Digital Oilfield: Streamlining Hydrocarbon Measurement and Sampling

Digital Oilfield: Streamlining Hydrocarbon Measurement and Sampling

Today, with the new normal of low oil prices, the need to mitigate costly hydrocarbon measurement and sampling errors is more important than ever before. So, what can industry decision makers do to address issues with these important industry functions? The answer lies with innovative mobile and digital solutions.

In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the unique possibilities for mobile and emerging technology in oil and gas measurement and sampling.

Streamlining the Hydrocarbon Sampling Process with Mobile

Across the global onshore and offshore oil and gas industry, samples are collected for natural gas, NGLS, crude oil and condensate, and then sent to a lab for analysis.

Because of the vital role analysis results play in the industry — such as supporting the creation of sales contracts and protecting an operator from potential legal risk — it’s important that a sample get to the lab safely and with a documented chain of custody.

What is a Chain of Custody?

A chain of custody form includes information about where the sample was taken, the method of sampling, and specific testing requirements for the lab. The form also contains a record of all individuals who’ve had physical possession of the sample along its journey.

The chain of custody is nearly as important as the sample itself. A lost chain of custody form or an improperly completed chain of custody form compromises the analysis results — which can have a serious financial impact on the operator if for any reason a claim is made against them relative to the asset composition or quality.

How a Sample Currently Gets from the Lab to the Field

After a representative sample is collected at the wellsite, the customary industry process for sending a sample to a lab constitutes a measurement technician or other stakeholder completing a hardcopy chain of custody form in the field. This form travels with the sample from the point of sample collection to its destination.

Unfortunately, the current process for handling a custody transfer form between the field and the lab is not ideal because there’s a risk of forms getting lost or completed improperly.

A Digital Chain of Custody Solution

In today’s digital environment, the ubiquitous nature of mobile devices provides an excellent opportunity for operators or third party oilfield services providers that collect samples for clients to adopt a solution that ensures a reliable, digitally documented chain of custody.

In the future, instead of completing a hard copy chain of custody form that could be misplaced or improperly completed, a technician or other stakeholder could fill out all required information with an app on his phone or tablet in the field.

Here’s how this scenario might play out:

A technician opens his mobile app to gather a natural gas sample at a wellsite. The testing method is shown to him on his device. Once a representative sample is collected, the technician inputs all information in required form fields using the app, which helps mitigate any information collection oversight errors.

Next, the constant pressure cylinder, which includes a securely affixed RFID tag, is scanned by the mobile app, and a unique identifier is assigned to it. At this point all of the information recorded by the technician in the field is transferred to the cloud along with the unique identifier for the cylinder. At each point where the sample transfers custody, the tag on the cylinder is scanned by the recipient who would also have the app on their mobile phone. The recipient would then click a button on the app to accept the transfer — giving him custody.

By the time a cylinder reaches the lab, all the data collected in the field — including the information about who’s been in possession of the cylinder at all stages of its journey — has been automatically input into the lab’s database. This saves the time of manually entering all the data from a hardcopy form and ensures no information input oversight at the lab.

Not only would a digital transfer custody solution save time, it would also enable a digitally documented chain of custody for the entire journey of the cylinder — protecting the operator from legal risk.

Preventing Measurement Error with Mobile and Digital

In the modern oilfield, there are many opportunities for oil and gas measurement to be streamlined with mobile and digital. For instance, the process for run ticketing at a lease site can be greatly improved with a custom mobile app.

In the absence of a lease automatic custody transfer (LACT) unit, hand-completed paper run tickets are used to document the amount of crude collected from tanks at a lease site by truck. The paper run ticket process isn’t streamlined and often prone to human error — resulting in production accounting miscalculations, regulatory non-compliance and revenue loss. With a custom mobile app or an app ecosystem for multiple stakeholders, the paper run ticket process could be greatly improved. How? For starters, a custom mobile app could include built-in data validations and alerts for the field user to prevent data from being input improperly. Furthermore, the app could be integrated with the operating company’s back office accounting and revenue systems via secure application program interface (API) connections to provide stakeholders, such as division order analysts, with the accurate data they require. The result? No more redundant and error prone data entry by analysts in-house — ensuring accurate payments of royalty proceeds to interest owners.

In addition to process optimization for field measurement procedures, mobile and digital solutions can also enhance measurement accuracy and efficiency in other ways.

Today, cloud-based SCADA software helps connect industry stakeholders with important data on field measurement equipment, yielding many benefits, such as the ability to automate alerts for meter calibrations and schedule measurement equipment maintenance. With current technology, field measurement technicians, who are generally responsible for the equipment maintenance and meter calibrations, receive alerts — typically via some kind of desktop user interface — to help them, among other things, structure their daily workflows more efficiently.

While measurement technicians receive extremely helpful information to aid them in their jobs thanks to technology, in the near future, digital technology is certain to help connect these technicians to the tools and resources they rely upon anywhere they go.

The Future of Field Measurement Equipment Maintenance

Some of the challenges measurement technicians currently face in the field include staying up to date with regulations and industry standard tools. For measurement technicians employed by contract service providers or new hires at upstream oil and gas companies, staying on top of the operator’s exacting standard operating procedure can also present a challenge.

To help overcome some of these challenges, augmented reality (AR) technology, which superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, could help measurement technicians tackle some of their most important tasks in the very near future.

Here’s how a scenario with AR might play out:

A measurement technician arrives at a site to calibrate a gas meter. He puts on a wearable device (AR glasses) before he gets out of his truck. The first thing he sees is his job order and the correct industry standard tools needed. Once in front of the meter, the technician selects a step-by-step procedure for completing the job; this procedure guides the technician through the job with superimposed computer-generated images. Towards the end of the procedure, the technician mistakenly puts the orifice plate in backwards — a potentially costly error — and an alert immediately appears notifying him the plate needs to be put in the proper way.

With AR glasses providing an extra set of eyes on the job — a number of critical functions of a measurement technician’s job could be aided tremendously — helping the technician’s job performance and saving the company time and money.

In today’s economic climate, it’s important to ensure that every penny of revenue is utilized. By using a mobile or digital solution available today — and investing in the technology of tomorrow like AR — operators can help mitigate legal risks and keep the revenue stream flowing from their operations.