Real-time oil and gas data in the cloud

Oilfield services company boosts productivity and bolsters worker safety by sharing drilling information via the cloud.
By Sidney Hill, Jr. August 12, 2014

Figure 1: Working a drill rig: Optimizing drilling operations while maintaining a safe work environment requires local and remote access to real-time data. Courtesy: PML Exploration ServicesWhen drilling for oil and gas, two things must always be of primary importance:

  • Maintaining the integrity of the well
  • Ensuring the safety of everyone working in or around that well.

Focusing on those two priorities led PML Exploration Services to adopt a cloud-based HMI and SCADA software system that allows for sharing real-time information about conditions at well sites with management personnel at PML headquarters, as well as with customers.

PML Exploration Services was founded in Oklahoma City as Midwest Well Logging in December 1964. In November 2006, the company was purchased by a private investment group and renamed PML Exploration Services to better reflect its long-term business goals. Since the acquisition, PML has expanded its operations across the U.S., and developed its own gas analysis and rig data management solutions. These solutions provide secure web-based, real-time information to PML’s customers via the cloud.

These solutions also have eliminated the lag—which sometimes stretched to 12 hours—between the time data collected in the field was analyzed and reported to customers. Compressing the time between data collection, analysis, and reporting is critical for a number of reasons. Chief among them is ensuring the safety of the well, and enabling offsite management personnel to make timely decisions that ensure maximum return on investment through optimized wellbore placement.

Enhancing safety and productivity

The reports sent across the PML’s web-based network contain vital information regarding crude oil and natural gas deposits, as well as data on critical rock structures that must be isolated for safety and production reasons. Continuous monitoring of the gas components and their quantities correlated with drilling information is critical for ensuring safety.

To enhance safety and increase productivity, PML analyzes the rock cuttings and gases from the drilling fluid to ascertain information about the drilling process, commonly referred to as mud logging.

PML also supplies gas analysis systems at the surface of the site to provide early detection and evaluation of reservoir gases, and to assess their potential to become hazardous to rig personnel. Local PML data acquisition systems can also interface with other systems such as measurement while drilling (MWD), thereby acting as a central data repository for all important well site information.

When PML initially began providing gas and geological information as well as analysis at the rig site, there were no systems in place to give current information to the well site managers, or remote office staff charged with overseeing the drilling of the well. Reports were provided twice a day in order to update the rig and office staff on gas and geological conditions. Delays could be as long as 12 hours between the actual analysis and the report provided to PML’s customers.

The time delays between receiving the reports and adjusting the drilling system to the required specifications could cause problems. Conditions might have changed during the delay, putting the structural integrity of the well in danger, and opportunities for optimization of the drilling process could be missed. Thus, PML’s customers needed a system that could deliver information on a more current basis.

To provide well operators with real-time information that would help them drill more safely and efficiently, PML began looking for a solution that could take advantage of web-based applications and the extensive data-sharing capabilities of cloud technology. 

Moving to real time

Before adopting its cloud-based solution, PML researched offerings from different HMI providers. Ultimately, it selected a software package that is essentially a virtual studio that enables users to configure PC-based HMI and SCADA software into web-based applications that meet their specific data collection, analysis, and distribution needs. For PML, this virtual studio offered an easy, affordable means of configuring web-based applications that facilitate remote access to real-time information.

The platform also has capabilities for translating data into multiple languages, which suits PML’s future plans for expanding into international markets. It enables the use of many different character sets, including but not limited to the Latin alphabet, Cyrillic and Greek fonts, Chinese characters, and Japanese Kanji. Moreover, its one-click translation would make it easy to translate the entire application into another language.

The platform also provides more than 240 native drivers that communicate with every major brand of programmable logic controller (PLC), as well as offering OPC support, making it easy to configure an application to communicate with any new combination of equipment, regardless of the manufacturer. This is particularly important at drilling sites, which typically have control and measurement systems from various suppliers. All of that disparate equipment must be interfaced to the HMI, which acts as the central data repository.

The platform’s built-in support for the cloud was another key benefit, because it relieved PLM from having to invest in new IT infrastructure such as extra data storage capacity or backup servers. Those items are all purchased, and managed, by the cloud provider. Having a cloud-based solution also means all patches and upgrades happen simultaneously across the network without any effort by PML or disruption to its users. 

Remote data access for customers

Figure 2: PML truck and trailer: PML’s mobile units provide the systems required to acquire, analyze, and distribute data to the cloud. Courtesy: PML Exploration ServicesPML used this software studio to create a solution that it calls The Edge. That solution currently is being used on approximately 60 active rigs, giving users remote access to data that is being collected and analyzed in the field.

Data is monitored constantly by PML employees at the well site, and is sent directly to PML offices and customers’ desks over a satellite connection, even if these remote users are thousands of miles away from the drill site. These remote users access the system via thin client interfaces, keeping track of changing well site conditions by simply pulling live data and reports from the cloud.

The process begins with the rig systems used by PML. These mobile units consist of portable trailers where the employees assigned to the well observe continuous gas analysis and drilling information in addition to performing a detailed analysis of geological samples from the wellbore. The HMI software is installed on a laptop PC that acts as the local server.

PML’s portable gas analyzer, controller, and data acquisition solution incorporates a PLC. The PLC at the rig communicates with PC-based HMI software via Modbus communications. Other control and measurement systems at the well site also can be connected to the HMI. At the rig, PML employees track changes in total gas, gas constituents, drilling information, and geological conditions using the software’s chart and trending functions.

The data from the SCADA software is sent via a satellite connection to the cloud, where it can be viewed with devices (smartphones, tablets, thin clients, PCs, etc.) enabled by thin client and mobile access features embedded in the software studio. These features are easy to configure, so it’s not necessary to write code to implement the cloud-based data distribution solution. 

Profiting from the cloud

With its HMI software, PML has been able to adopt the Software as Service (SaaS) cloud model to provide its customers with remote access to meaningful information in real time. PML’s customers pay a daily rental fee for its services, and local and remote distribution of the well site data is now included in that price. Because the solution is cloud-based, customers don’t need to install any software on their remote devices, or make any investments in computing infrastructure.

PML’s ability to share information—including wellbore characteristics such as gamma ray, liberated gas components, lithology, penetration rates, and directional information—with key stakeholders in real time via the cloud adds significant value to PML’s suite of evolving solutions.

Figure 3: Data-sharing capabilities: Local and remote viewing of real-time data allows engineers and technicians to improve operations. The HMI interface automatically resizes screens for easy viewing on a variety of devices ranging from PCs to tablets toRig operators and site managers have ready access to data, even at locations remote from the site. The native and flexible security system included in the web studio platform allows PML to consolidate data from several wells in the cloud, while still maintaining tight security by restricting data access based on the credentials (user name and password) of each user logged on to the cloud via a remote device.

PML currently has more than 60 active systems that can be placed across the country to deliver rapid-fire results that site managers can review on devices like smartphones, tablets, thin clients, and PCs. Clients can also be proactively alerted to alarms and events through text messages, SMS, or email. Upon receiving an alert, users can log onto the system via any smart mobile device powered by an iPhone, Android, Blackberry, or Windows Phone 7 operating system to monitor the critical variables of their wells. For remote users at fixed locations, thin clients and PCs are often used for remote access.

The benefits that The Edge solution provides PML and its customers are summarized below:

  • Improved productivity of drilling operations
  • Enhanced safety at well site
  • Easy scalability as wells come on- and offline
  • Real-time data and analysis available anywhere
  • Easy system access via smartphones and tablets
  • No need for redundant backup servers
  • Alarm notifications via text, SMS, or email.

By providing gas analysis, detailed geological data, and other information in real time via the cloud, PML helps well operators optimize their operations and protect their investment while ensuring well site safety. With real-time data, cost-saving changes like varying the speed, direction, and drill loads can be put into effect the moment relevant information is available, making the entire drilling process much more affordable, safe, and efficient.

Customer reaction to The Edge solution has been so positive that PML plans to further develop the system to provide real-time geosteering of the rock bit to ensure the client’s wellbore is accurately and safely placed for optimum return on investment.

The cloud will continue to evolve and improve as computing costs decline and as wireless communication speeds increase. Smartphones and tablets will also get better, further improving the remote data viewing and analysis experience, and in turn allowing companies to improve operations, cut costs, and enhance safety.

– John Parsons is president and CEO of PML Exploration Services. Edited by Sidney Hill, Jr., a CFE Media contributing content specialist. This article is part of the oil and gas coverage from Control Engineering and Plant Engineering, CFE Media publications.

Key concepts

  • Maintaining the well’s structural integrity and ensuring worker safety are primary concerns when drilling oil wells.
  • Lag time in sharing information about field conditions can impair management’s ability to make decisions that optimize well productivity and enhance worker safety.
  • Sharing real-time data via the cloud can eliminate lag time and speed the decision-making process, contributing to greater production from the well and a safer work environment.

Consider this

If you’re not feeding real-time well site data to your internal team members and customers, you might be missing a chance to gain a competitive edge.

ONLINE

For more information on PML Exploration Services and the virtual studio it used to developed its cloud-based data-sharing platform, visit www.pmles.com or www.indusoft.com.