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Digital sentry

More than 100 people may enter and exit a location during unconventional well completions. Information about personnel movement in the field may be as critical to outcomes as the data collected by surface and downhole sensors. Upstream Technology looks at a Houston company’s efforts to capture that missing element in operators’ big data.

In the past decade, operators have used an ever-expanding array of downhole and surface sensors to monitor and record critical data about drilling, completion and production processes.

Engineers convert these data points into streams of real-time information that may be stored in permanent digital files.

Easily accessed, these records allow engineers to recall the conditions of their wells at any moment for planning and optimising future wells.

However, one vital piece of data has typically been omitted from these records — personnel.

Contractor and service company employees may be on location for minutes, hours or days, but a catalogue of their movements may be inferred only through invoices and inexact daily reports.

1708.Tower.jpg BORDER GUARD: The WellFence system includes electronic checkpoints deployed at location entry and exit points.  Photo: WellFence
The inability to accurately account for and log the identities of individuals entering and exiting locations holds safety and financial implications for operators and service companies. It also largely ignores the role people play in optimising operational outcomes.

Traditionally, personnel movement at active well sites has been recorded by people stationed at location entry points.

Such manual “head counts” do not inform office personnel about who is on a field location or whether workers are conforming to company policies.

Most importantly, this head count method creates data that cannot be readily correlated to other data collected during field operations.

To Marc Haci, president of Houston-based WellFence, the lack of personnel data in the digital well record is a glaring omission with real consequences.

He and his colleague, Arturo Quezada, have developed an automated system to monitor authorised individuals as they enter and exit a location and to create a permanent record of those movements.

“All the oil and gas industry has been doing so far is to collect sensor data, then run big data analytics to optimise or reduce the cost of their future operations,” says Haci.

Quezadacrop.jpg  Photo: WellFence

"Personnel flow correlates to other performance measurements of safety, security and other compliance costs."
Arturo Quezada, WellFence
 

“However, we are missing an important component in our big data, that is, the personnel information.

"Can we say that the people who make critical decisions — operator employees, drilling contractors or service employees — on our drilling or completions locations are not as important as the sensor data we collect? Obviously not.

"Just as we are trying to find out what bit or rotary steerable or fracking sand performs better, we also need to find out who are our best performers in the field are.”

 

Head count

Companies have an obvious interest in data about personnel movement around their well sites. However, privacy concerns make them wary about constantly monitoring employee and contractor movement using smartphone technology or GPS location devices.

To resolve the conflict, WellFence chose to use a passive identification device carried by and activated by the authorised user.

“Such activation translates into explicit user permission to reveal their location at a single point in time rather than continuously,” says WellFence cofounder Quezada.

“The device is wireless and can be recognised on the near proximity of the checkpoint without exiting the vehicle.”

The WellFence system consists of electronic checkpoints deployed at location entry and exit points, a wireless identification device and a 24-hour manned monitoring system.

1708.machine Data focus: The WellFence system  Photo: WellFence
The electronic checkpoints, called WellFence Towers, track users across single or multiple locations and receive frequent electronic updates on users that are authorised to be on location.

As a matter of company policy, all authorised persons check in and check out each time they pass a tower.

WellFence provides an identification device, Well-ID, that is about the size and shape of an automobile key fob and has a unique signal registered to the authorised user.

When the user clicks the Well-ID upon entering or exiting a location, the device generates a signal that is picked up by the tower. The person’s identity, time of arrival and time of departure are monitored, recorded and stored in a digital file.

WellFence Towers include 360-degree motion detectors and cameras. A text display on each tower provides feedback to the Well-ID user and short instructions as necessary.

Instruction to the user may include a message to enter location through a different entry point, to not enter location or other similar short directions. In addition, traffic may be managed through coloured signal lights on the tower.

The tower also signals “compliant” or “non-compliant” departures. The former indicates the authorised user has successfully checked in or out. The latter indicates an unsuccessful check-in or check-out.

One cause of a non-compliant departure may be that the person who passes the checkpoint is not authorised to be on location and has no Well-ID, or failed to check in earlier. Such events are captured on camera and tagged for follow-up with the operator for clarification or enforcement.

In the 21st century, data is currency. The ability to mine information collected from downhole and surface sensors allows operators to quickly improve on past performance in a way simple offset data cannot. However, says Quezada, drilling and completion databases remain incomplete.

1708.remote.jpg CLICK HERE: Users check in and out with a personalised device that transmits a signal to the tower.  Photo: WellFence
“Like many other industries, the oil and gas sector is transforming with advances in automation and artificial intelligence on all its processes,” he says.

“There is a trend to collect, store and analyse a massive amount of engineering data sourced from a wide array of instrumentation and computer systems.

"However, it is rare to correlate such engineering data to the key source of variations of such data, which is the personnel operating the processes. 

“Personnel flow correlates to other performance measurements of safety, security and other compliance costs.”

In the near future, he adds, industry leaders will be making decisions based on integrated personnel and engineering data analytics, assisted by automation and artificial intelligence tools.

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