Adept wellheads key to sector's total wellness

Efficient wellheads and equipment that reduce risks as well as maintenance costs in the prevailing market conditions, besides helping operators optimise production efforts, remain a core requirement of the regional upstream industry

Technology players in the oil and gas industry have developed different solutions for regional clients.
Technology players in the oil and gas industry have developed different solutions for regional clients.

While on one hand the regional oil and gas industry drastically reduced capital expenditure during the course of the last year (or even more), clamour for efficient machinery and equipment has grown in the upstream sector. That, in part, can be attributed to the fact that the regional operators in the past year have been striving to increase production in their contest for market share, and have therefore been demanding products that would help them in their cause of optimising production from the oil wells.

Key to controlling the performance and pressure of crude production, maximising the efficiency of wellheads and equipment, while reducing risks as well as costs, has been at the forefront of the sector, particularly in the region. Given the region’s dependency on the oil and gas sector, addressing issues relevant to wellhead and equipment during the low oil price environment is more critical than ever.

“The wellhead systems vary depending on the type of well that is being automated. Almost all wells share the same basic measurement points,” Yaser Al Ghamdi, wellhead business development manager for the MEA region at Emerson Automation Solutions, tells Oil & Gas Middle East. “These are tubing (wellhead) and casing (annulus) pressure, and flowline temperature and pressure. Additional measurement and control points may be related to choke position, gas lift rate, and links to downhole measurement and ESPs (electrical submersible pumps), as well as flame and gas detection for some higher-risk wells,” he explains.

Wellheads and equipment must be reliable enough to be operating well in extreme conditions and high temperatures, while being exposed to highly corrosive content. With the main function to control the flow from the reservoir, wellhead equipment comes in two types — pressure containing and pressure controlling parts. Equipment failure in the former, like bodies, bonnets and stems, result in a release of retained fluid into the air, while the latter, such as valve bore sealing mechanisms, choke trim and hangers, are meant to regulate the movement of pressurised fluids. If the pressure is not contained properly while drilling the oil well, the operators face the risk of a blowout.

Regarding their operations in the region, Middle East regional sales manager, Fawaz Ahmed at upstream equipment provider Frames, says, “We serve IOCs as well as NOCs within the upstream oil and gas industry. We observe a higher request for data collection, both from wells and at the control room.”

“This data is analysed to optimise the lifetime production of the field and, therefore used to control the individual components at the wellhead location. We also observe a higher request in autonomous units. By means of solar power systems and remote telemetry units, this can be achieved,” Ahmed says.

Having the right workflows implemented to help operators make better business decisions, and then quickly act upon them, is critical to maximise efficiency. Companies that have a track record of implementing workflows from a library, not building them from scratch, have demonstrated the ability to help oil producers to streamline operations and increase yields in a matter of weeks or months.

Best-in-class operators get 10% more uptime for about a quarter of the maintenance budget, so making reliability a business decision and outsourcing maintenance solutions to vendors are areas, where wellhead equipment manufacturers and service providers witness considerable interest.

Proper drilling is vital

Drilling events and the eventual outcome of a drilling campaign can be unpredictable, with some incidents leading to expensive or damaging outcomes. Reducing downtime can be critical for the exploration and production (E&P) sector, especially after extensive open-hole logging, or any operation that requires the wellbore to be left open for a prolonged period of time. There are a number of issues that can occur when running in or out of the hole with a drill string, including tight spots, swelling shales, or wellbore instability.

Mia Jones of Geopro Technology Ltd explains that using a high torque drillable motor is one way to overcome the need for wiper trips, when running casing, liners, or completions strings. Such wiper trips can be time-consuming and expensive, especially at offshore and deepwater sites. These motors integrate positive displacement motor technology into the casing/tubular assembly, with complete ‘drillability’ at the end of the casing string.

According to Jones, the entire body of the tool rotates and can generate drilling motor torque levels of performance with circulation, thus providing reaming capability up to 60rpm (rotations per minute), as well as acting like an agitator at the casing shoe.

The high torque means that the tool is significantly less likely to get stuck, and more likely to drill/ream through most obstructions, obviating the need to remove the entire string. The larger the borehole, the more torque can be generated.

Meanwhile, being able to drill through the tool means that even if it does get stuck, the rig crew can easily adopt a contingency plan of prematurely setting the casing/liner at that depth, because the tool can be drilled out. Drilling of the next hole section can commence with little disruption to the overall well delivery strategy.

With the use of such drilling motors, the chances of running casing to the bottom of the hole, which is dependent on the lower section of casing, are greatly improved.

Wellhead neo-technology

The key to the instrumentation choices at the wellhead is about getting better insight faster. This enables reservoir models to be validated and production decisions to be monitored in real-time. In order to collate data from real-time surveillance of the wellheads, the sector has adopted new technology for smoother operations.

Because of the large number of remote wellheads in the region, for which manual monitoring remains impractical and hazardous, wireless surveillance naturally takes centre stage when it comes to oil wellhead technologies.

According to Ahmed, using technology like a telemetry solution to monitor, control, and operate remote wellheads can significantly save in CAPEX (capital expenditure), providing optimised solutions and eliminating interface issues.

Meanwhile, major oil and gas equipment and technology provider, Emerson, is of the opinion that wireless monitoring systems installed at wellheads improve operations, reduce field visits, and improve HSE (health, safety, and environment). Installation time is reduced ten-fold by using wireless instead of wired instrumentation and costs are cut to half. Emerson cites a client example to prove its case in point.

KOC (Kuwait Oil Company) needed to add remote monitoring systems on 357 wellheads to improve upon existing data gathering procedures, according to well surveillance engineer, Ali Faras. These procedures required frequent trips to each wellhead to record data, and manual data entry to get this information into production optimisation systems. Manual operation and monitoring of such a high number of wells began to be very tedious and time-consuming, and it presented hazards to field personnel. Optimising production was almost impossible due to insufficient instrumentation at many sites, lags in data collection, and subsequent data entry.

To eliminate these time-consuming trips, KOC needed to install instrumentation at each wellhead, and then exploit the breadth of available technologies to monitor key process variables in real-time. Prior to the use of the less costly wireless solution from Emerson, early implementations indicated that the average time needed to install the necessary wired instrumentation was one to two weeks per well, much too long given the hundreds of wells requiring upgrades. Not to mention other operational constraints including required excavation procedures and costs, and HSE risks. These issues led KOC to consider a wireless solution.

According to Faras, “By eliminating most of the required wiring and corresponding infrastructure, installation time was reduced from one week to just half a day per wellhead. Installations costs were cut in half, saving $3,000 per well. HSE risks were also reduced as much less excavation and wiring work is required in these potentially hazardous areas. Data accuracy is in the range of 99.9%, more than sufficient for the application, and data availability is also high.”

To cater to this growing need, technology players in the oil and gas industry have been developing different solutions for their regional clients. According to Al Ghamdi, compiled data needs to be put into context and analysed, so an RTU will bring the data to a SCADA system. The latest generation of Coriolis and Modular Multiphase Flowmeters can cost-effectively give real-time three phase flow measurement at the wellhead.

“Emerson’s customers have found great value in using wireless to implement well monitoring faster and for a fraction of the price of traditional wired systems. The measurement points are connected instantly, with no need for the time, costs, and risk exposure associated with installing, trunking, and cabling in the field. Commissioning is faster, and bringing wells back into service after a workover is quicker and easier, as there is no cable infrastructure for the workover rig to damage. Typical installation time savings are in the range of 65% - 85%, bringing wells online faster after completions and workovers,” he further elaborated.

Frames is another provider of all the equipment required for (production) wellsite control and well safety, as separate products as well as an integrated solution.

“Our decades of experience,” Ahmed says, “in engineering and supplying modularised equipment enables us to integrate from a practical point of view with a clear understanding of all technical and commercial consequences. By integrating all hydraulics, flowline assurance, well monitoring, safeguarding, onsite control logics, communication, independent solar power supply, and back-up as one integrated solution, our clients benefit from minimum interface engineering, procurement time and fast commissioning times and reduced operating costs.”

The market challenge

The slowdown in the upstream sector has undeniably had an impact on the wellheads and equipment market in the GCC. Yet, oil producers across the region have been working hard at maximising output and doing more with less.

“It is not possible to do either of these things without best-in-class automation,” says Al Ghamdi. “Headcount pressure in our customers’ organisations has meant that there are fewer people available to do manual rounds, and so it has been imperative to instrumentalise more wellheads. The retirement of very experienced people has meant that decisions that used to be based on tribal knowledge are now being made using data in the context of an intelligent field.”

Ahmed expresses a similar opinion as Al Ghamdi, saying, “Final investment decisions are delayed due to current market situation, and new projects are not being developed. We recognise that oil producing companies rely on their existing assets. We believe for every marginal or mature field, there is a cost-effective solution to maximise the profits.”

He concludes, “Frames can help oil producing companies by de-bottlenecking the process equipment via installing skid-mounted add-ons, modifying existing equipment, or replacing the entire sections.”

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Oil & Gas Middle East - July 2019

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