Remotely analysing oil and gas offshore

Paul Boughton

Cambridge Consultants has developed new particle analysis technology for the oil and gas industry. It will measure, in real time, droplets of oil or particles of sand and wax in produced fluids at offshore and remote production sites. This has the potential to allow produced water to be safely reinjected into a well or disposed of overboard.

Produced water is a sizeable by-product of the extraction of oil and gas. Modern oil wells produce as much as 10 barrels of water for each barrel of oil. Treating and disposing of this water is a major expense for many operators and, in some cases, production is limited by how much water can be handled. “There is a general need to be able to check for the levels of sand, oil and additives in produced water that is to be reinjected into the well,” said Dr Frances Metcalfe, associate director, oil and gas, at Cambridge Consultants.

“If a well exceeds certain limits, for example due to a failure in processing equipment, particulates can block pores in the rock, causing production to stop – and even render the well beyond economic use. There is therefore a real need to be able to analyse very tiny droplets and particles in a pipeline in real time in order to speed up reaction time to correct potential issues.”

The patented technology developed by Cambridge Consultants uses a novel combination of optical measurements and signal processing techniques to measure the size distribution of droplets ranging from sub-micron to tens of microns in diameter at typical production flow velocities. The technology uses hardware that lends itself to being deployed online in remote locations. From there, the results can be sent directly to an operator to allow remedial action to be taken before a situation becomes critical.

Currently, produced water quality is usually assessed by taking a sample and sending it to a laboratory for analysis. This is time consuming – so, by the time an issue has been identified, the well may already be irreversibly damaged.

The new technology has the potential to be affordable enough to allow numerous devices to be deployed at multiple locations. In the future, such a system could also include a local alarm that would flag up a potential problem and send a control signal to fix an issue or turn off a valve. Potential applications include wet gas, produced water and polymer flooding, MEG injection or scale monitoring.

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