The re-emergence of the U.S. oil industry over the past decade has coincided with the introduction of new advanced technology and equipment in the oil field. More rigs, more fleets and more production facilities present new challenges in maintaining that equipment to ensure the fields from which they are producing remain productive for an extended period. Avoiding downtime and ensuring cost savings are additional benefits realized through regular equipment maintenance. Successful maintenance programs also can lead to increased production rates over time.

But different companies take different approaches to maintaining their equipment—some implement systematic preventative maintenance programs, some adhere to what data are telling them and some just run equipment until it dies or breaks. Some companies see the importance of a quality equipment maintenance program, but they may not have the means to implement it.

Alison Mackey, production manager, digital, for Baker Hughes, a GE company (BHGE), said BHGE often sees customers that either implement a wide-ranging maintenance plan or have a reactionary approach to maintenance.

“We don’t see a lot of middle ground,” she said. “Either there’s a big focus from the top down—it seems they really do take a strong interest in maintenance— otherwise they run [equipment] to failure and it’s very reactive.”

Mackey said by planning maintenance programs even six to eight months in advance, operators can avoid significant downtime and see substantial cost savings.

Roy Aune, director of maintenance for Liberty Oilfield Services, said the oil and gas industry as a whole has yet to buy into the idea of a systematic predictive maintenance program.

“The new buzzword is proactive maintenance, so—as much as possible—that’s what we are trying to do. We are trying to find the perfect mix of proactive maintenance,” he said.

As with many sectors of the industry, equipment maintenance and asset integrity management are turning to digitalization, with its proponents saying it is instrumental to understanding equipment reliability and performance.

“There is more and more emphasis on data-driven decision-making,” said Charles Yang, reliability project manager for NOV. “There are a lot of new focuses and new emphasis on condition-based maintenance and how do we reduce the cost around maintenance and how do we introduce new elements to monitor the conditions of the equipment performance and try to see what maintenance is needed to ensure reliability.”

Companies today often are faced with the act of balancing high IP rates versus longer- term production. Equipment maintenance is a long-play game and could result in as much as 20% more production if it’s fully committed to, according to Aune. It’s often difficult to commit money to something that does not produce an immediate, tangible result or benefit, and such is the nature of maintenance in the oil and gas industry. But the companies that are willing and able to commit to it could very likely see a long-term benefit through cost savings and increased production.