Some key challenges faced throughout the oil and gas industry are becoming even more pronounced as production booms for natural gas and shale oil in North America. Not only was excitement running high last week at the Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) in Houston, but so were concerns about workforce, time constraints, increased costs, remote locations and more.
At a press conference at the show, Emerson Process Management’s Rosemount Analytical unit introduced a gas chromatograph (GC) that heeds the challenges the industry faces, taking a typically complex instrument and making it simpler, smarter and smaller. The Danalyzer 370XA is for continuous online analysis of natural gas in a variety of upstream and midstream applications, and has several features that address a changing workforce and increasing demands in oil and gas.
The industry has been using gas chromatographs since the mid-80s, and there’s a lot of understanding that goes into using the instruments, according to Shane Hale, product marketing manager for Emerson, Rosemount Analytical, but it’s getting harder and harder to find the people with these skills. “There’s a definite skill shortage out in the field. Experience in instrumentation is leaving the industry,” Hale said. Emerson put a lot of that industry knowledge into the electronics and software of this latest device, he added, “so that it doesn’t require the person in the field to really have a great understanding of chromatography.”
The Danalyzer 370XA provides a C6+ analysis similar to the company’s legacy Danalyzer gas chromatographs, but in a smaller, simpler form, with improved diagnostics and an intuitive local operator interface (LOI).
Another change in the oil and gas industry is the considerable drop in time for construction and startup of a drilling operation. There was a time when that would be a 10-year process, Hale noted. “Today, a gas line in Marcellus [a shale formation in the Appalachian Basin] is up in less than six months.”
That puts pressure on initial setup, but there’s also much less time and personnel available for maintenance. There’s reduced capital and operating funds, and many operations are in increasingly remote locations.
A unique feature of the new GC is what Emerson calls the Maintainable Module, which puts all the analytical components into a module that can easily be removed and replaced in the field. “If something does go wrong, we can just swap out the module,” Hale explained. “You don’t have to repair individual valves or columns. You just put in a whole new module.”
That doesn’t mean the module just gets thrown away, though. It can be repaired and used again. “But when there is a problem, they can replace the module very quickly,” Hale said. This is particularly important for custody transfer applications. “It’s their cash register. So they do not want to be down.”
Easy-to-use software assistants on the LOI reduce the need for specialized training, providing step-by-step procedures for common operational and maintenance functions such as changing calibration gas, auto-valve timing and module replacement. “A non-educated user can diagnose the gas chromatograph, and see if it’s running correctly,” Hale said. “A GC expert would know how to do this manually. But we put it into the software so that a non-expert can do it.”