The concept has many names: digital oil field, smart field, field of the future, digital energy, intelligent oil field. These all refer to the idea of using integrated, sophisticated information and communications technologies to extract maximum value from oil and gas E&P assets. In our everyday lives we have become accustomed to using technology to save time and money, improve performance, and access more and better information from which we make better decisions. Yet on many oil and gas pads, where profits are at stake, we have yet to fully adopt the modern conveniences that technology affords. IBM estimates that a single well generates enough data to fill 200 DVDs daily, but translating that data into meaningful, decision-driving knowledge remains elusive. Some larger players or early adopters are working to build these fields of the future. But there are technologies within reach now that can deliver significant advantages without extravagant costs, even for the smallest producers.

What is limiting success?
Around the globe, oil and gas well pads typically operate with some level of wellhead automation for monitoring and control. There are still manual operations, but most E&P operators and service companies deploy remote terminal units (RTUs) or programmable logic controllers (PLCs) to monitor the pad. Too often, these technologies fail to provide simplified access to real-time, high-density data from the increasing number of end devices or packaged equipment operating on the pad. The RTU and PLC technologies do not easily interface, can be difficult to access remotely, and can become obsolete before the wells do. Finding skilled field operators to manage this equipment can be a challenge.

Even well trained personnel rely on reference documentation and training materials, and accessing this information in the field is, at best, difficult. Large E&P organizations often standardize on equipment to reduce costs, but finding a controller flexible and powerful enough to effectively serve both oil and gas wells has been a problem. Importantly, producers want proven, integrated technology that will help them collect actionable data from which they can make effective decisions.


Twenty-two wells, 75 wireless instruments, and one pad controller: Wireless automation solutions with advanced automation allow efficient monitoring and control of plunger lift wells. (Images courtesy of Flow Data Inc.)

 

A look at the pad
In the gas world, producers look to automate and optimize pad operations with a wellsite control management system. Typical controllers, whether wired or wireless,