Richard Barr, Business Development Manager – Production Chemistry, explains that probing the exact reasons behind production issues is the obvious way to unlock the most effective solutions.

As we celebrate 50 years of the success of the Forties field in the United Kingdom Continental Shelf (UKCS), now is the time for a bit of reflection. It’s complex: we champion the “ups” or successes in the industry, but perhaps we should also be marking the “downs”, or setbacks, as they too have played a part with respect to progression.

Reflection is never easy as a process and it can throw up unexpected results, but often it can help one gain a wider picture of a situation – and thus a better outcome.

So, with the breadth of issues faced in the cyclical oil and gas industry, have we sometimes followed the same path for too long, or failed to adapt, missing a chance to improve, and has such an ethos proved costly?

Changing established approaches and attitudes can be challenging but it is obviously better to be part of a solution rather than part of the problem.

Take production operations. I have seen, and still hear about, how production is lost due to well shut-ins, inevitably resulting in targets being missed, and future operational expenditure budgets being cut: some of the numbers are truly concerning.

Production losses in the UKCS in 2019 amounted to 146m barrels of oil equivalent, of which 36m were due to the hydrocarbon processing system, 11m owing to the reservoir and 4m attributable to issues with the gathering system, however what we don’t know is the true cause of these production losses.

More answers, better solutions

It’s fine to suggest there was a gathering system issue – but why had the gathering system become an issue? Did it not meet its design purposes, its requirements – or was it something else? So, dissecting and leveraging such a setback or problem could ultimately lead to a defining answer.

Having worked for operators for several years, and now supporting them across the globe, I believe that if more operators shared further details of their challenges, then ultimately the service and support industry could offer better solutions.

As an example, allocating production losses to specific activities, rather than general areas, might take a bit more time in reporting and collating, but better data would be produced, providing greater information, which would, in turn, improve the industry’s knowledge and understanding.

How many operators, if they looked at the detail, would be able to pinpoint these losses to production chemistry issues? Unrepresentative topside sampling, pipeline flushing and/or a lack of accurate meter calibration, all impact the chemistry of what is produced. Understanding more of the problem would help the industry develop, innovate and offer technologies that can truly benefit sustained production and reduced uplifting costs.

But perhaps some of these solutions already exist, and a number of operators just aren’t aware of what is out there.

Trust in the chemistry of sampling

For example, the benefits from subsea sampling clearly far outweigh the risks associated with not knowing for certain what lies behind a problem. A subsea sample, obtained from the right place with the right equipment, will crucially not be downstream of deposits, does not require other wells to be shut in and does not rely on days of flushing in the hope that it is free from pipeline or other well contaminates.

What that sample will tell us is the actual chemistry: the physical and chemical properties of the produced fluids, confirming the mass balance in the pipeline taken upstream of deposits. A subsea sample is a sample taken at source, capturing the core elements of the problem afflicting the flowline, and therefore enabling the correct remedies and actions to be implemented.

It is important to remember the effective management of any process depends on understanding how that process is performing. At the end of the day, sampling is the key to unlocking all that data.

The moment you change your perception on subsea sampling, is also the moment you rewrite the chemistry of your process, allowing you to manage much more efficiently what you monitor.