Smart money is going on the intelligent wells

With companies increasingly using enhanced oil recovery methods, and drilling horizonal wells that generate more gas and water, the need to monitor and regulate the increased flows of gases and liquids is growing

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By  Oil&Gas Middle East staff Published  June 6, 2006

Technology|~|tech2.jpg|~||~|At the heart of the issues surrounding intelligent wells lies the very definition of the term. This is cited as a major factor behind the apparent reluctance of some oil and gas producers to adopt intelligent well technology, despite the obvious benefits these systems can bring. But this is changing and leading producers, including some in the Middle East, are now discovering that these systems improve reservoir management, optimise production and recovery, and minimise well intervention.

So what exactly is an intelligent well? The Intelligent Well Reliability Group (IWRG): Baker Oil Tools, BP, Chevron, Eni-Agip, ExxonMobil, Saudi Aramco, Schlumberger, Shell, Statoil, Weatherford and WellDynamics defines it as “a well equipped with the means to monitor specified parameters such as fluid flow, temperature and pressure”. It also involves controls that enable the “flow from each of the zones to be independently modulated from a remote location either from the wellhead, or a nearby offshore platform or a distant facility.”
Shell defines an intelligent well as one that combines “downhole control with measuring technology to manage production and injection into different areas of the reservoir automatically,” and claims this technology can bring about a 20-30% improvement in costs.

Baker Hughes defines an intelligent well as one that differs “from conventional wells in that they enable surveillance, interpretation and actuation in a continuous feedback loop, operating at or near real-time.”

As IWRG points out, there are now several major operators with experience of using intelligent wells and they have found that using these systems can bring significant benefits. These include reduced operating costs (because interventions are not required); accelerated and optimised field production; improved accuracy of reserves calculations; identification of reservoir boundaries; optimum placement of future injection wells; and improved risk and safety.

Intelligent wells are particularly relevant for marginal fields, remote fields, high-volume wells and deep-water subsea wells. They are also suitable for highly deviated, horizontal and multilateral wells.

So what exactly is an intelligent well system? There are two main elements—often used in tandem—hydraulic systems and increasingly digital systems: The latter having given rise to several terms such as the ‘e-well’, ‘virtual well’ or ‘i-well’. Both incorporate monitoring and surveillance systems to enable engineers to effectively manage reservoir data and recommend appropriate actions.

Intelligent well systems vary from site to site and can have different design, actuation and surveillance/monitoring processes—as individual as the field they are being installed in. However, what they have in common is the ability to detect any critical changes in downhole conditions and communicate these to a data collection and analysis centre.
Yet the application of the technology is still not widespread. It has been estimated that there are fewer than 50 wells around the world with downhole controllable valves. But with technological advances, the number will increase rapidly; for example, thanks to the use of fibre optic sensors, which can more accurately record pressure, temperature and flows.
Tim Whitaker, programme manager Systems and Technology, Aker Kvaerner Subsea, has worked on intelligent well systems on the Norwegian Continental Shelf including Statoil’s Visund Field. He says these systems help production from the well by allowing isolation of water producing zones and stopping production stringflowing capacity reduction.
Aker Kvaerner has achieved qualification to the new Intelligent Well Interface Specification (IWIS) standard. This is a joint industry project between: ABB, Aker Kvaerner, Baker Oil Tools, BP, Cameron Controls, Chevron, Dril-Quip, ENI, FMC Kongsberg Subsea, Luna Energy, Hydro, ODI, Petrobras, Roxar, Schlumberger, Shell International, SICOM, Statoil, Quantx, Total, Well Dynamics, Weatherford and Wood Group that aims to improve the interface between “intelligent wells” and subsea systems. IWIS was formed in 1996 to develop a standard interface card for downhole devices that could be plugged into any subsea control module without the need for re-configuration.

Whitaker says the use of this standard interface will revolutionise intelligent well systems across the industry and bring benefits “such as a reduction in the large number of interface combinations, reduced lead times for hardware, cost savings, more flexibility, reduction in tender overheads and the spreading of best practice.”

Adam Anderson, Baker Hughes intelligent well systems product line manager for Saudi Arabia, is working with Saudi Aramco. He explains that Aramco’s need for intelligent well systems arose from a focus around six years ago towards more horizontal wells, which improved production rates but caused more gas and water.

“They were looking for new technology to help mitigate this problem. At the same time they were pushing for what they call maximum reservoir contact wells where you have not just a single lateral, but three or four.”
Anderson said an intelligent well system was installed to help regulate the production flow from each of the open-hole laterals.

He adds: “Another big application we’re working on is to address water or pressure depletion with gas production. This can make it difficult to lift fluid, so we’ve installed a screen across the gas cap to ensure optimised well performance.”
Anderson says these types of intelligent well systems take between three and six days to install. “We are running hydraulically intelligent well systems that have multiple positions in the downhole choke with six intermediates, and a cycle valve through each setting running back to the surface to isolate each segment well and each lateral as well as the instrumentation to tell you what’s going on.”

He says that more complex systems are being developed all the time particularly using fibre optics and new instrumentation, and that interest in these systems is growing around the Middle East. “PDO of Oman is talking about installing systems and ADCO has run two intelligent wells and are now looking at an ‘i-field’ concept.

Another application for intelligent well systems is software solutions. Mark Lochmann, manager of the oil and gas group at US software supplier AspenTech says that the exploration and production (E&P) sector has been slow to embrace intelligent well applications despite the fact that these are often widely used in other areas of the same company, for example in process engineering. He attributes this in part to the difficulty in defining exactly what an intelligent well is but also the fact that the E&P sector can take a “more traditional” view of production processes.

“An E&P company is often a very fractured organisation, but software is available that can help create a truly collaborative environment based on an engineering and asset management model, which provides the tools to visualise and control the production system from the reservoir through to the surface facilities.”

Lochmann says interest in intelligent well solutions is growing. “Economics is a big driver but also many producers are looking to both better manage and increase their production levels and maximise recovery from existing fields. This has strong cost implications, and intelligent well solutions can help reduce these overheads. If you have a system that gives you a more transparent view of your position, then you have a tremendous opportunity to boost production and increase your returns.”

He believes that despite some earlier reluctance, most oil and gas companies are “committed to moving in this direction, they’re just not quite sure how the pieces fit together and how they can make it work.”
With case studies now widely available, featuring successful intelligent well systems and the benefits they can bring, oil and gas producers are becoming more confident in the technological advances made to improve systems reliability and economies.

Baker Hughes’ Anderson says the next big thing is the emergence of the virtual well. “The next big step we are all looking for is how do we close the control loop, so that instead of just working with the system once a year, we can monitor it in relevant time and a make a decision how to optimise production on an ongoing basis. Fibre optics are becoming more common all the time and there is talk of wireless intelligent well systems, but I think that’s still some way off although we may get there eventually.”||**||

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