Although the Middle East is famous for having huge reservoirs of sweet crude that flow under their own pressure to the separation plants, the situation under the ground is changing as reservoirs age and deplete.

Primary and secondary recovery are being used across the region, and enhanced oil recovery (EOR), or tertiary recovery, is also being performed on a significant scale.

The process involves the use of chemistry or heat to change the properties of a hydrocarbon reservoir to enhance production. In the Middle East, steam injection, water alternating gas injection and carbon dioxide (CO2) injection are all being used.

Performing chemical reactions underground is a complex operation, and having access to better data and insight can make the difference between financial success and failure – especially in this region, given the scale of the operations involved.

In Kuwait, for example, the Lower Fars heavy oil development project has been said to cost $7bn. Petroleum Development Oman, meanwhile, has teamed up with GlassPoint Solar to build the world’s largest solar thermal project, ‘Miraah’. When complete, it will generate 6,000 tonnes of steam a day for heavy oil production.

Digital architecture

A digital oil field architecture can be used in EOR to house and analyse data. On a steam injection project, an understanding of how real-time readings for the volume and ratio of oil, gas and water produced from each well match the predictions of the models provides key indications about the effectiveness of what is happening in a reservoir.

With CO2 injection, knowing whether the CO2 has broken through to the producer wells, or is still ‘pushing’ the hydrocarbons, enables optimisation of injection strategies.

For both steam and CO2 injection, the instrumentation required to measure the three-phase flow or provide gas chromatography is cost-effective and requires minimal manual intervention or maintenance.

By inputting the data from such instrumentation into a digital oil field, an operator exposes whether or not production is being maximised and the returns optimised.

As EOR operating costs are higher, workflows that take data from the wellhead should be implemented to ensure cross-functional expertise is brought to bear on the problems of working at higher temperatures, with corrosive chemicals, and with more complex equipment. These workflows need to extend further into the mechanical, reliability and safety space than with a conventional oil field.

The uptime and efficiency of thermal generators, for example, has a major impact on the economics of steam flooding; the same holds true for compressors and gas injection. Similarly, when injecting CO2 mixes with reservoir fluids, corrosion management becomes critical.

Intelligent fields

The ‘intelligent field’ is where these workflows come together, giving experts access to relevant data, and ensuring uptime, production, profitability and integrity goals are met.

In this way, the digital oil field helps operators balance operations, maintenance and compliance targets by building key performance indicators and dashboards that aggregate data to deliver actionable information at the appropriate level – using intelligent diagnostics and cross-correlation with diverse data sources to predict the future state of equipment and teams.

Vibration data, corrosion data, even HR data to predict the availability of personnel, can all be used to predict whether a piece of equipment, piping, or a team will be able to deliver a specific outcome, regardless of their current performance. Insight into the process, delivered by instruments that can be quickly and cost-effectively installed, and are intelligent enough to diagnose their own health, as well as measure their primary purpose variables, are one of the keys to successfully implementing an EOR project.

Wireless instruments can be a critical part of the digital oil-field architecture, especially in EOR projects. The days when wireless devices could measure only pressure and temperature are in the distant past. Wireless devices can now be used to reliably bring data as diverse as acoustic corrosion, terminal partial discharge detection, steam trap health, pressure relief valve status, and safety shower initiation, back from sensors. All this data can be used to feed the workflows that maximise effectiveness.

The intelligent field in EOR, just as in conventional plays, is about data and expertise being put into context to make better holistic decisions. In EOR projects the stakes are greater. The capital expenditure associated with the project is higher, as are the operational expenses, and the risks associated with loss of containment are both elevated and more varied – with greater consequences.

About the author

Andrew Dennant is oil and gas director for the Middle East and Africa at Emerson Automation Solutions