What's new in production
Rainer Phelps’ job title is a pretty good indicator of the direction that our industry is heading. You’ll notice that “Service Combinations, Business Development Manager” doesn’t say tool this or chemical that. Phelps’ job at Baker Hughes, as with similarly situated people in every forward-thinking service company, is to solve customer problems using a “systematic approach.” You may consider these two words overused—I do—but in this case, they form the perfect label for the process.
This approach isn’t news in itself; the industry has recognized for some time the benefits of selling a car optimized (speaking of overused words) for the trip the customer wants to take, rather than selling just the parts that the customer thinks are needed to build it. Instead, the news, here, is the continuing stream of inventive ways in which the systematic approach manifests itself in various parts of upstream operations, often to great effect.
Our topic today, artificial lift, is an example. Phelps describes the situation: “Production engineers are often tasked with managing both the artificial lift (AL) system and upstream chemical injection program for a project, without the in-depth knowledge to understand the implications of each on total production enhancement—that is, achieving targeted levels of high-quality production over the life of the well. For example, how do chemical treatments for scale, asphaltenes and paraffins impact the AL program? How is it possible to maintain asset integrity while protecting the AL system metallurgy from corrosion?”
The official name of the company’s response—production enrichment—is a bit flowery, but it does get to the nub. According to Phelps, said response is holistic, and it intends to determine what’s necessary to meet production objectives without jeopardizing the electrical submersible pumping (ESP) equipment. This approach requires integrated chemical and AL expertise to understand the chemical composition of fluid streams, and their impact on the AL system, and to choose and deploy the best upstream chemical and AL solution.
The goal is to achieve the following troika: meeting production levels and product quality objectives over the life of the well; avoiding non-productive time, well intervention and equipment replacement costs; and ensuring safety and environmental sustainability.
This effort is abetted by another trick in the bag: Integrated, remote monitoring and automation of the upstream chemical program and the AL system. Remote monitoring helps to ensure that chemical injection rates remain at optimal levels; the AL system remains unencumbered by scale, asphaltenes or paraffins; and that it runs at its best efficiency point. As a bonus, integrated incident review and analysis optimize field management.
It’s safe to say that the approach works. For example, Phelps points to a Canadian EOR project, where frequent ESP equipment damage from unaddressed fluid challenges was driving up the capital expense (CAPEX) spend for that work. Scale and asphaltene fouling on the CO2 flood project had not only reduced ESP run life, but also had led to production losses.
A team, composed of the service company’s chemical and AL specialists, designed a customized asphaltene and scale treatment program to be applied, on a continuous basis, with existing ESP equipment on five of the most problematic wells in the field. Extensive field and lab testing identified the products-of-choice for the five-well trial. The chemical treatments were injected downhole, using capillary lines at 1,000 ppm of asphaltene inhibitor and 20 ppm of scale inhibitor into the production stream.
After the chemical treatment was in place, the run life of the ESP systems increased an average of 133% across the five trial wells. The treatment completely eliminated asphaltene fouling in the ESPs, and successfully managed asphaltene and scale present in the production stream. The solution also helped the operator reduce CAPEX spend on ESP system replacement CAPEX 80% over a five-year period, and it reduced lifting costs substantially.
Realized cost savings were valued at $1.5 million. Increased annual production across the five trial wells was more than $100,000. Total annual realized revenue across the five trial wells was estimated at $11 million.
But wait, there’s more. According to Phelps, “… safety and environmental sustainability are enhanced, and HSE risk is mitigated, by using green chemistries specifically designed to minimize the environmental impact of production operations, and safer artificial lift systems with less potential for surface leaks and emissions. Integrated monitoring and remote automation of the entire production system substantially reduces travel to wellsites, to check chemical tank levels and artificial lift operational parameters.”
The company is so confident in its approach, it even offers a warranty, which it says “… could be compared to [extended] warranties available with a new car purchase, which expands the coverage on the ESP system to issues related to downhole conditions. The warranty is usually one year and is offered at the time of tender or bid submission. It covers the cost of failed ESP components—including the pump, motor or cable—caused by solids deposits and/or chemical incompatibilities.”
The limitations and exclusions do not seem unreasonable to me, all things considered. See the fine print for details, as they say, and form your own opinion. Anyway, the mere existence of it is noteworthy.
Buzzwords they may be, but let’s face it: terms like “optimization,” “team,” “integration,” and “systems” usefully label processes applied smartly, often to great effect, to wrest new efficiencies from ever-more-complex and difficult production challenges.
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