September’s reading: Practical Optimization of Petroleum Production Systems

Practical Optimization of Petroleum Production Systems is filled with stories of problems and solutions in producing fields, health-checking tools, best-practices, worked examples, tips, and techniques that you can put to use immediately. It also describes proven methods for successful implementation of the Production System Optimization process into any asset or company.

The author, Burney Waring, practiced and studied optimization of oil and gas fields for 29 years, becoming one of Royal Dutch Shell’s top 120 upstream engineering experts before becoming a successful global optimization consultant. He has taught thousands of new and experienced engineers and led a wide variety of global projects and asset reviews. In this book, Burney shares his expertise in capturing hidden value within existing fields with engineers and asset leaders.

Practical Optimization of Petroleum Production Systems front cover

«“No, not that one!” Johnny is a smidge irritated. I’m more than a smidge ignorant and confused, so his irritation isn’t unexpected. “I’m telling you, it isn’t the surge vessel that’s the problem,” he says. He leads the way downstairs, away from the enormous, heavy and expensive steel pressure vessel, installed a few months earlier. I hope he is right. There is probably no way to fix that monster any time soon, or at a cost the company would be willing to pay. Walking downstairs, the sea breeze helps with the heat and humidity that is the Gulf of Mexico in summer. “There’s the problem,” Johnny says, pointing at the second stage separator that takes the liquid from the surge vessel. “That sucker has overflowed twice. That’s why you have to keep them from putting on any more production. This platform is at CAPACITY!” I don’t like people to scream at me, but I appreciate him making things clear to me, a very green engineer whose day got exciting at 6am on the tarmac at Lakefront airport as the Bell helicopter launched into the New Orleans dawn and headed south. The news about the problem separator, if true, is good. This second-stage vessel is much smaller than the monster surge vessel. The smaller vessel was reclaimed from the old equipment during last year’s refurbishment, and is in a better spot, near the outside of the deck. So probably the whole vessel skid could be replaced. Still, it would be a very expensive upgrade, I thought.

I was wrong.

I stand in the breeze and consider this second-stage vessel, the one that seems to be restricting production from the new platform 29 miles away. Last year’s project massively increased the capacity of this old platform and was brought in on-time and under-budget by Don, the Senior Facilities Engineer. I don’t yet appreciate how rare this is. Don has already moved on to his next big project. My first real project, to install a test facility and manifold on the new platform, has just been commissioned. The oil from the new wells on the new platform flows to this old platform. The surge vessel absorbs the big slugs in the 29-mile multiphase line and sends the liquids to this second-stage vessel. Don’s masterpiece is working as expected, and is at capacity. Unfortunately. Well, not really unfortunate at all - the new wells are better than expected and their production rates are not yet at their full potential. The team asked me to see what could be done to find more capacity. They want more production and are wondering why we didn’t provide even more spare capacity in the first place. Of course, if Don had done that then the same folks would have beat up Don with the over-expenditure stick. But I don’t know that yet. As a one-year engineer, I’m trying to take it all in, but I really have no idea what I’m doing. Johnny, standing next to me, is not going to magically provide the answers. I have a camera and start to take pictures. [In those days, no one asked if the camera was explosion proof or intrinsically safe. I’m sure it wasn’t.]

The picture-taking is going well and I’m starting to think about the heli-ride home. I notice that the oil outlet nozzle of the smaller separator routes through some skinnyish pipe. Since the liquid from the new wells is mostly oil, that pipe is carrying most of the new field’s liquid production. And look, that’s a small dump valve that it routes through. “Johnny, Is that a pretty small dump valve?” I ask, hoping for some help. “I don’t know, but it is wide open,” he says. We watch a while. The valve stays fully open. I think this means something. “If it is wide open then it can’t do any more. The valve is at its capacity. Right?” Johnny agrees. “So that valve right there is the whole problem?” I ask. “You’re the engineer,” Johnny says unhelpfully.

I am surprised and happy. This will be a cheap fix. Some more pictures, then off into the wild blue and home.

With some help back at the office, I designed a few feet of 2-inch piping that would split the flow into two 2-inch control valves, doubling the oil outlet capacity. Three weeks later the assembly was fabricated in a construction yard then installed offshore. For a cost of $20,000, oil production was increased a couple thousand barrels per day for at least the next six months. That’s about 6 cents per additional barrel, maybe less. I was very pleased with myself.

Naturally, this was not a significant event in anyone else’s life, but I remember it because it was the first time I had increased production from an existing field. It was also the first and only time in my brief Facilities Engineer assignment that I could see a direct connection between my own actions to the company’s bottom line.

Managers say, “You need to help our bottom line!” all the time. It is hard to see how attending the monthly meeting or making the weekly forecast help that line. But, adding barrels to the tank for the lowest possible cost that was easy to see!

I didn’t know at the time, but that was the beginning of my strange path-much-lesstraveled, to the often-neglected area of Production System Optimization (PSO).
While most of my colleagues fought for assignments in greenfield developments, I found plenty of low-hanging fruit and satisfaction in the brownfields.

Do you have an internal scorecard? I think many people do. Mine became ‘cost per barrel gained’. My supervisors were more interested in the number of workover and completion proposals I could produce a month. Naturally, my performance reviews were, shall we say, ‘variable’ in those days. But, when they let me, I got to see the fruits of my efforts doing simple jobs that paid out quickly. On this path, I found plenty to learn and over time managed to invent a few things of my own.

And, after those first years, I never needed to fight for my next job.»
(Short excerpt from the first chapter of the book)

The book is available globally on Amazon.

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