Real-time oil and gas data in the cloud

Oilfield services company boosts productivity and bolsters worker safety by sharing drilling information via the cloud.


Figure 1: Working a drill rig: Optimizing drilling operations while maintaining a safe work environment requires local and remote access to real-time data. Courtesy: PML Exploration ServicesWhen drilling for oil and gas, two things must always be of primary importance:

  • Maintaining the integrity of the well
  • Ensuring the safety of everyone working in or around that well.

Focusing on those two priorities led PML Exploration Services to adopt a cloud-based HMI and SCADA software system that allows for sharing real-time information about conditions at well sites with management personnel at PML headquarters, as well as with customers.

PML Exploration Services was founded in Oklahoma City as Midwest Well Logging in December 1964. In November 2006, the company was purchased by a private investment group and renamed PML Exploration Services to better reflect its long-term business goals. Since the acquisition, PML has expanded its operations across the U.S., and developed its own gas analysis and rig data management solutions. These solutions provide secure web-based, real-time information to PML's customers via the cloud.

These solutions also have eliminated the lag—which sometimes stretched to 12 hours—between the time data collected in the field was analyzed and reported to customers. Compressing the time between data collection, analysis, and reporting is critical for a number of reasons. Chief among them is ensuring the safety of the well, and enabling offsite management personnel to make timely decisions that ensure maximum return on investment through optimized wellbore placement.

Enhancing safety and productivity

The reports sent across the PML's web-based network contain vital information regarding crude oil and natural gas deposits, as well as data on critical rock structures that must be isolated for safety and production reasons. Continuous monitoring of the gas components and their quantities correlated with drilling information is critical for ensuring safety.

To enhance safety and increase productivity, PML analyzes the rock cuttings and gases from the drilling fluid to ascertain information about the drilling process, commonly referred to as mud logging.

PML also supplies gas analysis systems at the surface of the site to provide early detection and evaluation of reservoir gases, and to assess their potential to become hazardous to rig personnel. Local PML data acquisition systems can also interface with other systems such as measurement while drilling (MWD), thereby acting as a central data repository for all important well site information.

When PML initially began providing gas and geological information as well as analysis at the rig site, there were no systems in place to give current information to the well site managers, or remote office staff charged with overseeing the drilling of the well. Reports were provided twice a day in order to update the rig and office staff on gas and geological conditions. Delays could be as long as 12 hours between the actual analysis and the report provided to PML's customers.

The time delays between receiving the reports and adjusting the drilling system to the required specifications could cause problems. Conditions might have changed during the delay, putting the structural integrity of the well in danger, and opportunities for optimization of the drilling process could be missed. Thus, PML's customers needed a system that could deliver information on a more current basis.

To provide well operators with real-time information that would help them drill more safely and efficiently, PML began looking for a solution that could take advantage of web-based applications and the extensive data-sharing capabilities of cloud technology. 

Moving to real time

Before adopting its cloud-based solution, PML researched offerings from different HMI providers. Ultimately, it selected a software package that is essentially a virtual studio that enables users to configure PC-based HMI and SCADA software into web-based applications that meet their specific data collection, analysis, and distribution needs. For PML, this virtual studio offered an easy, affordable means of configuring web-based applications that facilitate remote access to real-time information.

The platform also has capabilities for translating data into multiple languages, which suits PML's future plans for expanding into international markets. It enables the use of many different character sets, including but not limited to the Latin alphabet, Cyrillic and Greek fonts, Chinese characters, and Japanese Kanji. Moreover, its one-click translation would make it easy to translate the entire application into another language.

The platform also provides more than 240 native drivers that communicate with every major brand of programmable logic controller (PLC), as well as offering OPC support, making it easy to configure an application to communicate with any new combination of equipment, regardless of the manufacturer. This is particularly important at drilling sites, which typically have control and measurement systems from various suppliers. All of that disparate equipment must be interfaced to the HMI, which acts as the central data repository.

The platform's built-in support for the cloud was another key benefit, because it relieved PLM from having to invest in new IT infrastructure such as extra data storage capacity or backup servers. Those items are all purchased, and managed, by the cloud provider. Having a cloud-based solution also means all patches and upgrades happen simultaneously across the network without any effort by PML or disruption to its users. 

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