The Key to Effective Systems Engineering
The role of flow assurance, production chemistry, and now data
When developing new and operating existing oil and gas fields, there is a plethora of technical disciplines that need to get involved in the design and operational processes. These include areas such as drilling, subsurface, wells, subsea, pipelines, topsides facilities, HSE, etc. Each of these areas have very different requirements and methods to achieve the same priority of maximising oil and gas production, operating safely, all while spending the right amount of money to do it. Therefore, in many instances it can be like herding cats when trying to have everyone work together for the same goal. In fact, in many cases I have found that people work unintentionally against each other because they just haven’t talked to each other regarding what each group is doing.
This is where System Engineering comes to the fore as it has been created to maximise the efficiency of the design process by improving project integration and at the same time making sure that each of the various project teams are communicating with each other. By doing this it:
Ensures full integration of technical design
Creates a platform to allow the various project and/or operation technical issues to be communicated to the relevant technical teams
Improves management of change processes and resolution of Technical Actions
Helps create a single goal/team philosophy
Prevents duplication of effort
All the above will not be possible if the system allows project / work silos to be created between the various technical teams. By taking the Systems Engineering approach, it maximises the chance to successfully complete the project and/or to maximise production in a system already in operation.
The oil and gas design process has always involved various project teams with different technical requirements having to work together. However, it is probably only in the last 10-15 years that the benefits of having a truly distinct Systems Engineering function has been recognised. So, with that in mind what is “Systems Engineering” and why is it so important?
What is Systems Engineering?
Systems engineering in the oil and gas industry refers to the application of systematic and holistic approaches to design, analysis, integration, and management of complex systems within the oil and gas sector. This discipline is essential for addressing the challenges associated with the exploration, production, transportation, and refining of oil and gas resources. In other words, it allows the industry to see the forest instead of the individual trees.
When it comes to System Engineering in the oil and gas industry, some of the key aspects include:
1. Interdisciplinary Approach: Systems engineering involves the collaboration of experts from various engineering disciplines, such as drilling, reservoir, petroleum, well, subsea, facilities, structural / civil, flow assurance, production chemistry, pipeline engineering, etc. This interdisciplinary approach ensures that all aspects of a project are considered and integrated into a cohesive, safe and efficient system.
2. Lifecycle Management: There is a focus on the entire lifecycle of an oil and gas project, from conceptualization and design to construction, operation, maintenance, and decommissioning. Managing the entire lifecycle helps optimize performance, reduce costs, and enhance safety.
3. Requirements Analysis: Systems engineers work to understand and define the requirements of the oil and gas system. This includes technical specifications, environmental considerations, safety standards, and regulatory compliance.
4. Risk Management: Identifying and managing risks is crucial in the oil and gas industry due to the inherent complexities and potential hazards. Systems engineers assess risks and develop strategies to mitigate them throughout the project lifecycle and into Operations.
5. Integration of Technologies: Oil and gas projects often involve the integration of various technologies, from drilling and hydrocarbon extraction to processing and transportation. Systems engineers ensure that the technologies required for this work seamlessly together to achieve project objectives.
6. Optimization and Efficiency: Systems engineering aims to optimize the performance of oil and gas systems by considering factors such as energy efficiency, resource utilization, and overall process effectiveness. This helps enhance productivity while minimizing environmental impact.
7. Compliance and Standards: Adhering to industry standards, regulatory requirements, and safety protocols is paramount in the oil and gas sector. Systems engineers ensure that projects comply with relevant standards and regulations.
8. Project Management: Systems engineering principles are applied to project management, ensuring that projects are executed on time and within budget. This involves coordinating various tasks, managing resources, and addressing unforeseen challenges.
9. Adaptability: The oil and gas industry is dynamic, with technological advancements and market fluctuations. Systems engineering provides a framework for adapting to changes, whether they involve upgrading existing infrastructure or incorporating new technologies.
Overall, systems engineering plays a critical role in ensuring the success and sustainability of oil and gas projects by addressing the intricate challenges inherent in the industry.
Where does flow assurance and production chemistry fit in?
So now that we know what System Engineering is all about, why is Flow Assurance and Production Chemistry key to its success? It is because the Flow Assurance and Production Chemistry discipline is probably one of the very view disciplines that is truly involved in every step of the process of getting the oil and gas produced from the reservoir rock all the way to the point of sale. Whether that involves determining the impact of the chemical composition of mineralogy of the reservoir and the oil, water and gas that is being produced, the solids that may deposit, the hydraulics involved in producing the oil and gas through the various tubing, flowlines, pipes, equipment and vessels or maximizing the amount of oil and gas produced. The Flow Assurance and Production Chemistry specialist is usually at the centre of the process working with all the other technical disciplines as visualized below.
As you can see from the graphic, virtually every technical discipline at some point in the project design and Operations process needs to speak to whoever is dealing with the Flow Assurance and Production Chemistry issues. We are very much in demand.
In some respects that can be a double-edged sword because it means to do the job of a Flow Assurance / Production Chemistry specialist well you need not only to know your subject but to know what is important to the other technical disciplines you are talking to and possibly even more importantly where things could go wrong for them. So that means the Flow Assurance and Production Chemistry specialist needs to know about a lot of things, such as:
1. Subsurface / Wells
Formation Damage mechanisms, Water Injection / Reservoir Souring, EOR, Sand Production, Reservoir Engineering, Artificial Lift requirements, Completion Design, Downhole chemical injection / squeezes, well fluid sampling, well material selection, PVT Modelling, etc
2. Subsea Production systems and Pipelines
Subsea equipment selection, Subsea processing, subsea well jumper sizing, Xmas tree design, Materials of Construction, Sand detection and transportation, Chemical Injection Umbilical sizing and distribution, Subsea Equipment installation and commissioning, Subsea flow metering, Flowline Insulation requirements, Pigging, Line routing, Blockage Remediation, Fluid Sampling, etc
3. Topsides Facilities
Separator and equipment Sizing, Level Control, Emergency and Process Shutdowns, Gas Processing, Power Generation, Flow metering, Crude Oil Storage, Pipe Stress, Materials of Construction, Oil and Water processing, Process Monitoring requirements, Pump design, equipment installation and commissioning, etc
System Commissioning and Start-up, Troubleshooting, Data Analytics, Environmental emissions monitoring, Pigging, Chemical selection and testing, Sampling requirements, lab design and analysis, Chemical supply chain logistics, oil and water specifications, oil marketing requirements, corrosion monitoring, asset integrity, operator training, etc
This really means that as a Flow Assurance / Production Chemistry specialist, you become a jack of all trades but still be a master in your core discipline.
By having a good grasp what the other technical disciplines do and what they need, the Flow Assurance / Production Chemistry Specialist in their Systems Engineering role can ensure that any decision made by an individual technical discipline does not have some unintended consequence upstream and/or downstream of where the decision has been made. This seems like an obvious approach, but experience has shown that there have been too many project design and operational decisions that have been made which have gone on to cause untold problems elsewhere in the system. These would have all been preventable with good communication. Unsurprisingly enough, this is more of a problem when project and operational teams work in silos and forget to talk to each other and don’t follow the Systems Engineering approach.
Even in the world of Flow Assurance and Production Chemistry things can go wrong if the focus is too much on one and not enough on the other. In many instances a Flow Assurance Engineer does not know enough about fluid chemistry issues and the Production Chemist does not know enough about the Fluid hydraulics of the system. This is why at Pontem Analytics we make sure that we have the inhouse expertise and fully rounded individuals to provide the required Flow Assurance and Production Chemistry advice, with always one eye on the overall impact on the system. We are cognizant of the fact that when the Project does not have an official Systems Engineering team, Pontem Analytics have to sometimes step up and provide the Systems Engineering role, unofficially.
Today’s System Engineers still need one more tool
As the need for efficiency and optimization has increased even further, there is also now one other tool that’s required of the Systems Engineer and that is a thorough understanding of data and the technologies that can create value from data. Coming back to the graphic further above, data is now also a core competency that needs a proper seat at the table. This is one of the reasons that Pontem Analytics has emerged, to bridge this gap that now exists between the various domain experts and data.
Getting into the details of this, during the design phase, we do not have a physical asset and therefore “real” data is scarce. But what we do have, is the data produced from simulations. This can be used to create valuable training, design, and monitoring tools or algorithms to help progress the project, preparing it for the day it does become operational.
Once the asset is up and running, it’s go time. At that point, data is being generated constantly. Creating virtual libraries to collect, store, and make use of that data becomes crucial as it allows for companies to smartly use the accumulated data to maximize value from the asset.
At Pontem Analytics we use our expertise to help companies establish this flow of data in addition to leveraging analytics to identify how best to operate existing systems. Typically, this is achieved by evaluating several areas such as:
The performance of the current equipment in use
Identifying where new technology could maximise production
Ascertaining the reasons and solutions for system bottlenecks
By using Machine Learning to predict what may occur in the future
By carrying out the above, this provides solutions that optimize production levels sooner rather than later.
Oil and gas projects and assets today need Systems Engineers more than ever. Someone that can help to make sure the various disciplines are complementing each other and are aligned towards common goals. In most cases, the bridge between these various disciplines is flow assurance and production chemistry. But there is also another bridge rapidly emerging and that is data. Each discipline produces data that is valuable to the asset at every stage of its development. Harnessing that data is now another role that is required of the Systems Engineer. Providing this holistic approach to oil and gas projects is the reason that Pontem Analytics was established.