September 2020

Executive viewpoint

The best technology is often boring
Jesse Filipi / Ambyint

Buying new optimization technology is like taking an offensive lineman in the first round of the NFL Draft … boring. But investing in the trenches protects your skill players’ blind sides, gives them time to score more points, and builds a winning season.

We have all missed sports during the pandemic, and any NFL news—even the typically boring draft—was a welcomed distraction. True sports fans know that the draft can swing the fortunes of an NFL team. Often, it’s not the flashy wide receiver taken in the first round that wins championships, but rather a beefy lineman with good footwork that determines a team’s success. Hall of Fame coach John Madden famously said, “Usually the team with the most points wins the game.” If a quarterback doesn’t have time to throw, and a running back doesn’t have holes to run through, the odds of winning are slim.

The same goes for well optimization and failure rate reduction. Management wants to see production up and failure rates down (i.e., all wins, no losses), and operations wants to run the right plays to achieve those goals. The problem is that there are more wells than people to manage them, which translates into difficulty executing even fundamental production optimization plays.

What are the fundamentals of optimizing production? They include properly researched designs, a data-driven chemical program, and matched inputs to outputs, which entails frequent set point updates against constantly changing production variables. Sounds simple, but it is a struggle to achieve when other priorities, such as a failure on a route, vie for attention. Add meetings, routine reporting, quarterly reviews, and general firefighting, and there just isn’t enough time in the day.

Overseeing roughly 250 wells, on average, a typical engineer investigates only 20% of those wells daily—often utilizing manual processes and unscalable analytics. How are the skilled position players (engineers and techs) supposed to score points and win games, if they don’t have the time or tools surrounding them to execute?

At the heart of many artificial lift operational playbooks are control systems or programmable logic controllers (PLCs). PLCs were meant as a “set it and forget” production optimization strategy. The truth is that PLCs fall short, requiring humans to manage set points and well outcomes themselves. The result is that 85% of all wells underperform today.

Process dispersion highlights controller shortcomings. Our global baseline across more than 50 E&P companies shows volatility spans from 0 to 50 cycles, and fillage spreads between 20% to 100%. In plain terms, it means high variability in outcomes and no alignment between cause and effect. In plainer terms, it means wasted dollars. The methods and tools of the past clearly do not meet the needs of the game. It’s time to draft a beefy lineman with good footwork.

Consistent and effective. Much is made of data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI). The buzz is so strong, that it’s tough to know which players contribute value today, and which ones require more time on the practice squad. One area of AI—setpoint optimization—has earned the right to play.


Fig. 1. Data analytics and artificial intelligence contribute greatly to today’s well optimization process.
Fig. 1. Data analytics and artificial intelligence contribute greatly to today’s well optimization process.

AI optimizes controller set points and does so without human intervention. How? AI is ideally suited to automate high-value, repetitive tasks, freeing engineers to apply their expertise and skills in other areas. AI maintains constant vigilance on a well’s optimization state, as it is on the job 24/7/365. AI is the 310-pound left tackle, who blocks on every play, always picks up the blitz, and without fail gives his quarterback the time to do his job.

We’ve seen this play out in every major North American basin. For example, one Eagle Ford-based E&P saw AI produce 1,800 autonomous set point changes over the course of a year, resulting in 17 million fewer rod lift strokes and 11% lower power consumption on over-pumping wells, as well as 6% higher production volumes on under-pumping wells. Better optimized wells mean greater cash flow victory in today’s economic climate.

Microsoft is boring. Microsoft is the epitome of boring, but effective. Excel, Word … these tools are the offensive linemen of the office world, enabling greater productivity in analysis and communication. For set point optimization—an activity that is time-consuming, follows consistent best practices, and requires constant vigilance for maximum effect—investing in technology like AI is the strategic yet boring pick that will help your skill players do more with less and build a long-term winner.

About the Authors
Jesse Filipi
Jesse Filipi is Director of Product Management at Ambyint. He has ten years of energy experience spanning technology, field-based production operations, and reservoir engineering. Mr. Filipi holds an MBA and Masters degree in Materials Science from Rice University, and a BS degree from McGill University.
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