April 2015, Vol. 242, No. 4


EFM and Real-Time Control Data Considerations

Steve Sponseller, Kepware Technologies

As the worldwide demand for energy drives new investments in oil & gas exploration, production, and transportation, an increased need for visibility into flow measurement across the enterprise comes with it. The market not only requires accurate flow metering for upstream, midstream, and downstream applications, but also needs to be able to access this information across the enterprise.

There must be new and improved technologies that can seamlessly integrate with networks to provide this information. The areas of the market that need these capabilities range from well site production monitoring to midstream gathering and processing to pipeline control to downstream refining, petrochemical manufacturing, and marketing operations (where requirements exist for high-accuracy flow measurements for processing, leak detection, and custody transfer applications).

Electronic flow measurement (EFM) provides a viable data access solution for many critical flow measurement applications across the industry. With EFM, flow computers on a pipeline measure, calculate, store, and communicate volume, mass, and energy flow measurements from raw flow, temperature, pressure, and density readings.

This data includes meter configuration (such as orifice plate diameter), alarms, events (such as an orifice plate change), and hourly and daily flow totals calculated according to industry-accepted American Gas Association (AGA) equations for orifice meters, turbine meters, and gas compressibility. Combined, these records are considered the industry’s “audit trail,” and are used as the basis for resolving measurement disputes between the buyers and sellers of the gas or liquid.
EFM, Data Collection

In addition to requiring a variety of primary measurement devices, transmitters, and flow computers, this approach needs a way to communicate these important measurements and calculations to appropriate plant and enterprise applications. Production and pipeline operators rely on the data to monitor wells and pipeline facilities; back-office measurement and accounting departments use it for custody transfer purposes and accounting. Because custody transfer is the “cash register” of the industry, inaccurate flow measurement, collection, or analysis could result in the loss of millions of dollars for a producer, midstream company, or pipeline operator.

Traditionally, EFM data was used for measurement and accounting purposes and was only available to flow analysis packages like Flow-Cal or PGAS or spreadsheets within these departments. Today, this data needs to be readily available to other departments and entities within the organization. Companies are under pressure to increase production, improve recovery rates, enhance recovery of more mature wells, maximize pipeline throughout, obtain near real-time leak detection, improve reporting accuracy, ensure regulatory compliance, and – of course – increase profitability.

Therefore, this data needs to not only be imported into the proprietary measurement and accounting applications, but it also needs to be simultaneously deposited somewhere that the other enterprise applications can easily access it. Databases are an obvious choice for this.

But flow measurement data is not the only data that needs to be communicated across the network. Real-time “control” data that resides in the programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and remote terminal units (RTUs) that are processing signals from several sensors on remote pieces of equipment and making control decisions based on this data also needs to be communicated across the network. The use of this data ranges from SCADA operators who are constantly monitoring the remote production and pipeline operations to big data and analytical applications at the enterprise level.

The latter are using it for predictive and engineering analysis and asset management (to increase operational efficiencies and comply with the regulatory reporting that is required by entities like the EPA.

An added challenge to the oil and gas industry compared to others that are also in the production business is that the devices that house the data in the field are often located in remote locations with limited communications and power. The communications networks depend on radio, cellular, satellite, or other telemetry means that typically provide limited bandwidth (with sometimes high latency). Some of the remote devices are solar powered and can only communicate during certain times of day.

Due to these challenges and data requirements, reliable and robust solutions that are easy to configure and troubleshoot are necessary for production and pipeline operators to consistently acquire the data needed across the enterprise.

Don’t Forget Security

Securing your network and data are a necessity today. With all networks, there is always the chance for information to be intercepted and used for malicious purposes. Unsecure communications over public domains could result in disaster. Sensitive data – such as a company’s intellectual property – may be intercepted by others. A malicious person could insert themselves into the communications stream, providing good data to the applications while destroying the underlying system and taking control of the field device.

Today’s communications architecture and protocols can greatly affect data security and operational safety. Companies are demanding that the vendors of their communication platforms satisfy their requirements of secure data transmission.

Advanced Capabilities

Today’s leading-edge communication platforms can help companies streamline both real-time and historical EFM data through a single, advanced data collector. These technologies open up significant opportunities in shale oil and gas, ultra-deep water, subsea, and other less conventional upstream applications because they provide a communications layer between the devices and the applications that constitute a complete solution capable of securely sharing information across the enterprise.

In addition, a variety of midstream and downstream applications can benefit from securely integrating EFM data with a number of plant and enterprise applications. As long as companies choose a reliable EFM and real-time data communications solution, there need not be significant concern about accuracy, productivity, or operational challenges. To ensure the solution is reliable, companies should look for one that is validated by an independent, third-party laboratory that attests to its ability to reliably move and manage data across a network while maintaining its integrity. Once the system is incorporated, companies can focus on harnessing the data and making informed decisions and beneficial changes.

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