I recently had the opportunity to visit the Permian Basin for a ride along with a major oil & gas producer. The Permian Basin is the largest producing oilfield in the world — yes, even larger than Saudi Arabia’s Ghawar oilfield, and it’s continuing to ramp up because of shale production. It was déjà vu marching around the oil & gas patch like I did for nearly seven years as a field service engineer and later as a field service manager for Schlumberger early on in my 20-year career in the oil & gas industry. The 6 a.m. meetings, the long and remote drives, the lack of connectivity, the urgency, the safety risks, and the complexity of equipment all brought back memories.

I rode around to different oil & gas well pads with multi-skilled operators (MSOs) and met with schedulers & planners, operation center personnel, instrument and electrical (I&E) technicians, maintenance personnel, and supervisors. It was great to see and meet with many people in the field that are on the front lines of producing oil & gas that literally fuel our everyday lives.

While oil & gas producers have come a long way in the last 20 years, I saw with my own eyes that there’s still a long way to go toward maximizing the productivity of productions operations personnel in an effort to increase asset uptime and meet production targets. There are sensors on nearly every wellsite from tubing and casing pressure measurements, production tank levels, flow line temperature and pressures, flow measurements, and much more. With over a million active producing wells in the U.S. alone, there are millions of sensors throughout the oil & gas production fields in the U.S. Seeing these sensors on every wellsite we visited brought back even more memories, having worked for Emerson’s Rosemount division, the world’s largest manufacturer of industrial instrumentation and sensors.

Oil & gas producers have come a long way with adding sensors to their production facilities to give them near real-time information about the performance and health of their production assets. These sensors create alarms that essentially kickoff a never-ending reactive maintenance methodology that has much room for improvement. Oil & gas production operators know that there are better ways but just don’t know what the ingredients are to make that transformation from a reactive maintenance methodology to one that is more proactive, more productive, safer, and yields higher production.

Workforce Engagement in the Digital Oilfield

Engaging everyone involved in operating, maintaining, and servicing oil & gas production assets is a necessity in digital transformation and is the first ingredient. Engagement is not just doing work, it’s about how work gets done and the engagement at every step along the way. Most oil & gas production operators today do not give their field personnel a modern, mobile app to help them execute their jobs and engage at every step. Their core communication tools are radios and a computer to type up a handover report for the next shift. The production operator we met with said, “Most of the tools we’ve tried the vendor said that the software works offline, but in fact it really didn’t.”

Many software vendors in the oil & gas industry established their presence in the office environment, whether it’s scheduling, data analytics, WO management, parts management, or many others. These vendors have tried to extend these capabilities to the field with limited success for a variety of reasons that can all be summed up in one simple phrase: the field is different than the office. This couldn’t be more accurate. It’s imperative that the service execution application chosen is inherently designed to support the remote and offline worker.

SEE ALSO: In Rural Texas Oil Fields, ‘Landmen’ Are the Ultimate Road Warriors

To get everyone engaged in the execution of servicing assets, they must have the appropriate tools to do so, no matter where their role resides in the execution process. Getting everyone engaged in the execution of maintaining oil & gas production equipment will not only increase productivity but will also help ramp up new team members. The production operator we met with said it takes three years to ramp up a new MSO so that they are proficient at their job. Equipping people with the technology they need to engage in their craft will cut that time in half — or more — because they have all the information they need to execute and engage in their work literally in the palm of their hand on their mobile device.

Equipment Uptime in the Digital Oilfield

A relentless focus on equipment uptime without compromising safety and compliance is the second ingredient in the digital oilfield. Most oil & gas production operators have done an excellent job over the past 20+ years adding sensors to their remote assets. They have near real-time visibility to all the information they need to remotely monitor the asset and understand its performance. Cygnet is a common IoT platform used across the oil & gas production market and provides alarms based on sensor thresholds.

For this operator, red color-coded alarms needed action right away, yellow alarms were the next level of urgency, and white alarms required the lowest level of response. Text messages are automatically sent to the MSO including equipment info, location, the alarm and the MSO would self-dispatch as needed. There is no formal ‘work order’ that triggers from these alarms, yet the action the MSO takes to resolve an alarm is defined as a “task”. He manually writes notes about what he did to resolve the alarm and types up a handover report for the MSO on the next shift. If specialized maintenance is needed from I&E techs, mechanics or other maintenance personnel, a manual notification is sent to create a work order.

While oil & gas producers have come a long way in the last 20 years, I saw with my own eyes that there’s still a long way to go toward maximizing the productivity of productions operations personnel in an effort to increase asset uptime and meet production targets.

These manual steps are typical for a majority of oil & gas production operators and do not enable them to track maintenance history at the asset level, nor access the maintenance history of a piece of equipment. They know by memory that a piece of equipment routinely requires repair but there is no measure of first-time-fix rate, repeat visits, mean time to repair, or other key service performance metrics. Connecting their IoT platform to a field service execution platform would help digitize and formalize all the actions taken in the field to increase equipment uptime. Incorporating scheduling optimization and parts management in their field service execution platform will help reduce drive time as well. “It’s not uncommon for us to drive three hours to a location just to realize we don’t have the part we need and have to drive three hours back to the field office to get the part.” That’s a scenario with severe safety and compliance implications when 11 percent of all driving fatalities in Texas occur in the Permian Basin because of the two lane roads and the significant number of vehicles on the road.

Customer Experience in the Digital Oilfield

Some oil & gas production operators have begun to transform their mindset to think of their well or the wellsite as their customer. A change in mindset is the third ingredient and a necessity for any successful digital transformation. Categorizing wells based on production is akin to categorizing customers based on revenue. High revenue customers often require more urgent responses than low revenue customers. However, operationally excellent companies find ways in their business process to treat every customer as if it were their only customer.

Oil & gas production operators that employ field service execution management software will have the tools and insight to continuously improve their operations so that their highest producing wells (i.e. customers) get extraordinary service without compromising the uptime of lower producing wells. The 80/20 applies in oil & gas production where 80 percent of the wells provide 20 percent of the production, and 20 percent of the wells provide 80 percent of the production. Manual processes and maintenance methodologies inherently compromise the 20 percent of the production from low-producing assets and places the production from high producing assets (i.e. customers) at risk.

For more information on how to digitally transform your service execution in the oil & gas industry, visit the ServiceMax oil & gas website to learn more: https://www.servicemax.com/industries/oil-gas

ABOUT Phil Schwarz

Avatar photoPhil Schwarz has nearly 20 years of experience in the oil & gas industry with oilfield service, industrial automation and SaaS companies. He is passionate about smart oilfield technologies and the economics of oil & gas. He holds a Graduate Certificate in Smart Oilfield Technologies from the University of Southern California and a Masters in Economics from the University of North Dakota. Phil is the former oil & gas industry development director at ServiceMax.