TULSA — Improved drilling technology has been credited with fueling the country's ongoing oil and natural gas boom, but innovation in later steps of the production process continue to develop in an effort that has improved speed, safety and profitability throughout the industry.
Much of the updated technology has focused on improving safety and reducing environmental risk, said David Guest, owner of Edmond-based Guest Petroleum Inc.
“The most important process is safety,” Guest said Wednesday at the Mid-Continent Digital Oilfield Conference in Tulsa. “Having the new tools makes monitoring, reporting and ensuring safety that much more effective and more precise.”
The conference was designed to demonstrate what new technologies are available, and to help especially small and mid-size oil and gas companies embrace the new offerings, said Mindy Stitt, executive director of the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board, which sponsored the event.
“They know the technology is out there, and they want to learn more about it,” Stitt said.
The conference focused on various technology applications such as storage tanks that automatically move valves or shut in wells when sensors detect they are too full, equipment that closes natural gas lines if a pilot light is snuffed out and monitors that notify operators if there is a problem with a well or other oil and natural gas equipment.
Shawn Cutter, CEO of Tampa, Fla.-based Fielding Systems, used a smartphone to illustrate the need for updated technology.
“If you want to know how much information gathering has changed, ask a fourth grader what is the deepest point in the ocean,” he said. “It will take longer to type in the question than it will for that fourth grader to find the answer.
“The expectation now is for information to be available at any time, wherever we are.”
In the oil field, fast and accurate information can save money and reduce risks.
Lauro Cantu, oil and gas strategic business manager for VEGA America in Houston, promotes technology designed to detect and prevent oil-field spills.
“The instrumentation does more than just monitor levels. It prevents spills by opening valves or automatically shutting in wells,” he said. “We're trying to prevent something from happening. We're also trying to prevent the high penalty associated with spills in the form of fines and cleanup costs.”
Like much of the technology demonstrated at the conference, VEGA's products are built on systems that have been in place in the oil field for decades.
Previously, operators would install buoys or other sensors that would detect when a tank was approaching capacity. But the new equipment provides far more information.
“The problem with the old technology is it didn't provide diagnostic feedback if the float was stuck or otherwise not working property,” Cantu said. “As technology has gotten better, we have technology that will let you know if you can trust the information coming back from the device.”
While oil and natural gas producers expressed interest in the improved technology, there is still one major hurdle.
“The price of technology is a concern,” Guest said. “The price is dropping, but that's still the primary concern. Is it cost effective to use the technology on the wells? If it's not cost effective, it's not effective at all.”