Progress on the xField vision

SmartField, eField, iField, Real-Time Field, NowField: the number of "xField" visions in the industry today confirms that it is moving into a new paradigm.

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John Willis

SmartField, eField, iField, Real-Time Field, NowField: the number of "xField" visions in the industry today confirms that it is moving into a new paradigm. For years, the industry has been imple-menting digital technology in a step-by-step replacement of manual processes and in high-value, calculation-intensive applications such as seismic and simulation.

Now, future applications are evolving that were unimaginable in years past. For example, visualization technology would allow a newly hired engineer to gain intimate understanding of every major reservoir in a large company within months. Using real-time data integrated with technical analysis, surveillance can focus on what will happen, rather than what did happen.

Cambridge Energy Research Associates recently conducted a multi-company study of the digital oilfield of the future involving more than 30 energy and technology companies. CERA estimated a potential increase in reserves of over 125 Bbbl over the next five to 10 years. This is a significant payoff. Still the question remains: While the xField vision is enticing, is it for real or just an industrial fantasy?

In the 1950s, societies faced a similar new world, one of increased transportation. Auto-mobiles and roads had replaced horses and wagons and some functions of the railroads. But in the 1950s, entirely new, widespread limited-access highways created the capability to connect people, businesses, and towns in a way never before imagined. Over the next 50 years, the shape of cities, towns, and society in general changed dramatically as America adjusted to the new transportation infrastructure.

Years ago, when considering how to capitalize on the new highway system, it was obvious that motels, restaurants, service stations, distribution warehouses, offices, and other new facilities would be built on the new highway. It is not so obvious who will support the cost of digital technology. Far too many digital systems have been implemented that are not "on the highway." These are more akin to private roads with designs that make them almost impossible to integrate with other systems.

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Automated real-time reservoir management � patented process.
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In a true xField, data must seamlessly stream from disparate sources to the analytical tools users. This large-scale integration and exchange of data and results is the key to success with an xField implementation and has at its core a unified data and applications management approach. However, realizing the full potential benefits of digital technology will require the contributions of many companies and organizations. The industry must be willing to integrate its skills and expertise using industry-standard methods of data exchange for compatibility between technical components.

Current trends

Currently, the oil industry is focused on several technologies that show promise for the near future. These include immersive and desktop visualization, automated technical analysis, web-based communications, real-time well and facility optimization, downhole flow control, 4D seismic, and fiber optics, among others.

For the oil industry, these advances provide a way to more quickly gain understanding. For instance, visualization technology applied to operations allows a user to gain knowledge and understanding of the subsurface environment of a large, complex field in a matter of hours or days instead of years.

Automated technical analysis filters massive quantities of real-time data to find the few bits that need attention. Ultimately, reservoir monitoring with 4D seismic, coupled to simulation with rapid reservoir modeling technology, will allow operators to more confidently understand reservoir and well behavior and use that information to manage both ongoing operations and long-term field development.

Halliburton's real-time vision

The Real-Time Reservoir Solutions strategy developed by Halliburton called for use of digital technology to collect, analyze, and communicate data and information. This allows decisions to be made in time to affect ongoing operations. The value of this strategy to operator companies has been well established. Well-site operations have been changed while in-progress, avoiding major problems. Normal performance has improved due to closer monitoring. Limited technical expertise is leveraged over more applications with reduced time and travel expenditures.

The RTRS journey began by building a foundation of technology and investing in systems to become a real-time company to improve operations efficiency. Next, the company added the ability to collect, transmit, and analyze data and control remote operations using digital technologies. This, in turn, created real-time operations, giving clients and employees the ability to monitor and impact jobs remotely. WellDynamics Inc. and SmartWell intelligent completions technology allows downhole monitoring and remote control of producing intervals.

Today, the company works with clients to expand the concept from real-time operations surveillance to the whole business of asset management through integrating real-time field data. This involves Landmark Graphics' geoscience, engineering, reservoir, and data management technologies. This integration is called Real-Time Asset Management and represents an evolutionary step toward the complete RTRS vision.

Real-time asset management

As with other xField technology visions within the industry, the basic objective of real-time asset management (RTAM) is to enhance a field's profitability by producing more oil or gas faster and for less cost. The key to accomplishing this is reducing two types of workflows – the operations surveillance workflows that last days to weeks and the asset management workflows that require weeks or even years to complete.

Automated data collection, analysis, and filtering can eliminate or significantly reduce many of the steps in a typical operation surveillance workflow. Visualization can shorten the remaining steps because it can speed the process of analysis and understanding, enabling sound decisions and operating actions.

This real-time approach addresses all the major components of oil and gas fields – reservoirs, wells, and facilities – as a single system.

Real-time data is fed into automated simulation and technical analysis. Predicted performance is compared to actual performance and specific conditions are monitored. In this way, attention is directed precisely to the areas where the biggest impact can be made. Further, visualization technology presents all the data needed to evaluate a problem accessibly and efficiently, expediting the process of understanding.

Coupling this surveillance process with the ability to visually immerse the geosciences team with asset data, while seeing the same real-time data alongside the reservoir analysis, ensures a rapid yet intimate understanding of the asset. The keys to accomplishing this are modeling and simulating the real world. Ultimately, a reservoir model, updated with real-time field data that can be updated quickly, will promote the adoption of a parallel, real-time approach to field development. Time-lapse seismic will set the boundary conditions for reservoir simulations, with unstructured gridding preserving a common topology between earth and reservoir models. Integrating the seismic to simulation workflows will illuminate complex geological structures and heavily drilled producing fields.

This provides a consolidated view of asset economics, uncertainties, and risks associated with a living reservoir model. This view and all associated information and asset knowledge are available through Web-based platforms to an extended asset team. Such a process compresses the decision making cycle for prospect generation, field development planning, and well design and drilling. The extended asset team can rapidly respond to changes in field performance. This will produce more oil or gas faster and for less cost.

Open standards

The key to digital advancement is wide-scale integration. Connecting technical components such as specialized analysis with visualization and stimulation to create an integrated system is a major challenge. And the magnitude of the effort required discourages any attempts to achieve one-off custom solutions. Such solutions have already proven to be expensive and inefficient. The opportunities presented by digital technology are more effectively exploited if multiple companies work together.

A standard infrastructure for data exchange generates an opportunity for oil and service companies to develop innovative applications and solutions. In this environment, oil companies will be able to buy and install technical components, secure in the knowledge that each component can be enhanced or replaced by newer components, perhaps from other suppliers. Integration between digital systems is the goal, and data exchange standards are the key.

Formula for success

CERA estimates the benefits of RTAM could be dramatic, but measuring the benefits is difficult. The economics of drilling wells, frac jobs, 3D seismic, and other core oil and gas processes are easily evaluated by clear before-and-after production.

RTAM benefits are often seen as simply manpower savings but are potentially far greater. To move forward with the industry vision for the digital field, a few simple criteria for digital technology projects should be brought to bear to bridge the gap between easily measured short-term benefits and dramatic long-term improvements in industry performance:

  • Including multiple data sources and application vendors in a project to ensure that data integration issues are addressed
  • Developing practical data exchange standards and promoting those standards for industry use
  • Undertaking a series of projects, each of which targets a specific business-unit problem.

Each project also incorporates a digital technology integrated with other new or existing systems in a way that builds toward the vision. However, while large demonstration projects speed progress on the vision, they present risks of high cost and loss of interest. In turn, small, uncoordinated projects may create value, but will not build on each other to achieve the long-term vision. It is important to break projects into six- to nine-month phases with deliverables used in operations, and then test the results. A close connection to a business unit rather than a focus solely on technology will help ensure that the results are implemented and that the development will have an impact.

Although service vendors usually prefer to deliver a single-source solution, a realistic view is needed – the most important element of the vision is integration, and there is no better venue for integration between companies than real projects.

Making it happen

Recent xField visions such as RTAM from oil companies and the service sector alike set excellent goals for the future. Many building-block components are in place today. However, further growth requires the right balance between long-term vision and incremental steps toward that vision.

The vision to go to the moon was not implemented in one trip. It was achieved with a detailed program to build and test space technology in phases – from Mercury through Gemini and then Apollo. This same approach will work for the xField concept. By translating the visions into specific incremental projects that incorporate integration philosophy into an open system, the industry can take steps toward realizing the benefits of a new generation of oil field.

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