Technology as a silver bullet to mitigate upstream economics



Besides stagnating demand and supply dynamics, industry headwinds include proven oil reserves trending towards unconventional and remote resources. Stringent upstream economics means companies need to better understand how advanced technology drives productivity in exploration and production. Emerging technologies, such as big data, can help producers make better decisions, anytime today. This is a business accelerator. Early adopters in this digitization movement include  customers, such as Statoil in the North Sea field and Saudi Aramco across the value chain. Producers need to leverage innovation, such as data analytics and visualization, machine learning and knowledge automation, standardized designs and model-based analytics.

Predictive knowledge

Tools that understand subtle patterns in data, such as machine learning, can help producers better understand situations that will lead to process problems and failure. The types of data fundamental to asset optimization, include equipment data, process data, maintenance data, process safety data, condition data and ERP data. The right data combination allows prescriptive analytics to prevent, avoid, defer maintenance and shutdowns. Producers can maximize uptime and save money by understanding hydrocarbon flows interaction, process and equipment, as well as prescriptive strategies to modify operation strategies. Asset data is proliferating, as more sensors and instruments are placed on strategic equipment. For unconventional assets to be feasible for production, producers need to consider the use of approaches, such as machine learning, in combination with advanced optimization modeling to achieve sustainable economics of production. Technology that turns data into predictive knowledge includes advanced process data historian, visualization systems, machine learning and online data reconciliation.

Skills shortage

Many experienced experts have retired or left the industry. Younger and less experienced professionals need to catch up with decades of lost experience. The right tool is needed to automate knowledge and save millions of dollars. Producers can maximize benefits with the patented Adaptive Process Control technology in Aspen DMC3 software. This technology can sustain peak APC performance by continuously adapting controllers in the background without any disruption to the process. Suncor uses this technology to substitute teams of experienced operators, increase production by 5%, use less water, reduce carbon footprint and increase revenues by millions to achieve incremental production with zero CAPEX. Activated Exchanger Design software merges two rigorous modeling environments, allowing process engineers to optimize processes and heat exchanges concurrently, without the involvement of heat transfer specialists. Using this technology, Petrofac can increase gas field production by more than 10% with minimal CAPEX investment. Rigorous Column Analysis with advanced 3D visualization software helps operating engineers understand the implications of operating strategies on column hydraulics and performance. This helps Tupras, Encana and CoconoPhilips improve column reliability.

Process knowledge

Models provide the opportunity to leverage available data by encapsulating the interactions of the reservoir, production processes, equipment and economics. With Advanced Solvers, AspenTech has been working with a major Alaska North Slope operator to place models of critical gas compressor trains online. This yields several million dollars in increased production within a few weeks. Invented by AspenTech, Rigorous modeling software captures operating realities to address high value improvement needs and the optimization of operating assets. The ease of use in dynamic modeling has greatly diminished the barrier of entry for this approach. The Genesis Group, a consulting firm for upstream operators, has reduced typical startup time of an offshore operation from days to hours, which results in incremental revenue opportunities. AspenTech’s recent research on encapsulating flow assurance thermodynamics into the general process modeling environment also gives the general process engineer more insight. Model-based analytics also helps operators make better choices when it comes to unconventional plays, as hydrocarbon resources are increasingly found in remote places that are complex to exploit. A major Alaska North Slope operator has partnered AspenTech in unraveling the complexity of gas compression in fluctuating ambient conditions, resulting in very significant production benefits. As another example, with shale production, easy to configure hydraulics analysis supports the dynamics of short cycle unconventional plays. Based on the constraints and possibilities of gathering networks, technical teams need to ensure that the right wells are drilled at the right time.

Standardized designs

Companies need to improve their assets on a continuous basis to help improve overall operability, maintainability and uptime. Captured via a feedback loop, operating learnings about the process can be deployed in the next similar asset development project. Following this concept, ExxonMobil has collaborated with AspenTech to develop a fully repeatable, fast, conceptual design environment. This allows the customer to reduce CAPEX costs by 25 – 50% for new LNG production facilities and shorten concept design time by months. Groundbreaking technology, such as costing models that are specific to modular construction, and volumetric model based conceptual estimates, which are easy and accurate to scale, within AspenTech’s ACCE estimating systems, are employing this approach to capture completed projects as cost models. These cost models can be reused in similar situations. Integrated economics enables the rapid translation of process models into total installed costs, while enterprise reliability analysis enables a scalable analysis of the reliability of a unit, system, site or enterprise, according to CAPEX and OPEX cost investments.

A silver bullet for the upstream

To mitigate stringent upstream economics, companies need advanced technology to drive productivity in exploration and production. The right technology tools can turn data and models into predictive knowledge and automate the knowledge to bridge the upstream gap. This also saves millions of dollars. Besides providing the opportunity to leverage available data, models help operators make better choices, as hydrocarbons resources are increasingly found in unconventional places that are remote and complex to exploit. To garner the full benefits of improving overall operability, maintainability and uptime, companies need to continuously improve their assets. In fact, as the likes of ExxonMobil and Statoil have discovered, there are many opportunities for upstream operators to achieve very significant economic benefits and increase agility in decision making to gain a global competitive advantage.