From production efficiency to cost reduction, business challenges in the upstream are still driven by low oil prices. Sector leaders recognize the chance to improve operational efficiency and increase production as a basis for future prosperity and they know that, in this tough energy economy, IT must drive business value through innovative technology solutions. That’s why they are investing in digital transformation to automate workflows, fill functionality gaps and align processes.
Take the case of Ballard Petroleum, a private exploration and production company headquartered in Billings, Montana, operating primarily in the Powder River and Williston basins in the Rocky Mountains with a daily oil production of 4,000 barrels across 112 wells.
A production solution had been in place at Ballard since 2009, but when news broke that the product was on its way to being unsupported, Randy Zickuhr, Ballard’s IT and GIS Manager, and Mike Perius, Director of Engineering and Operations, decided to put all the company’s production systems and processes under a microscope.
The business needed to get rid of organizational data silos, simplify the field data capture and validation process, give the production engineers the ability to identify key trends and put accurate and timely data at top management’s fingertips. With those goals in mind, Zickuhr and Perius began the search for an integrated, end-to-end production solution that would create efficiencies, saving monthly field hours and ultimately reducing costs.
Too much reliance on manual processes
Under its legacy systems, Ballard’s data lived in separate repositories and was being entered and re-entered several times. Pumpers had to capture production data in a very old-fashioned way—using pen and paper. Once daily routes were completed, they would then drive to a Ballard field office and use a desktop computer to re-enter the information. Needless to say, this approach created several challenges and inefficiencies.
Unless they brought the physical production-history reports with them on their routes, pumpers had no way of knowing if production was trending down beyond the rate of natural decline. This resulted in situations needing immediate attention going unnoticed—and not being dealt with.
Another problem was that data input into the production solution didn’t flow well into Ballard’s back-office systems, so information had to be keyed in multiple times by multiple people. “We had disparate systems and people were re-entering data several times. Sometimes the data didn’t match up from application to application,” Zickuhr says. Every time somebody touches data, you’re increasing the chances of introducing error to it. Reconciling the inconsistent data involved exporting lots of text files and trying to determine what was correct and what wasn’t—a rather time-consuming and unreliable process. As a result, some employees weren’t 100 percent confident with the data being used and management often did not receive information needed to make important business decisions in a timely fashion. Opportunities for creating efficiencies were being missed. It was time for change.
An integrated solution to put an end to siloes
In 2013 Ballard opted for P2 Production which has capabilities that would allow data to flow seamlessly from team to team for field data capture and validation, production data management, hydrocarbon allocation and production optimization needs.
The field data capture tool is used to quickly and efficiently collect and validate data at the well sites. This was a game changer for the pumpers as they no longer needed to collect the data, go back to the office and re-enter it into another system. They could now input the data while they were in the field and be done at the end of the day. The technology, which is very easy to use, also integrates Ballard’s manually captured data with the data from its SCADA systems, giving everyone a complete picture of the company’s operations. When you have a ton of data, having the tools to make sense of all of it and track what’s taking place is crucial.
The software’s reporting and analytics tool is used to analyze trends and get production-robbing issues resolved quickly. There were several blind spots before the adoption of the new solution whereas now Ballard can recognize when there is a dip in production and what the cause is which makes it easier to diagnose production problems. Critical data about Ballard’s assets is presented in a very intuitive format enabling access to the details that help make better decisions.
From the field, the data flows seamlessly into the production data management system within the solution to be allocated and stored. From there, the data is channeled directly into Ballard’s accounting system for revenue purposes. All the silos are brought together into a single place.
The most critical feature of the new system is that it connects the field to top management who can now see daily volumes and consolidated volumes. Management is also reassured by the fact that their teams are tracking production properly, which makes them confident their decisions are based on accurate data and therefore most likely to be right.
In fact, everyone across the company is now confident in the accuracy of their individual work. That’s because they all trust the numbers coming out of the field and the “downstream” processes being used. “In my estimation, the pumpers are the keepers of the cash. If they don’t get it right in the field, we can’t deliver accurate numbers to management, which means they can’t forecast and plan with confidence,” Perius says. When everything is done right in the field, everything else that follows is also done right.
Measurable, transparent results
The new solution brought Ballard many tangible benefits. Pumpers now spend more time on resolving rather than hunting for problems. In fact, 300 hours are saved every month on field activities. This helps them find more time to focus on meeting production targets.
Downtime reduction is a second important benefit. Pumpers can now analyze current and historical production numbers side-by-side and, if something is amiss, they’re able to resolve the issue quickly and return the asset to peak performance.
Last but not least, the data is now overall more accurate and of higher quality thanks to the pumpers catching most of their own errors.
In today’s upstream sector, it’s all about volumes. Companies need to match down to the dollar what they sell with what they produce. By leveraging digital oilfield technologies, IT can support the move to operational intelligence. Ballard’s story teaches us that better, more evolved technologies and consistent data can provide the insights you need to ride out low prices and emerge stronger.
Clara Fuge is vice president of product management at P2 Energy Solutions.
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