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Smart Field Operators Work Toward Increased Collaboration

Though smart fields might not be a new concept, the industry is still working on how to standardize operations for improved efficiencies throughout the oil and gas ecosystem.

Nils Sandsmark, general manager, POSC Caesar Association
Nils Sandsmark, general manager, POSC Caesar Association


Smart fields—essentially, oil fields that are more heavily instrumented, with more integrated operations—are not exactly a new concept. It’s an operating standard that’s been going on in Norway for about 10 years, according to Nils Sandsmark, general manager for POSC Caesar Association (PCA), a non-profit global-standardization member organization. However, as Sandsmark made clear in his presentation kicking off the inaugural Smart Fields Summit in Houston this morning, there is still significant work being done to bring everything into a standard collaborative architecture for the industry.

“It’s really about changing the work processes,” Sandsmark says of smart fields operations. “In Norway, we don’t talk about integrated operations anymore. We call it normal operations because that’s what we are doing now.”

Fields are much more heavily instrumented now than they used to be, Sandsmark points out. “We get much more data from the fields now than we used to, at least for the new ones, and some of the old ones.”

But what to do with all that data is now an important issue. “We need new and better software to do all the analysis,” Sandsmark says. It’s about making more intelligent decisions, and getting the right decisions made. “And we’re seeing the results of this, with improved production and better recovery—maybe as much as 5 percent, and that’s really a lot of money.”

Most operators on the Norwegian continental shelf (NCS) are in generation 1 of smart fields, with integrated offshore and onshore centers, Sandsmark says. Generation 2 will pull contractors into that integrated environment.

There is a lot of interest from oil companies in the Arctic area of Norway, but also significant challenges, Sandsmark says, key among them sheer remoteness. “It’s far away from everything. The distances are really very large,” he says. “Some of the drilling is moving so far into the Arctic Ocean that it’s not even possible to get there with a helicopter.”

Add to that environmental sensitivity, bad weather, ice, sea spray over everything, difficult satellite communications, and high economic stakes, and there is high demand for a robust and secure digital infrastructure, something that is also made difficult by the same weather challenges. “Novel collaborative work is required,” Sandsmark says.

PCA is focused primarily on the ISO 15926 standard of data integration, working also with MIMOSA, a not-for-profit trade association to develop open information standards for operations and maintenance, on developing a framework for the industry.

Standardization plays a key role in helping operations work on an integrated basis, explains Alan Johnston, president of MIMOSA. “This is in large part about gaining efficiencies and reducing chaos in an environment where things are inherently complex,” he says.

Some key oil and gas IT problems, Johnston explains, include fragile systems integration, expensive capital and sustainment costs, limited flexibility, constrained innovation, trapped data and high switching costs.

EPIM (Exploration and Production Information Management), established in 2006, is a non-profit organization owned and governed by the operators on the NCS. It facilitates efficient IT services for collaboration in the oil and gas industry through standardization. It is developing standards throughout the ecosystem, including environmental concerns, logistics, asset management and more.

Smart fields are a reality, Sandsmark says, and continued development is necessary and important. “Effective standards-based interoperability solutions are being developed and implemented,” he says. “There are many questions about are they working? Yes. There will always be further development of the standards…but what we have is more than enough to be used, and it’s been demonstrated.”

Sandsmark strongly recommends using open standards, and making them interoperate, rather than creating new standards. He advocates integrating data, not systems.

Johnston agrees, noting that neither an open-source nor a walled-garden model is the right way to go. “What we’re really talking about now is an open specification model that gets us out of this custom integration model,” he says. “We really have to get away from systems integration and toward systems interoperability.”

Regardless, there’s a “strong argument for sharing standards on a cross-industry basis where it makes sense to do so,” Johnston says. Perhaps not at the reservoir itself, but at the infrastructure level, information should be shared as much as possible. “We can get things working the same way over and over again, and that’s key for everybody.”

Johnston pointed repeatedly at the amount of work BP and Chevron, in particular, have been doing together, including taking standards from downstream and manufacturing and applying them to upstream applications. They have been collaborating on the downstream side through MIMOSA since about 2007, but now are looking at collaboration within exploration as well.

There is a lot of money spent on targeting and the technology to hit the targets, Johnston explains. “They’re going to drill thousands of holes in a pattern; they’re drilling in a formation in an optimal matrix to achieve an optimal return,” he says. “That’s really a manufacturing process.”

Asked where MIMOSA gets pushback about increased collaboration, Johnston says it’s more from the suppliers. “I would say the major and super majors are pretty friendly with us,” he says, explaining that beyond Chevron and BP, there is also increased collaboration interest coming from companies like Shell and ExxonMobil. “We think the owner operators are going to see a lot of benefit.”


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