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A Key Consideration when Automating Large Wellpads: Does the Automation Platform Provide Truly Integrated Measurement Capability?

Large wellpads will continue to be the norm in shale production, even while the industry adjusts to a lower oil price environment, as they still offer the best combination of operational efficiency and production potential. Producers have much more to consider these days in their selection of wellpad automation. Pre-conceived notions about specific technologies may no longer be accurate since today’s newer platforms blur the lines between RTUs and PLCs. A thorough evaluation of the capabilities that modern platforms provide to address critical business and operational needs is the best approach. 

As companies look to their future in an uncertain environment, selecting the right automation and measurement platform becomes a critical decision that can deliver real operational cost savings by reducing complexity, allowing for more flexible engineering practices, and providing the tools necessary to employ truly standardized approaches across the organization and asset base. 

When planning how to automate a large multi-wellpad operation, there are three questions that should be carefully considered:

  1. Can the automation platform easily scale and does it offer the architecture, control, and power requirements to handle large, complex sites?
  2. Does it offer truly integrated measurement?
  3. Is it easy to use and maintain?

In this second article in our series of three, let’s take a closer look at integrated measurement and the shortcomings that can arise with a less standardized, multi-vendor solution.

Some automation vendors have attempted to partner with third party companies to provide EFM capability as hardware modules for their product. When evaluating a new automation platform, this approach should cause concern. Ultimately, this is still a two-vendor approach and is little different than just buying a PLC and a separate EFM device, except for the convenience factor of a footprint reduction. This multi-vendor approach is potentially introducing additional headaches and complexity that is counter to the industry direction of standardization and complexity reduction. The primary concerns are the challenges around support and technical issues when there are two different vendors involved. When problems arise, it may not be easy to determine which technology requires attention. Plus, this lack of standardization means the organization needs to invest additional time and cost to train personnel on multiple software tools. There are also supply chain complexities, including the challenges with separate sets of hardware spares.

Modern controllers with truly integrated measurement capability, like Emerson’s FB3000 RTU, support gas, liquids, and allocation measurement in up to 36 runs (or more) in a single CPU module. Furthermore, these capabilities are integrated as part of the base firmware with calculations that have been independently tested and verified for accuracy and regulatory compliance, ensuring data integrity. Modern controllers also offer an integrated configuration environment, a unified set of software tools, and a single hardware platform.

The opportunity to reduce complexities by streamlining to a single-vendor approach offers numerous advantages. There is much to be gained by taking a consistent approach to user training and operation since staff can be trained once to oversee a fleet of devices. New software releases can also be managed much more efficiently while maintenance practices can be applied more uniformly across a large wellpad. Our next article in this series further explores how today’s automation is providing greater ease-of-use and maintainability in the field.

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