Building solutions for energy independence: Automation systems, engineering software bring accuracy, efficiency to shale gas drilling

Siemens technology and components are key ingredients in the web-based water management system that is helping the gas and oil industry procure natural gas economically, responsibly, and in compliance with monitoring and recording regulations.

By Colm Gavin October 11, 2012

When Len Crawford III, president of Crawford Technical Services (CTS) in Hershey, PA, answered a call from a nearby fish hatchery to help automate a water distribution system, he had no idea what positive and far-reaching results the project would generate. By the time he was done, however, the system integrator had built an enterprise-level SCADA system that would become the de facto standard for water withdrawal, management, and distribution systems for the gas and oil industry, thrusting his company into prominence in its field.

The system, called HydroWatch, is a turnkey solution for energy companies who must monitor and control huge amounts of water needed to reclaim natural gas from shale using a highly regulated hydraulic fracturing process known as fracking. The hardware/software solution visualizes the operation, analyzes system data, automates functionality, and distributes real-time data to decision makers, operators, and supervisors. Its major functions include water extraction control, impoundment monitoring, and report generation, all managed through a single Microsoft Internet Explorer interface. Instrumental to the entire operation is Siemens Industry infrastructure, including its software configuration and programming tool, the new TIA Portal.

"We selected Siemens for our system because it gave us the infrastructure and trained support we needed," says Crawford. "Our system is capable of tracking the extraction of more than 1.4 billion gallons of water per month, and we expect that volume to reach 2 billion by the end of 2012. Using TIA Portal software to configure our systems has cut project engineering and programming time at least in half."

So how did a simple call lead to these accomplishments? Crawford tells the story, offering background on energy reclamation today and explaining how the process necessitated that HydroWatch come to be.

Casting an eye toward energy independence

Shale formations, which dot much of the U.S., are important because they contain natural gas. The Marcellus formation, one of the largest in the world, runs in roughly a crescent shape from downstate New York through the western half of Pennsylvania, much of West Virginia, and parts of Maryland and Ohio. It is one of the newest to be drilled and fracked to obtain the gas. Only recently has technology advanced sufficiently to allow energy to be drawn from shale economically. The fracking process requires tremendous pressure and up to 5 to 6 million gallons of water per well. The operation splinters the shale, creating openings in the thin layers and releasing gas for capture.

Water for fracking is strictly controlled by local, state, and federal regulations. Oversight exists at all levels of operation. Energy companies typically draw water from creeks, rivers, and ponds and store it in reservoirs or tanks. If a company has no water, it must arrange to buy it, usually from private landowners. The amount of water that can be extracted is limited; documentation of the source and use of the water must be approved by various agencies; and environmental impact statements must ensure no harm will result from the water removal. Regulatory bodies monitor the water withdrawn each day, measuring flows using USGS- (U.S. Geological Survey) approved creek gauges.

"The hatchery used a lot of water to service the fish," explains Crawford. "It had built reservoirs holding about 2 million gallons of water and installed a mechanical piping system. Eventually, the facility began selling excess water to nearby shale drilling sites. But the process it used was antiquated. All monitoring and recording was done manually. They wanted to record the amount of water used, monitor the trucks that were filled, and generate alarms if regulatory limits were approached. We sought to create an automated system that would support multiple operator panels and give truck drivers touchscreens to use so that we could eliminate the paper."

The initial system was built using Siemens’ Simatic Manager and a variety of Siemens’ components including pumps, flowmeters, sensors, PLCs, and a SCADA interface. Crawford had worked with Siemens in the past and was familiar with the overall product offering. Using Ethernet communication could support the need for multiple operator panels. The first system had just six fill stanchions, but was revolutionary. Highly accurate, it collected data from the truck drivers, recorded the amount of water to the gallon, and date/time stamped all activities. "It was so successful," recalls Crawford, "that we developed additional modules, named it HydroWatch, and began to market it. Today, we have more than 50 systems installed."

Getting excited about the capabilities

Not long after the first system was developed, two CTS associates, Jason Reed, company vice president, and Steve Shriver, lead drives engineer, were invited to attend a demonstration of Siemens’ new engineering software, TIA Portal. "They came back very excited about its capabilities and wanted to switch to TIA Portal immediately,” recalls Crawford. “And so we did. The migration was essentially seamless. Everything worked extremely well and we have been very happy with the way TIA Portal has functioned for us."

CTS made the change because of a number capabilities, including some that had not been possible previously. For example:

• Complete integration. TIA Portal is an integrated engineering software approach, so one package opens everything. "The tool simplified the sheer loading of software tremendously," says Crawford. "And it runs on Microsoft Windows 7, the path forward we wanted to take."

• Simple migration. Crawford reports that moving the first project from Simatic Manager to TIA Portal took about half a day. "With the exception of altering a few graphics, all the programming came over,” he says. “We migrated six HMIs (KTP600 basic color TFT displays), the SCADA system, and an IM151-8 controller with a remote rack. Nothing had to be redone."

• Intuitive and easy to use. "Everything is uniform, and the learning curve is quick and easy," notes Crawford. "In less than a week, we had an engineer up to speed and doing amazing things in the field using TIA Portal, saving us significant time and money."

• Comprehensive library functions. "We are developing our own global libraries and sharing them across projects," says Crawford.

• Drag-and-drop capabilities. "With drag-and-drop, we just drag tags, place them on an HMI, and the software populates all the data. The look, feel, and navigation of the tool make it easy to move from operator interface to programming to the PLC," says Crawford. "A tag created in the PLC is available immediately in the HMI."

• Remote logging capabilities. HydroWatch connects to a tremendous number of third-party devices through Modbus RTU. Using TIA Portal, and with the help of Siemens senior applications engineer Barry Hawley, the company installed modules on each S7-1200 microcontroller rack enabling communications with almost every third-party device in the field. "We have a cellular modem in the field," adds Crawford. "Using TIA Portal, we log in remotely. And data logging gives us SCADA system back up, a critical form of protection. If the SCADA system or server goes down, as long as the process is being powered by the back-up generator, the pertinent data needed to prove regulatory compliance is backed up."

Creating building blocks for the future

The cost of a typical HydroWatch project is in the quarter- to half-million dollar range. The current product is built entirely on the Siemens platform using a familiar, open architecture database (SQL) for logging information and Internet Explorer as the primary gateway for remote users. Each system incorporates a combination of Siemens’ products, all configured through TIA Portal. Users may select from a variety of functions. Modules are available to:

• Automate the functionality of the water extraction process
• Monitor regulatory creek gauge data so that the system can be started or stopped as needed
• Monitor water and air temperature to determine if frost protection is needed
• Ensure all trucks are authorized users through license-plate recognition software
• Provide security through a suite of cameras/DVRs that connect to the HydroWatch platform
• Incorporate alarms for maintenance support
• Publish data to a web page through a smart phone app, and
• Track truck movement using a third-party GPS.

According to Crawford, it is the ability to visualize processes that sets HydroWatch apart from its competitors. And like TIA Portal, it is an all-in-one package. "We analyze data, provide proactive alarms, monitor processes, but most importantly, we anticipate. Email updates alert personnel if threshold values are approached, and the system distributes close to real-time data, within a second or less."

CTS has several large systems in process right now. As the company looks to further growth, Crawford uses a simple analogy: "We offer ‘books’ (modules) that perform a variety of functions. You can use any or all of the volumes, and as we move forward we will likely put more ‘books’ on the bookshelf."

Out of a simple phone call emerged a powerful system with significant benefits, bringing far-reaching impacts to a business, an industry, and a nation striving to develop forward-looking solutions and move farther down the road to energy independence.

Colm Gavin is an engineering software product marketing manager for Siemens Industry.

Learn more about the HydroWatch system and Crawford Technical Services on its website at

More information on TIA Portal is available on the Siemens Industry website at For additional information on other Siemens Industry automation products, go to the company website at

Author Bio: Colm Gavin is the portfolio development manager for Siemens Digital Industries Software, and is responsible for the promotion of digitalization topics for machine and line builders in the United States. With over 20 years at Siemens, he is leveraging his experience in discrete manufacturing to help companies take advantage of new innovations coming with Industry 4.0. Prior to his current role, Colm was responsible for marketing Siemens’ Totally Integrated Automation Portal software in the US, and also worked on the software’s development with Siemens Germany.