Rounding out the Production Optimization Convention was a two-day long series of workshops bringing together experts in the oil and gas field to discuss ideas and newly implemented techniques in the field. Following the Production Optimization Technical Training Course on day one and the Production Optimization Roundtable Discussion on day two, the workshops focused on the specifics, providing a chance for attendees to delve deeper into selected topics.

The sessions focused on a number of issues, including economics, inflow well performance, production chemistry, and reservoir engineering. Egypt Oil & Gas has chosen to highlight four of the topics covered during the workshop, including: smart fields, hydraulic fracturing, improved and enhanced oil recovery, as well as mature and marginal fields.

Mature and Marginal Fields

One advantage of such events is that you get to speak to experts in the field; and therefore correct all your miscomprehensions about the petroleum business—especially at the technical level. We always speak of mature wells, whereas people in the industry speak of mature fields. A well is something you dig to tap into a reservoir, with several reservoirs making up an oilfield. As time goes by, the reservoir is depleted, not because the oil runs out; but because the pressure inside the reservoir—which forces oil up—declines. The field as a whole then becomes mature, amazingly enough, this happens just as the field reaches the secondary stage of its lifecycle, after the initial pressure found the first time oil is struck starts to dissipate over the primary stage.

The lifespan of each field is unique. Some fields become mature after 50 to 60 years worth of output—such as Egypt’s Belayim field. Some become mature much earlier, around the 20-year mark, and some are even older than Belayim, and may not have even reached the secondary stage.

Next on the agenda came a set of workshops covering marginal fields, which are not necessarily the same thing as small fields. Small fields themselves are not necessarily lower productivity fields. Size here is a reference to geographical dispersal, not quantitative output. A field being small can often be an advantage as it translates to easier access to the reservoir.

A presentation lead by Ramy Magdy, Senior Drilling Engineer at SUCO, stated that the problem with marginal fields is that they are actually quite large—though definitely smaller than giant fields—and thus have varying geologies and isolated reservoirs. To add to the irony marginal fields, while new, can actually be harder to explore and produce from than mature fields. At least a mature field has already been mapped out and appropriate techniques for extraction learned.

The lesson here is that oil exploration should never distract from existing production, however old (brownfields), because even new discoveries (greenfields) may be have marginal output. Optimization is ideal for marginal fields, while optimization combined with oil recovery is the solution for mature fields.

Oil and gas operations, moreover, can be sites of technology innovation, something that cuts down on Capex (supposedly fixed capital expenditure) costs in the long-run by developing more cost-efficient machinery and methods that solve outlying technical problems. This was illustrated in a workshop given by SUCO about how the company used an innovative method to drill four times more wells from the same equipment. An engineering team built a Roto Tree to allow them to use old wells in the drilling of new ones (using sidetracks). This added $10m in value for every three wells; while reducing overall costs by $2.5m per offshore well.

Constraints of time, money, and resources are always placed on you but technical solutions can help you wriggle out from underneath them, a process that can be bolstered by an ‘incentive’ structure. The issue of patents was raised during the workshop titled presented by Hybrid System – Ras Budran” by Mohamed El-Khayat, Petroleum Engineering General Manager, SUCO.

El-Khayat developed the Electro-Gas Completion technique (now a patented invention recognized by the Society of Petroleum Engineers), to get around the limitations posed by the original gas injection method used at Ras Budran. Since 2005, production had been in decline, with new constraints developing thanks to growing gas shortages, equipment deterioration and pipeline limitations (pressure problems). By combining gas with ESPs—a dual system—El-Khayat was able to reduce the amount of gas needed, transforming gas into backup system to help out the ESPs.

ESPs do not provide as much lift as gas; but they are more reliable, the trick is convincing shareholders to go along. The modification only cost around $18m and they were able to increase oil production. They were not completely out of the woods, however, since the electrical system still needed upgrading. There were policy implications too.

A question was raised about the original use of natural gas and if there were any government directives here regarding the depletion of the country’s reserves. El-Khayat replied that neither EGAS nor the Petroleum Ministry had provided such directives and that factories in the southern Sinai were demanding more and more gas while the pipeline problem had not been remedied, something he has taken up with officials.

The final lesson drawn from the workshops on optimizing mature and marginal fields is that you do not wait for a problem to happen and then fix it afterwards. “If you think safety is expensive, try having an accident,” said SUCO’s Ramy Magdy. To do this you have to have a clear strategy and to take an integrated approach at every stage of the production process. Setting objectives and benchmarks for efficiency and constantly reviewing well performance.

Hydraulic Fracturing

Hyrdraulic fracturing, also referred to as fracking, is a topic of significance in the industry. It has become an increasing norm and go-to technique for extraction. The term hydraulic fracturing refers to the process of drilling into the earth and directing a high-pressure mixture of water, sand, chemicals at the rock to release the gas welled up inside.

It is a technique already being employed widely in several countries, including the United States and Canada, although it is banned in some countries, like France, for its risk factures, particularly its potential harm to water resources. The technique remains under exploration in Egypt, with the first contract for shale gas production through hydraulic fracturing signed between Shell Egypt and Apache Corporation in December 2014.

“Over 74 percent of all oil wells in the United States are hydraulically fractured,” said Ahmed Abdel Hamid, a petroleum engineer at Qarun. “It has become a very reliable method to unlock reservoir potential.”

With increasing curiosity toward the use of hydraulic fracturing in Egypt, several workshop sessions turned their attention to techniques currently being used in the field and ideas for the future.

“Hydraulic fracturing is an effective technique,” said Mohamed Darweesh, Senior Reservoir Engineer, Agiba Petroleum Company. The focus of Darweesh’s presentation was Dorra Field, located at the Meleiha concession in the western desert, in a reservoir contained within the Bahariya formation. The Bahariya formation is known for its severe heterogeneity in both horizontal and vertical directions. The decision to use hydraulic fracturing in the Dorra field increased the production rate dramatically, as it jumped from 20b/d to 120b/d. Due to this success, a development plan was created to reduce pressure losses from the reservoir by using hydraulic fracturing.

A workshop covering channel fracture technology in high permeability sandstone reservoir, presented by Mostafa Kortam, Reservoir Engineer, Petrobel, the focus was turned to how fracturing high-permeability reservoirs may not be appropriate for improving well productivity in all cases. “We have to think of what we can do to improve this activity in order to optimize well production,” said Kortam.

Kortam highlighted that the effectiveness of fracturing in high permeability reservoirs remains questionable, although it has been demonstrated to be successful in lower permeability reservoirs.

Similarly, Amr Abdel Baky, Senior Technical Professional in Fracking, Halliburton, pointed out that conventional pillar or channel fracturing techniques were highlighted as successful means of ensuring steady production in the initial extraction phase compared to conventional techniques. Abdel Baky said that production rates are initially higher with this technique compared to conventional ways.

Smart Fields

Fitting within the theme of production optimization, several workshops turned their focus to smart fields, also referred to as digital fields. Smart fields essentially aim to optimize production through enhanced technology in the field, relying less on manpower and more on technological tools and machines to track data and monitor procedures to reduce loss.

“You can manage your wells from your desktop,” said Ahmed Naguib, GHP Service Line Manager, Weatherford, speaking of the simplicity smart fields offer, adding that you can even manage performance via your phone. Naguib said that Egypt currently “has some technology to optimize the wells while maintaining an appropriate number of staff.”

Yet, while other countries in the region, such as Kuwait and Oman, are beginning to explore more use of technology in the field, Egypt is still catching up to the trend of implementing more technology in the field. “The main difficulty is getting small companies to [implement new technology], not the big companies,” said Ahmed Aly, Production Optimization Champion, Weatherford, adding that Egypt has more small companies operating in the field, hence the task at hand is to build a smart field the industry. In the meantime, Egypt will continue to work “the conventional way with personnel in the field, whereas technology takes only minutes and is more accurate.”

During the second day of workshops, three sessions were dedicated solely to smart fields and new technology. Flow Assurance Manager for Rashpetco, Saleh Ahmed, explained that for complex developments like the case study West Delta Deep Marine, offshore in the Mediterranean Sea, investing in real time dynamic simulators can help identify problem areas and production issues faster, which would reduce production losses. “Our simulation shows us what is happening in real time,” explained Ahmed.

Chetan Bhavsar, Application Engineer, Weatherford, presented several ways to optimize relaying field data to the office in real time. “We are now in the digital world, where we can process all the data in the office,” explained Bhavsar, who insisted on the necessity of applying new technology and tools to harness and transfer data so as to avoid information glut, allowing for improved analysis to optimize well performance.

With new technology, however, come other tasks. Previously conventional ways of sending data by means of personnel in the field would be replaced by technology, resulting in more personnel working in the office to process data and results. “It requires a different set of training,” said Bhavsar. “The main difference is time optimization, where we can prioritize our work.”

John Daniels, Regional Technical Manager, Schlumberger, discussed the different techniques used in Bahriyya, where a layered, heterogeneous reservoir makes well optimization difficult. Reservoir heterogeneity creates a big challenge, according to Daniels, because of the different types of permeability. Multi-stage fracturing is required along with long-term fracture deliverability, which affects the long-term economics of the well. The suggested proposal is to employ a Heterogeneous Rock Analysis workflow to address the challenge of spatially mapping heterogeneity. After HRA, a Reservoir Quality and Completion Quality workflow “grades the formation at the wellbore scale,” which leads to production optimization by better understanding the complexity of the well. New technology is then implemented to insure continued optimization.

Improved and Enhanced Oil Recovery (IOR/EOR)

Improved Oil Recovery (IOR) refers to oil recovery techniques used at the primary and secondary phases of an oilfield’s lifecycle, while enhanced oil recovery (EOR) refers to the third and hardest stage. IOR are a normal set of techniques used by oil companies; but EOR is far more specialized. A separate industry in its own right, it emerged at the convention that 70% of Egypt’s oilfields are already at the EOR stage and that calls for implementing EOR on a national scale have gone unheeded for the past 15 years. There are many developing countries that Egypt could emulate; including Venezuela, Indonesia, Oman, Algeria, Romania and even Syria.

One of the most interesting workshops on IOR/EOR was presented by Samuel Armacanqui, Development Manager, SUCO. His workshop centered round ways to use EOR in the field in a cost-effective manner. Armacanqui focused first on the global EOR industry and the lessons that could be applied in Egypt.

Oil companies often try to develop a field without consulting independent experts, only to discover that targets are not being met and new consultants will be required. Specialized service companies do have the required skills; however, some cases are too specialized to do all the general work. The process involves screening, chemical techniques, thermal technology, among others. No single firm is good at everything. Consequently these different efforts require an “integrated” approach—with experts, service companies, and traditional operators—to produce efficient results.

To illustrate this, when asked about the length of the average pilot study, El-Sayed El-Tayeb, Professor at the Cairo University and one of the leading EOR experts in the country, he replied that they are at least 3 years, often stretching to 5 years. Armacanqui confirmed this point adding that with an integrated approach and data mining at the earliest stages of drilling, along with the continuous drilling of new oil recovery wells, it is possible to decrease the pilot phase to a year and half. In a similar vein, using different IOR and EOR methods such as water flooding, nitrogen techniques, or thermal flooding in sequence also improves recovery factors significantly over the lifecycle of a field.

Other technological combinations are also on offer to reduce costs. Oman is one example that can be used, as the country currently uses solar power to generate thermal flooding in Qarn Alam. Armacanqui also used Oman to highlight the need for policy direction if EOR is to occur on a national scale. The Omani government has set national targets for the whole sector—with at least 11% of oil production targeted to be from recoverable sources this year, increasing to 18% by 2021. A conclusion to take from this workshop is that Egypt could easily replicate this feat as there is ample local talent is present for the job.

The most groundbreaking EOR technique by far was presented by Bill Wooden, the Vice President of the Applied Seismic Research Corporation who developed his technique with a Russian scientist named Sergey Kostrov. This technique calls for a continuous stream of shock waves to be employed to knock oil particles out of the sand particles they stubbornly cling to.

Generating the waves adds barely any expense as the method uses existing wells and a few plungers to generate the waves. There are no maintenance costs involved, save cleaning, and the process lasts from a year and a half to two years. The waves spread outwards both horizontally and vertically at a mile and half per second and can stimulate several wells at the same time.

The main limitation is that it does not work with homogenous fields, which is actually an advantage, as other methods such as hydraulic fracturing and acids are normally not used in this type of field. Different EOR (and optimization) techniques can be used in sequence or even in tandem. In fact, the kinds of oil particles dislodged by this wave-technique were often the ones left untouched by chemical and thermal methods.

Wooden also used his workshop to encourage young engineers to take risks. “You get your pleasure and craft from risk,” he said. The initial process he and Kostrov developed only lasted 40 seconds—to the considerable consternation of both. But they did not lose hope, which was a theme repeated throughout the workshops. According to Wooden, he and Kostrov took many risks, and finally succeeded in increasing the length of the treatment over many bottles of vodka.

The EOR industry needs contractual incentives to gain momentum. There was a broad consensus during the convention over reforming the cost recovery system at it stifles capital investments at the end of a concession period, specifically when EOR was called for. The need for such a mix of policy direction and such incentives is equally true for optimization.

Unless optimization is taken up in earnest in the current price circumstances, even Egypt’s oil recovery prospects will be under threat. This is because such an expensive and risky enterprise as enhanced oil recovery only becomes attractive when crude prices are high. Optimization, by contrast, is about getting around cost constraints without sacrificing quality, whether in oil recovery or normal upstream operations, not to mention mid- and downstream. Barring a return to the high price era EOR itself needs to be optimized if it is to survive.

While the first half of the convention provided an opportunity to have a general discussion about production optimization in the field, the workshops were an opportunity for individuals to breakout into smaller groups and antagonize and evaluate ideas and current techniques. The opportunity to break down into smaller groups and formulate discussions between experts from different companies provided an ideal networking opportunity to realize the goals of production optimization.


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