Most producers eyeing accelerated use of remote operations centers – even at low oil prices

An overwhelming majority of oil producers intend to accelerate the use of remote operations centers (ROCs), a live audience poll at last week’s Data-Driven Production Conference in Houston revealed.

ROCs are becoming a more common feature of oil operations (Image credit: Siemens)

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When asked whether the current climate would cause them to accelerate or decelerate their focus on ROCs, 87% of respondents in the audience selected “accelerate”.

The three panelists – Jacob Lawson, Integrated Operations Center Engineer at Anadarko, Fred Clarke, Senior Artificial Lift Specialist at Murphy Oil, and Steve Blumer, SCADA Manager at EXCO Resources – agreed.

“We’re accelerating the effort, but we’re not spending any more money doing it. The ROC is deemed really critical to our demanning of the fields,” Clarke said.

Lawson said the significant investment Anadarko has made in ROCs since 2015 was “pretty indicative” of the importance it attached to ROCs in a time of low commodity prices. The way the way the business is now structuring around ROCs shows they are a bigger deal than anybody ever realized or thought, he added.

Maintaining the human element

When asked to select the greatest challenge to implementing ROCs, 62% of respondents said it was related to people and processes, 36% said it was related to data and information, and only a fraction said it was related to the physical environment or geography of the producing asset.

Clarke and Blumer both agreed that that people were a primary challenge, with Clarke stressing the importance of communicating that ROCs are a cause of shifting roles and not of job cuts. Only when trust is built with employees can they then be taught about the ROCs, he said. “But you’re educating people who have been taught a certain way for 20-30 years of their life to think in a different way, and that’s a challenge.”

Lawson said people and data both presented their share of challenges. In regard to people, he noted that on-site personnel develop a sense of pride and ownership in their well, and that it would require a mentality shift for them to accept that somebody in a remote center is trying to help them. On data, he said the industry had been automating everything possible, and several questions now need to be asked, including: What is the goal of having all this data coming in? What are we doing with it? And do we have the personnel looking at the right data?

Tony Edwards, Chief Executive of Stepchange Global, which advises energy companies on using digital technologies, moderated the panel. He said that in his company’s experience, some clients revealed a temptation to wait around for a superior data-information system to those that currently exist. He advised that companies make decisions based on what they currently have – even if they know something better might come along in future.

Determining the amount of personnel

Another interesting question posed to the audience was: How do you determine the staff size of your ROC? Some 79% of respondents said they based their decision on the scope of work. A further 16% said well count was the most important factor. Other responses included the type of well and the geographic area.

Edwards noted that he had seen several ways of doing it – including one based on processes, and one based on geography. The responses from the panel members revealed that there is no one obvious way of answering. Blumer said his company was still in the process of re-evaluating this question, while Clarke said Murphy Oil presently divides its remote operations between the three distinct geographic regions in which it operates.

Lawson said the decision was definitely not based on well count, and he noted that one asset has 4,000 wells and is controlled by the smallest ROC. Processes and scope of work are both more important processes, he said. Lawson said that questions that come into consideration include: What are the required processes in that field? Is it an old field or a new field? Do we have a lot of drilling rigs and completion crews running around? Do we have a lot of workover rigs?