January/February 2010

Leveraging predictive maintenance to achieve greener field operations

By Jim Fererro

Announcements in the energy industry about efforts to go "green" are often met with skepticism and resistance, largely due to fears of high cost or implementation difficulty.

However, even basic steps, such as changing how field personnel operate and integrating equipment into existing SCADA systems, can produce efficiencies that directly benefit the bottom line. 

Evolving from the "milk run" model

Most oil and gas fields are traditionally operated under a "milk run" model, meaning a field technician visits sites based on a schedule, or a daily milk run. Under this model, if a compressor shuts down after the site visit, it could potentially go unnoticed until the next scheduled visit, meaning up to 24 hours of downtime and lost production and revenue.

For example: Take a compressor that has a discharge temperature shutdown at 300°F. During the technician's typical "milk run" visit, the compressor's panel shows a discharge temperature of 265°F. The technician moves on since there appears to be no issue with the unit.

What the technician does not know is the temperature should only be 235°F, and it has been rising. If it were monitored remotely, the temperature would be measured constantly in real time from a central control room. The operator would be well aware of the increase because of the trending capabilities of the SCADA system and could dispatch a technician as the trend was identified. The technician would arrive at the scene with knowledge of the issue and, most likely, would have the right part with him to quickly remedy the situation.

This ability to proactively address field problems, avoid shutdowns, and reduce miles driven each day saves hours of time and expense. It also makes a positive impact environmentally and has a significant effect on safety statistics, as most reportable health, safety, and environment incidents are vehicle and driver related.

Automating field operations

Reducing unnecessary site visits via remote monitoring is important when working in environmentally sensitive areas, especially when considering impact to vegetation and disturbed wildlife. 

To illustrate this point, a major water project in Wyoming was producing significant amounts of precipitation that had to be disposed of or harvested as a product. Previously, the company sent trucks to pick up the water, creating unnecessary traffic. By integrating remote PLCs into the company's SCADA system, the company automated the water capture and piped it directly to disposal facilities. This field automation has reduced traffic, decreasing the company's environmental impact.

Emissions are strictly regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and states. If a company acquires new fields or wells, new equipment has to meet EPA and state requirements for NOX, CO, and NMHC limits. Remote monitoring of certain equipment can ensure measurements are integrated into SCADA systems for recordkeeping. If existing regulations are tightened, more accurate records and monitoring will be mandated, and remote capture of data will be the only realistic way to comply with EPA standards.

Remote monitoring also reduces impact from spills and unplanned hydrocarbon releases. In a SCADA-monitored field, operators can immediately dispatch staff to control the accident, significantly reducing environmental impact and making cleanup easier and faster. 

In an industry where downtime can represent huge financial losses, being proactive, not reactive, has a significant impact on the bottom line, and a company's carbon footprint.


Jim Fererro is a founder and vice president of GlobaLogix, a Houston-based oil field automation company that helps oil and gas companies achieve greater efficiency, productivity and accuracy in their oilfield operations by providing access not just to data, but to the right information at the right time.  For more information, visit www.globlx.com.