Improving existing asset performance with electrical tomography

By Mika Tienhaara, Rocsole

Typical installation of Rocsole Separator Profiler: Providing valuable and unique data will enable operators to improve operational performance and avoid unexpected shutdowns
Typical installation of Rocsole Separator Profiler: Providing valuable and unique data will enable operators to improve operational performance and avoid unexpected shutdowns (illustration: Rocsole)

We live in times of disruption, innovation, and transformation in industries and societies. The future of energy means a transition to renewables. But to phase out hydrocarbons will take time. So how can we improve the performance and efficiency of oil and gas production in the meantime, decrease carbon footprint and other pollution?

First, let’s look at some facts concerning oil and gas production and other hydrocarbon processing:

  • The US Gulf Coast processing industry has 75% of maintenance unplanned, causing an economic loss of USD 650 billion yearly. The leading cause is failure operations as they lack proper data, and many functions and management are run on manual processes.
  • The 154 (2019) North American refineries have more than 2,000 unplanned shutdowns yearly, causing a toxic pollution load equivalent to 2,000 production years. The number of planned and controlled shutdowns was 304.
  • For critical processing equipment on upstream oil and gas facilities, the leading cause of failure (more than 50%) is faulty level sensors.
  • Flaring on oil and gas production systems is used for pressure relief, and the amount increases when there are unexpected shutdowns. Moreover, the flaring system processing units also suffer from a lack of proper level sensors, so some 6-8% of carbon emissions are linked to the burning of liquid hydrocarbons.
The statistics for failing separator vessels (illustration: Rocsole)
The statistics for failing separator vessels (illustration: Rocsole)

According to Stanford University’s research for about 9,000 oilfields, the average CO2 emissions per barrel produced is 63 grams. Some 60,000 active oilfields globally, and over 60% are 20 years or older infrastructure.

Mature oil fields have various processing issues, with high water production levels various deposits such as scale, wax, sand, solids, metals, minerals. With the high water content mixed with oil, many emulsions are also created that is hard to break and are bad for the processing and product quality. All the above are unwanted waste, making the processing much more complex. Further, the facilities might not be designed to handle this. Also, sensors have a hard time registering data under such conditions, causing them to malfunction and leading to run-to-failure and unexpected shutdowns.

Worrying facts, if you look at both how much the oil and gas industry emits and how fragile the process control is to times. So how can the monitoring be improved?

Improving operational performance
Rocsole, a Finnish technology company established 10 years ago as an academic spin-off, has taken healthcare technology and industrialised electrical tomography (ET) to work under harsh and dirty conditions and can generate actionable insights for processes including deposits and emulsions in real-time. The technology has received numerous international innovation awards, and the company has patents granted in several countries.

The proprietary software can determine the dielectric and conductivity characteristics based on its sensors using electrical signals. Rocsole’s ET offers technical benefits of real-time and frequent data, actionable insights defining emulsion layers, and deposit build-up compared to incumbent solutions and practices used in the industry. It is also a safe technology as it is non-radioactive and low voltage.

Providing valuable and unique data will enable operators to improve operational performance and avoid unexpected shutdowns.

A research report by McKinsey & Co showcases how a 10% efficiency gain can reduce the total carbon emissions by 4%. Improving processing equipment performance is one of the significant tasks to make facilities perform better and lower the carbon footprint.

Efficiency gains
As a practical example, let’s interpret the carbon reduction for a separator.

Based on our field experience, separator performance can be improved vastly, in some cases beyond 10%. In this example, we have taken two values, 1%, to understand how much that would generate – but typical improvements are much higher. As a second example, we have used the 10%, which also is achievable. We have used a separator production volume of 50,000 barrels per day. Onshore shale is much smaller, large onshore and offshore production systems are much larger, so we consider this volume reasonably representative.

The efficiency gains in our calculations can give a financial improvement of USD 30 million per year. Using the average CO2 emission rates, the carbon reductions can be over 40,000 metric tonnes per year, an equivalent of removing close to 15,000 cars from the streets. And this is at one facility.

Example: Mid-size oilfield (50.000 BOPD) (source: Rocsole)
Example: Mid-size oilfield (50.000 BOPD) (source: Rocsole)

These are the direct results. As we also enable remote start-ups and operations, this also helps customers digitalise assets, reducing the need for transportation and logistics of the workforce to the site.

More collaboration and open innovation
Seeing the response in the industry from the big players, we see that the industry is ready for a disruption in process control and industrial automation. The oil and gas industry is known for being very conservative and slow-mover, especially on the facilities side, where technology adoption can be counted not only in years but decades. But there are signs of changes – where more collaboration and open innovation is happening.

Improving existing assets’ operational performance is a vital part of the energy transition, as every effort to reduce the carbon footprint should be considered. Implementing electrical tomography can reduce the carbon footprint, and the financial asset performance improves.

Get your levels in shape with electrical tomography!

Mika Tienhaara, Rocsole CEOMika Tienhaara is CEO of Rocsole, a high-tech company providing tomographic solutions to see inside process pipes and tanks.