maintenance tools of bypass oil filtration and oil analysis, the annual savings in new oil purchases and waste oil disposal are estimated to exceed US $5 million. What makes this number even more impressive is that the annual savings of more than $5 million was achieved on fewer than 400 engines. This is an annual reduction of 1.41 MMl (373,156 gal) of engine lubricating oil, and the number of man-hours allocated per year for oil drain maintenance is reduced by as much as 5,500 hours.

Although oil and gas companies are frequently the target of critics that claim that the industry is unconcerned about environmental impact and focused only on increasing oil consumption, these actions prove otherwise, providing both shareholders and other companies with proof that increased production does not translate to increased waste of a nonrenewable natural resource.

With more than 1,500 bypass systems operating on Nabors equipment throughout the world, it is evident that safety, efficiency, cost savings, and environmental protection are main priorities on an operating oil rig. Transitioning from progressive maintenance to a world-class maintenance program incorporating bypass filtration technology with oil analysis has achieved all four priorities.