Canadian Natural Resources Automates Operations With Latest SCADA Technology

February 2013, Vol. 240 No. 2

Kurtis Jackson

Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL), founded in 1989 and headquartered in Calgary, possesses a diversified combination of assets in North America, the North Sea and offshore Africa and is the largest independent crude oil and natural gas producer in Canada.

Delivering a balanced mix of natural gas, light oil, heavy oil, in situ oil sands production, oil sands mining and associated upgrading facilities, CNRL engages in the exploration and development of geographic areas for the production of natural gas and crude oil.

The company operates its business through three primary reportable segments: horizon oil sands production, thermal heavy oil, and conventional oil and gas. Within the last year, CNRL invested in a large-scale automation project, which primarily impacts the conventional oil and gas business that deals with the exploration, development, production and marketing of crude oil, natural gas liquids and natural gas.

Scalable SCADA Automation
Canadian Natural Resources needed a better way to manage the process control and monitoring of its 300 gathering stations, 800 compressor stations, and 150 gas processing facilities. Recently the company launched an automation project to replace its FactoryLink SCADA systems with PcVue’s SCADA and FrontVue solutions.

CNRL has numerous independent automation systems of various brands and wanted to centralize and achieve consistency by integrating as many of these automation systems as possible on PcVue. In addition, CNRL wanted to leverage PcVue’s ability to support multi-station architectures for networking and currently runs Modbus Roc, Roc Talk, and BSAP.

The replacement process began about a year ago when CNRL began migration of its FactoryLink SCADA to PcVue using the Smart Generator. This PcVue tool can easily and automatically convert a very high proportion of its existing applications to PcVue while ensuring maximum compatibility and security.

For most of the SCADA applications that they were upgrading, between 60-80% of the FactoryLink applications converted to PcVue with ease. This saved a tremendous amount of time by not having to reconfigure the entire applications and it meant that the company did not have to retrain their users. It also indicates that they are investing in their future with SCADA automation, as PcVue regularly enhances its SCADA with version updates and new features.

CNRL is measuring millions of tags and an approximate 800,000 I/O points within its primary operations. GE and Allen-Bradley PLCs, Fisher, and Bristol Babcock RTUs are the major brands used throughout production. The PcVue SCADA is monitoring and providing pertinent data used by some 2,500 employees who need to access the information in some shape or form – i.e., monitoring, reviewing, or maintaining data in real-time.

The company runs its production reports daily and utilizes real-time and historical trending to provide the data needed to ensure they have met their production goals and will meet sales contracts such as to a pipeline company. They have already implemented eight PcVue servers with remote client access and expect to deploy approximately 40 PcVue SCADA systems within the next two years.

Oil, Gas Systems Support And Advanced Communication Integration

CTH Systems Inc., a reseller of PcVue, helped to configure and facilitate the migration to PcVue. Using Smart Generator, the engineers were able to convert all of the graphical elements (mimics, symbols and templates), local and shared libraries (symbols, pictures), all sets of variables for the application (including variable tables, alarm configurations and histories) and the database without any rework. It also converts the TCP/IP communication objects and their links. CNRL said they were pleased with the ease in which they could transfer all of their applications to PcVue.

In addition, CNRL uses CTH Systems’ IM-SCADA™, a multi-protocol measurement and communication software. It allows wells that are equipped with different automation devices, such as RTUs (remote terminal units) or pump on/off controllers, to talk over a single radio channel in order to bring the data back to PcVue SCADA. CTH Systems supported CNRL with implementing automatic and remote readings of gas compositions from the well, the upload of the corrected gas compositions to each well, and the elimination of variances between the well meter and the IM-SCADA™ database. This minimized the need to physically go to the well sites to download or upload the gas compositions.

Having 178 host servers along with 600 remote clients, CNRL is monitoring about 5,000-6,000 data points per host. Of these there are eight PcVue stations that are supervising anywhere from 50-400 wells and one to three facilities per host, depending on location or region. This translates to thousands of tags and alarm parameters that are being monitored and acknowledged daily.

As the oil flows out of the well, it passes through a pipe arrangement, which is connected to flow lines that bring the oil and gas to gathering stations where sediment, gas, salt water and oil are separated. PcVue is also monitoring the gathering stations.

The PcVue SCADA collects such I/Os from PLCs and RTUs used in production fields and gathering stations such as gas/oil pressures, emergency shutdowns (ESD), pump start/stop, remote/local pump control, pump speed, pump run/stop, motor operated valves and motor operated valve shut down, choke setpoints/positions, temperature, emergency shutdown and fire alarms etc.

At every stage of the process, PcVue monitors mission critical operations and maintains all of CNRL’s safety measures to prevent fires, explosions, and ecological disasters.

Meeting Compliance and Managing Data Validation
Characterized by remote and widespread operations, CNRL wanted to have each automated activity – whether in drilling/production, distribution, transportation or refining – supervised from several of its control centers. A solid and securely designed SCADA system must be able to control such critical factors as: flooding, leakage, fire, ESD, oil and gas flow rate and accumulated flow, line pressure, wellhead pressure, pump status, tank level, and gathering station equipment status, among others.

Due to the nature of the product, which must be transported from the well to final consumer, and the potential adverse environmental effects of oil/petroleum accidents, SCADA systems are a necessity. The company wanted to leverage SCADA features and benefits that provide the ability to reliably gather more data and achieve more control.

CNRL is looking forward to reaping the benefits of upgrading its automation systems and is satisfied with how well it has been working to optimize their processes. From the first FactoryLink conversion to PcVue, it has been about a year that PcVue has been up and running.

The configuration process has been very straightforward to implement, especially in consideration that most of our applications are mission critical and work around the clock.

The Author
Kurtis Jackson
is a SCADA specialist/coordinator at Canadian Natural Resources Limited in Calgary, and spearheaded the company’s automation project to upgrade its SCADA systems. He previously served the company as a SCADA systems analyst and a field support account manager. Jackson holds a degree from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology.

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