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Keeping Upstream Water Flowing
March 29, 2021 | Robert Bergman
In his March E&P cover story, Senior Editor Brian Walzel takes a deep dive into upstream oil & gas water management as an industry unto itself and as a key enabler in helping the industry recover from the combined impact of falling oil prices and global pandemic.
“Even before the double headwinds of 2020, operators began to transform from a grow-at-all-costs mindset to placing a priority on reducing expenses and generating cash flow. Those efforts have included identifying efficiencies in their water management program and working with service providers to achieve the best possible price on sourcing, recycling and disposing of water,” Walzel writes.
Digital water management
Like the upstream oil & gas industry in general, Walzel found water management entering the era of digitalization, using automation to track where their water is going, where it is coming from, how much is needed, how much is being used and how much it is costing them. His sources described examples of automation for the following applications:
- Pumps, drives and valves that provide data that can measure wellbore integrity, predictive analytics and equipment maintenance information.
- Monitoring water quality and water chemistry to help make decisions for blends and mixes.
- Helping manage and monitor downhole quality issues in water wells.
- Implementing SCADA systems to remotely monitor and control assets in fluid management.
- Monitoring production batteries, pits, ponds, pipelines, disposal wells and interconnected closed-loop systems.
As an example of an upstream water management supplier that is using automation for such purposes, Walzel describes the automation system that Texas automation integrator Flow-Sync has built for FLOWPOINT Water Solutions. FLOWPOINT supplies fracking operations with the millions of barrels of water needed for fracking, which requires identifying water sources, negotiating rights-of-way, installing pipeline and storage units, and pumping water to the well sites. All of this can take months of preparation, moving high volumes of water over distances that extend more than 10 miles and involve miles of temporary pipeline. The automation system Flow-Sync developed using Bedrock Open Secure Automation (OSA) provides cyber secure, real-time visibility into all operations to monitor multiple pumps remotely, giving each person control over a larger portion of the water transfer operations.
“You can control pressure more accurately, and you can control the sequential startup and shutdown of pumps more accurately,” Bedrock Automation CEO Albert Rooyakkers said. “With basic flow metering, you can conduct leak detection. Once you have some simple data, you are not having to drive 10 miles to the next pump to manually check it. You can instantly get this data. By having the wisdom of human intelligence, looking at the data in a centralized location, you are going to be able to achieve a lot of improvements in safety, reliability and operational integrity.”
Emerging water management solutions
In addition to automation and digitization, Walzel’s article covers emerging water management technologies that are also being applied to improve efficiency in water management:
- The move toward large scale centralized treatment facilities, so water can be managed more efficiently.
- Replacing fracking water with gas foam, in which natural gas streams are jetted into pressurized water, using up to 80% less water, while potentially improving production rates.
- Evaporation technologies, which, instead of moving wastewater to disposal wells, convert part of the waste into clean vapor that is released into the atmosphere and the rest into a concentrated brine that can be used for drilling, workovers and completions or to reduce disposal volumes.
- Efforts to reduce the over-pressurization that contributes to seismicity, including using smaller wells, reducing disposal volumes, increasing distance between drilling and disposal sites and increased recycling and reuse.
The road ahead
Another one of Walzel’s sources, B3 Insight CEO Kelly Bennett, sees some production growth this year but attributes that primarily to returning to drilled but uncompleted (DUCs) sites. Otherwise, he sees the trend to reduce capex in favor of generating returns continuing.
For more information on reducing upstream spending see DRIVING COSTS OUT OF UPSTREAM OIL & GAS OPERATIONS WITH OPEN SECURE AUTOMATION