New products, more data and leaner ways of working can change the way the industry identifies, develops and produces reserves. AnTech’s Tim Mitchell outlines the role fiber optics have to play.
AnTech’s hybrid wellhead outlet. Photos from AnTech.
The economic environment our industry is currently operating within has dramatically changed. The oil price is recovering, but is unstable, preventing robust business planning and forecasting. While it is easy to see this as only a negative, there are a few positives to capitalize on, for example changing industry attitudes and perceptions towards new and existing technology.
This drive to improve efficiencies means that engineers are looking at the outputs of each product and technology. Consequently, engineers are more interested than ever before in monitoring and analyzing big data. As a direct result, the use of fiber optic and hybrid wellhead outlet technology (the ability to accommodate two different types of control lines) is becoming increasingly popular within in the oil and gas industry.
The oil and gas segment of the global fiber optics sensor market was valued at over US$661 million in 2015 (from under $200 million in 2006)*, and it is expected to dominate the fiber market until 2020, according to Technavio.
Indeed, major service companies have seen an ever-increasing demand for fiber optics, with one installing in excess of 17 million ft of fiber in over 1500 wells and another commenting on installations rising from one or two systems per field up until a few years ago, to tens per field today.
While a 2015 market forecast, conducted by the Photonic Sensor Consortium and published by Information Gatekeepers said their 2014 prediction of a $1.8 billion market by 2018 wouldn’t now be reached, due to the drop in oil prices, the segment was still expected to grow in the longer-term.
The history of fiber optics
Fiber optics are flexible glass fibers or transparent solids that transmit light signals and possess advantages such as much greater bandwidth than metal cables and they are immune to electromagnetic interference. Fiber optics have been used in the industry since the 1990s, in the form of distributed temperature sensing (DTS) systems.
However, initially, short lifespans were experienced as the delicate fiber was not able to withstand harsh downhole conditions and suffered from calibration drift. Since then, cable strength and capabilities have been improved, mainly from the improvement in the manufacturing of the fibers, producing much purer glass, and these developments have allowed the market to grow rapidly.
How fiber is used has also been developed and expanded, including use as a microphone or hydrophone, i.e. distributed acoustic sensing (DAS). Analyzing the laser-light reflections inside the fiber enables the temperature and strain of the glass to be determined at any point in the well.
Additionally, advances in computer processing speeds and better algorithms have made the process of interpreting raw data easier and fast enough to monitor in real-time. As a result, monitoring and data transmission using optical fiber in cabling, fiber optic sensors, and DTS and DAS are becoming increasingly popular for applications, such as well monitoring. The technology is also well-suited for more complex installation work, in high-pressure, high-temperature wells due to major improvements in glass chemistry from the material sciences sector.
A particularly valuable application of fiber is in intelligent wells, where data collection, transmission and analysis is paramount.
Using fiber optics, oil firms can carry out pipeline hydrocarbon content assessment and measurement, allowing them greater knowledge of what is flowing through the well and from where at any time, including changes in chemistry. It can also help monitor cracks and water cut.
Thanks to their ability to transfer large amounts of downhole data at any given time using fiber (almost at the speed of light), engineers are able to manage production using live streams of production data, enabling more informed decisions on location.
Applications around the world
AnTech’s Type FC Wellhead Outlet.
As a result, the appetite for fiber optic and hybrid monitoring solutions is growing. Australia, the Middle East, and particularly, Oman, are embracing the potential of fiber optics for onshore and offshore applications.
Across the region, high producing wells are being converted to single and multi-sensor intelligent wells and even lower value fields are required to provide data for well performance analysis. This has driven an interest in both high specification and lower cost wellhead connection solutions, to meet the variety of well types and technical requirements needed by oil companies.
To monitor downhole sensors with fiber, fiber optic wellhead outlets are required as when the cables reach the surface, they need to be terminated safely and securely connected, while keeping optical losses to a minimum to ensure that the resolution of the sensors is not affected.
AnTech has developed a new range of fiber optic wellhead outlets called the Type F Wellhead Outlet family, comprising Type FA, FB and FC, all of which are NACE/MR0175 compliant. Through years of experience in wellhead outlets, AnTech is also the first company able to offer a product complies to Offshore Fire Test API 6FB (Type FB) and accommodates up to four fibers.
Furthermore, AnTech has recently developed a range of hybrid wellhead outlets in response to requirements for a single wellhead outlet that has the capability to contain both fiber optic and electrical control lines. The Type H range gives clients the choice of high specification units for lower cost operations.
New products, more data and leaner ways of working can change the way the industry identifies, develops and produces oil and gas reserves.
Adopting fiber optic and hybrid technologies to increase efficiency does not guarantee instant success, but it can help save costs for operations now and can be hugely advantageous when oil prices do recover.
Tim Mitchell is product sales manager at AnTech. He has more than 12 years of experience in the oil and gas industry, holds a BSc (JtHons) in chemistry and geology and heads up the products sales for the company’s global product ranges in the areas of permanent monitoring, coiled tubing, wireline and downhole tools.
* According to Information Gatekeepers Inc
(1) Jacobs, Trent. Downhole Fiber-Optic Monitoring: An Evolving Technology. 1st ed. JPT Technology, 2014. Web. 15 Feb. 2016.
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