Smarter and safer recovery from mature and remote assets

Upstream oil and gas production is becoming more difficult as old fields are depleted and new fields are more remote. Integrated operations can facilitate safer and more profitable operation in challenging situations.

By Katrine Hilmen, Espen Storkaas September 4, 2012

The upstream oil and gas business continues to face challenges. One recent report says that over the last decade, global output has increased by 12%, but costs related to production and exploration quadrupled. As fields mature they become marginal because production declines and operational costs increase. Newer fields are often in remote and harsh environments, such as arctic climates or deep water, providing their own set of challenges. Driving issues for change include:

  • Economic: Reduced operational expenses, increased reservoir recovery, and production capacity increases
  • Geographic: Costs of operating in harsh environments and remote locations, and
  • Safety and environmental: Exposure to hazards, process integrity, and emissions control.

Technology advances are also changing the game by continually expanding the technical capability envelope.

The challenges, combined with advances in improvement-enabling technologies, have triggered new approaches to oil and gas reserve development. Examples are satellite fields and subsea tie-ins, smart wells, and light well interventions, as well as an increased interest in remote monitoring, organizational models with integrated asset management, and adoption of world-class maintenance principles.

Integrated operations (IO) is a collective term that addresses some of these challenges, and it has been advanced by the main players in the oil and gas sector under such names as smart fields, digital oilfields, intelligent energy, and so on. IO concepts and solutions can be utilized from the earliest phases of field development right up to the end of production.

The elements of IO

IO programs typically include a portfolio of technology and services to optimize production and facilities operation and maintenance from wellbore to export. Key components are:

  • ICT (information and communications technology) infrastructure and security
  • Data capture and access, including software applications for remote support
  • Production and operation intelligence and optimization, and
  • Condition monitoring, diagnostics, and reporting.

The solutions specific to the oil, gas, and petrochemicals industries need to be very comprehensive and cover areas such as:

  • Production and process optimization and control
  • Safety integrity and alarm management
  • Integrated systems for remote control and operation
  • IT security and communication network infrastructure
  • Condition monitoring systems and services
  • Emission monitoring and energy efficiency improvement
  • Multiphase flow assurance and optimization
  • Subsea intelligence
  • Data capture and storage with collaborative work environments
  • Process control performance lifecycle services, and
  • Wireless sensor systems.

Typical benefits of IO

When all of these tactical elements are used in a larger strategic program, the greatest benefits can be realized in ways that have a significant financial impact. The additional infrastructure capital cost is generally paid back in the operational phase through a variety of sources, including:

  • Increased production, typically 3% to 5 %
  • Improved safety through risk reduction and improved work environments
  • Reduced production losses, or increased oil recovery rates, usually 20% to 40%
  • Reductions of 15% to 30% in operation and maintenance costs
  • Logistics and transport benefits, and
  • Reduced emissions, better energy efficiency, improved environmental surveillance, and marine operations monitoring.

ICT and system topology

The principal components in a system facilitating IO for an offshore asset comply with the ISA 95 Level 5 hierarchy standard:

  • Efficient historian and data integration infrastructure with associated connectivity and interface solutions to gather and distribute all relevant data
  • Efficient and secure IT and communication networks infrastructure that facilitates remote access, monitoring, and collaborative support
  • Comprehensive asset management system giving both maintenance and performance measures of all key systems and processing units
  • Daily operations and optimization applications
  • A common user interface, and
  • Collaboration rooms and workstations.

In addition to these technical components, associated work processes, appropriate operational philosophies, and an organization with a mind-set and culture suited to IO are all required to exploit the opportunities provided by IO. Cross-disciplinary decision-making processes and collaboration between different parts of the organization, or even between the operating company and suppliers and service providers, are all essential ingredients.

So let’s look at how improvements in production optimization, asset management, and safety work together in a typical application.

Production optimization

Subsea developments are becoming ever more important for the upstream oil and gas industry, both in deepwater and for tying-in smaller fields to existing infrastructure to make up for declining production in the main wells. As an example, consider how IO can help with the challenges to subsea field production optimization since reservoir recovery for subsea developments is typically 10% to 15% below that of platform wells.

One element that an effective IO strategy needs to include is a flow assurance and optimization system (FAOS). The key components of such a program include:

  • Flow control and stabilization: Active control stabilizes wells and pipelines to ensure consistent and uninterrupted production.
  • Production monitoring: Well and pipeline monitoring can prevent blockages due to hydrate formation.

FAOS delivers those and more in an integrated system. This ensures that the synergies between the various elements are fully utilized. For example, virtual measurements from the monitoring system can be used as secondary control variables. Furthermore, such integration ensures a unified user interface, for both a quick overview of key data and for detailed analysis by expert users. FAOS resides within the integrated operation infrastructure and all information can be accessed through the client’s corporate network.

It is important to emphasize concepts of security whenever we discuss broader access of process information. An effective IO platform must include a comprehensive set of security strategies that focus on protecting the confidentiality, availability, and integrity of the local asset information and automation system network. Corporate, national, and international standards must be adhered to and good technical and procedural solutions developed. Large-scale system providers should be able to include security solutions to help establish baselines for addressing the risks associated with plant automation systems.

Asset management system and lifecycle services

Predictive maintenance is increasingly recognized as the key to cost-efficient maintenance. The method implies that maintenance operations are managed according to reliable prognosis of the equipment wear and tear. Predictive maintenance also ensures the reliability and integrity of the equipment. This is particularly appreciated at offshore and remote installations where personnel and travel costs are considerable. The method also provides cost reduction by reducing unplanned downtime, allowing operation closer to the design limit, and by facilitating more structured maintenance planning. A key to condition-based maintenance is real-time monitoring and reporting technology.

An effective IO system provides common infrastructure to integrate maintenance data from individual systems. All major electrical, instrument and control, and telecoms systems components are available with intelligent monitoring and diagnostic functions suitable for inclusion in the asset management system. Long-term monitoring functions deliver important information on equipment status, tasks due, and possible performance improvements. Third-party systems can also be integrated.

The asset management system should allow real-time access to these functions, support monitoring and diagnostics, and integrate planning and enterprise-wide ERP connectivity.

The main advantage lies in the ability to display all relevant maintenance data in a uniform user interface. This allows for more informed decision-making as overlapping monitoring functions can easily be compared.


An IO system is not complete without a portfolio of lifecycle solutions and service offerings within the area of safety and alarm management. This should include awareness training and performance benchmarks, improvement projects and services, reporting applications, and system maintenance as well as integrated safety and control system installations.

Integrated safety systems are typically used for emergency shutdown, fire and gas, and other critical applications, such as anti-surge, HIPPS (high-integrity pipeline protection system), and BMS (burner management system). All data from the integrated safety system is available through the control system infrastructure to the asset management system as well as to the operator environment, enabling better decision making and root-cause analysis.

Importance of "soft factors"

Experiences gleaned from IO deployments so far indicate that organizational change and the mind-set of individuals, especially as they strive toward acquiring new knowledge and skills, play a critical role in the success of the enterprise. In fact, more than 80% of the effort involved resides in this area.

An early adopter of IO saw the lifting cost of a small, tail-production North Sea field significantly reduced. The main contributor to reduced operational expenses and an extension in production forecast was the “soft IO.” While such organizational changes can be traumatic, in this case they were eagerly embraced by the operators and other staff keen to see their facility have a longer life. In this case, ABB was a partner for the operator in the whole change program, conducting interviews and handling change management in addition to installing technology to enable remote operation support. Since then, this very significant customer has established standard work processes, roles and responsibilities, and introduced a new offshore organizational model based largely on this pioneering work.

More recently, work carried out by a team specializing in process and production optimization from ABB Integrated Operations has made a big impact at the Shell Ormen Lange facility in the areas of process control performance services, simulation and tuning, commissioning, and start-up support. Benefits were delivered in terms of onstream days, fewer fluctuations, energy efficiency, and reduced emissions. Uptime was increased by four to five days per year. The magnitude of the financial savings here can be guessed at by taking into account that, at its plateau production, Ormen Lange will process some 20 billion standard cubic meters of gas annually, equivalent to Norway’s entire energy consumption.

Effective IO should increase throughput, create a safer environment, reduce energy consumption, and reduce the cost of operation by advanced use of available information, such as real-time process data and asset condition monitoring. IO provides an opportunity to optimize reserve exploitation significantly. It has already proven itself in financial terms, and it will continue to grow in importance in the oil and gas sector as the industry moves forward.

Katrine Hilmen and Espen Storkaas work in ABB’s Integrated Operations Products and Solutions Center, Oslo, Norway.

Key concepts:

  • As oil and gas extraction becomes more difficult, effective automation can improve production levels and create a safer environment.
  • This type of approach may require a cultural change for companies that think more in terms of cutting costs.
  • Operators, maintenance people, and other plant personnel have responded positively to the benefits of this approach. 

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