The concept has many names: digital oil field, smart field, field of the future, digital energy, intelligent oil field. These all refer to the idea of using integrated, sophisticated information and communications technologies to extract maximum value from oil and gas E&P assets. In our everyday lives we have become accustomed to using technology to save time and money, improve performance, and access more and better information from which we make better decisions. Yet on many oil and gas pads, where profits are at stake, we have yet to fully adopt the modern conveniences that technology affords. IBM estimates that a single well generates enough data to fill 200 DVDs daily, but translating that data into meaningful, decision-driving knowledge remains elusive. Some larger players or early adopters are working to build these fields of the future. But there are technologies within reach now that can deliver significant advantages without extravagant costs, even for the smallest producers.

What is limiting success?
Around the globe, oil and gas well pads typically operate with some level of wellhead automation for monitoring and control. There are still manual operations, but most E&P operators and service companies deploy remote terminal units (RTUs) or programmable logic controllers (PLCs) to monitor the pad. Too often, these technologies fail to provide simplified access to real-time, high-density data from the increasing number of end devices or packaged equipment operating on the pad. The RTU and PLC technologies do not easily interface, can be difficult to access remotely, and can become obsolete before the wells do. Finding skilled field operators to manage this equipment can be a challenge.

Even well trained personnel rely on reference documentation and training materials, and accessing this information in the field is, at best, difficult. Large E&P organizations often standardize on equipment to reduce costs, but finding a controller flexible and powerful enough to effectively serve both oil and gas wells has been a problem. Importantly, producers want proven, integrated technology that will help them collect actionable data from which they can make effective decisions.

Twenty-two wells, 75 wireless instruments, and one pad controller: Wireless automation solutions with advanced automation allow efficient monitoring and control of plunger lift wells. (Images courtesy of Flow Data Inc.)

A look at the pad
In the gas world, producers look to automate and optimize pad operations with a wellsite control management system. Typical controllers, whether wired or wireless, automate from one to eight wells and may integrate with gas pipeline systems for custody transfer data or as a source for well control. Operating modes for gas well controllers should include manual, plunger lift, intermitter, and gas lift and injection gas functions. These should generate high-density, three-minute data for trending and should have data logging capability to interface with hosting applications such as ClearSCADA, CygNet, Intellution, Iconics, and Wonderware. The software should support standard Mod-bus registers for the application but provide the flexibility to assign registers for easy host integration. To facilitate operational needs, the controller needs to provide integrated email alarm and shut-down capabilities.

On the oil pad, operators want pad-wide management of input and output devices and complete tank manage- ment, including high-level shut-down and production totals for inflow and outflow. Tank management should cover local and battery tanks and provide an interface to a pipeline’s lease automatic custody transfer (LACT) system. The controller should offer remote shut-in of pumpjack units driven by gas engines or electric motors and emergency shut-down valves as well as trending for tank levels, pressures, flow, etc. These controllers also should interface with host applications such as ClearSCADA, XSPOC, Iconics, CygNet, Intellution, Wonderware, and more. As with gas systems, a controller should provide email alarm and shut-down capabilities.

Whether gas or oil wells, these pads require management of a growing technology base. A well pad controller now must monitor, measure, record, and analyze data and facilitate action. The technology list is extensive: flare systems, vapor recovery, LACT units, flowback systems, tank level devices, rod pump controllers, and wired and wireless connectivity, among other technologies. The controller aggregates data from and through these technologies and makes it available to everyone from field personnel to the corporate office.

image- controller display

The Android-based controller display places information at the field technician’s fingertips and offers remote access as well.

Not all wellsite control management systems are created alike. When evaluating a wellhead automation system, there are important components and capabilities to look for. Features should include:

  • A configurable system that is easily modified without programming;
  • A single solution that serves oil and gas, wired and wireless, and single and multiwell pads;
  • A modern, easy-to-use, familiar display for maximum productivity;
  • Local data storage to access essential information in the field;
  • A system that supports multiple communication protocols; and
  • Enhanced connectivity such as local WiFi and remote Ethernet capability.

A solution for fields of the future
PADPro is a new wellsite control management system that serves both oil and gas pads, whether single or multiwell (30+ wells per pad) and wired or wireless. It features configurable software modules to build out functionality without programming and an Android-based touch-screen display. The touch-screen display is as familiar as today’s smartphones or tablets and as easy to learn and use. Unlike standard controller displays, which typically offer two- or four-line resolution and lots of button tapping for navigation, the system’s display lets users:

  • Access the controller’s operational data locally or remotely via a smartphone, tablet, netbook, or laptop operators can see information from their trucks;
  • Store and access PDFs, video, and other important files;
  • Generate real-time reports;
  • Configure applications dynamically without rebooting the system;
  • Text or email through the controller network or cell modem; and
  • Enter site, well, or pad notes using a local notepad.

The system gets its intelligence from proprietary control software and configurable modules. These modules tailor the system to meet user-specific well automation needs. Configurable architecture requires less expertise than software that must be programmed, saving time and money. Wellsite control systems that serve both oil and gas pads offer a single solution for producers with both assets.

Adopting the interface with its Android operating system makes the display familiar and therefore easy to learn and use. This maximizes productivity and greatly simplifies the interaction with the controller. The ability to store important documents on the controller and easily access them through display or remote devices means field technicians and other users will always have access to essential data, whether for training or troubleshooting.

The field of the future offers E&P operators the capability to be more productive, make better decisions, and extract maximum value from their oil and gas assets. Selecting the best wellsite control management system to automate and monitor the wellhead is essential to fully benefiting from the latest technology, especially for the life of the well. Solutions that provide the horsepower of a PLC without costly programming and that make interaction through the display intuitive and productive are the best choice for today’s oil and gas pads – and tomorrow’s.