There’s no time like the present. This old adage doesn’t ring any more true than in the oil industry, where real-time monitoring during all phases of the drilling and production process are critical to oil companies getting the most out of their wells. Analysis of well data, as it is collected, is allowing the industry to automate much of the process, while also eliminating any potential costly mistakes, streamlining the entire process.

At Shell, a number of different monitoring techniques are used during drilling, completion and production to ensure that the entire life cycle benefits from up-to-the-minute information. For example, fibre optics are now allowing enhanced oil recovery and improved efficiency at wells, through the use of distributed acoustic sensing, which allows for continuous production flow logging. Installed in the casing or tubing, fibre optics can provide measurements from the surface and downhole. Monica Laurens, Shell’s general manager of wells software, and Juun van der Horst, team leader for in-well technology, discuss how real-time data affects all aspects of production.

Ross Davies: What are the main monitoring technologies Shell has deployed in its wells during drilling and production phases?

Monica Laurens: During drilling, Shell monitors drilling operations and logging activities in real time. Monitoring is done from several different centres that are located in hubs, like Houston, Kuala Lumpur or Aberdeen. While initially, Shell relied on existing services for drilling operations monitoring, it has developed its own real-time monitoring technology and is currently deploying it. Our solution allows for flexibility regarding analytics on performance, integration with remote operations and, ultimately, drilling automation.
Juun van der Horst: During the production (development) phase, reservoir and wellbore information is collected downhole and at surface. Downhole data can be gathered using for example (conventional) wireline logging surveys and permanently installed sensors such as conventional pressure/temperature gauges, but also recently designed electrical and fibre-optic-based sensors. At surface, the production (or injection) fluids are monitored and analysed for composition, rate and surface reservoir information, which can also be obtained from seismic surveys.

"Fibre-optic-based technology potentially allows reduced production deferment and safer operations related to well and reservoir surveillance."

What are the main factors considered when selecting techniques used to collect actionable data?

ML: Among the obvious factors there are data continuity, quality and availability in the office. The more complex factors would be related to synchronisation of different data streams, integration of the technology in an existing technology landscape and flexibility to scale up in order to include additional data streams such that (predictive) analytics can be performed. Shell is tailoring technology so that it meets its business needs. Therefore, the factors listed above are determined by the aimed application of the technology. However, what we regularly value is the long-term sustainability and the flexibility to evolve the technology as we see fit.
JvdH: Safety aspects of the operations; data requirements such as the type and frequency of data for optimising reservoir development and ultimate recovery; costs; operational limitations such as remoteness, onshore or offshore; and the availability of services and technology in the region.

Given the huge volumes collected, how does Shell differentiate and pick out the most important changes in data?

JvdH: For fibre-optic-based surveillance during the development phase of a project, problems related to large data sets (big data) are avoided as much as possible by extracting the relevant information from the data almost immediately (in real time) after collecting the data, which reduces the data sizes significantly and makes it much more manageable to store the data. In other cases, the duration of the data collection surveys are limited, in order to keep the amount of data at manageable proportions.

Has Shell benefitted from its partnership with OptaSense?

JvdH: Very much, because both companies bring in their own complementary expertise: Shell as an experienced oil and gas operator with clear well and reservoir surveillance requirements, and OptaSense as a leading fibre-optic technology development company.

How can fibre-optic monitoring improve the production process and cost of recovery? Is there still room for better harmonisation of data management applications and architecture?

JvdH: By improving well and reservoir surveillance from more frequent and better quality data, which allows improved reservoir development. Also, fibre-optic- based technology potentially allows reduced production deferment and safer/less risky operations related to well and reservoir surveillance. Improvement areas have been identified and are being addressed in our technology development and implementation programmes.