Downhole monitoring at the edge

September 1, 2011

Greg Davie

Downhole gauges and ESP bypass systems are among the home-grown, leading edge offerings in the Zenith Oilfield Technology portfolio. Meg Chesshyre met up with managing director Greg Davie to find out what else the company has in the works.

Based near Aberdeen, Zenith Oilfield Technology specialises in the design, development, manufacture and support of technologies for gathering and analysing downhole data. Established in 2004 by its four principal shareholders – Greg Davie, managing director; Keith Kettlewell, sales director; Richard Hamilton, finance director; and Les Jordan, engineering director – Zenith today operates in more than 40 countries and has 85 staff.

Originally from Dundee, Greg Davie studied chemical engineering at Heriot Watt University, followed up with a post-grad in offshore engineering in Aberdeen, then joined GeoVann (later bought by Halliburton) as a field engineer.

Davie had a three-year stint in the Congo initially for Geoservices and, latterly, Phoenix Petroleum Services, where he built its in-country operation from scratch, landed what he believes to be the world’s largest tubing conveyed perforating contract and received a service performance award from Amoco Congo. Davie became general manager and, when Phoenix was bought by Schlumberger, decided it was time to take the plunge and set up Zenith.

‘Zenith has established a market-leading position providing state-of-the-art technology for wellbore monitoring and artificial lift completions through products such as our downhole gauges and ESP bypass systems,’ explains Davie. The business has grown steadily since its inception, allowing it to make strategic acquisitions. One of them, Ziebel UK Monitoring, three years ago brought Dave Shanks into the business. He now leads the company’s five-strong special technology development group.

‘Dave heads up our R&D efforts, developing our blue sky projects into real world products,’ says Davie. ‘Right now we have five leading projects that will deliver huge growth over the next two or three years.’ The projects in question are: the Ground Fault Immune monitoring system launched this year (see panel); a wellbore multiphase flow meter; a fluid level sensor for measuring fluid levels in observation wells; a commercially available extreme temperature gauge, and a wellbore imaging tool. ‘We’re strengthening our position in our core markets and expanding into new areas by extending our product portfolio and sales focus on new regions,’ explains Shanks.

Zenith’s current turnover is £17 million and all its technology development work is funded internally through the business. ‘We are a very stable business based on a consistently strong demand for our products,’ says Davie. ‘We grew 30% through the credit crunch,’ a growth record he also attributes to the fact the company operates internationally and is not focused purely on one region, such as the North Sea. The company has achieved sales of its technology in North and South America, Europe, North and West Africa and the Middle and Far East to the likes of ConocoPhillips, Shell, Occidental, Saudi Aramco and China’s CNPC. Zenith also supplies technology to major oilfield service companies such as Weatherford, Baker Hughes and Wood Group.

Well surveillance The company’s Z-Sight automated well surveillance system is seen as important going forward because of its potential to dramatically increase production through real-time optimisation. It can be used wherever artificial lift is required, which, since by Davie’s reckoning that currently applies to 95% of the world’s oil producing wells, suggests the potential market is huge. ‘We are a small independent business and we are proving that we can compete effectively on the international stage and react very quickly to our customer demand,’ he says.

Shanks adds: ‘Often contracts bundle pump monitoring in with the supply of the pump systems. This does not bring an independent picture of pump performance. An independent monitoring system brings an external reference and diagnosis of performance and that is important to our customers. Also, a lot of monitoring systems are tied back into central data gathering. You may change a contract and pump supplier to sustain competition, but you don’t want to keep ripping up wires and dismantling surface equipment.’

Another strength is that Z-Sight is working in real-time, he says. ‘It allows a high level of optimisation on the pump with less trips to the well site because it’s remote and automatic with embedded intelligence.’

Looking ahead, Davie says: ‘The interest shown in the current products plus the new technology coming out gives us a lot of confidence moving forward. The embryonic ideas come from customers and we are a very customerfacing company, which is I think one of our strengths. I see very much what we’re doing as making core technologies which can then be applied across the globe. It’s all about keeping ahead of the competition and giving the customer what they’re looking for. If we can do both, we’ll continue to be successful.’ OE

The high-tech trail
Zenith's new technology manager Julian Cudmore demonstrates the Z-sight well surveillance system. Zenith is gearing up to launch the Ground Fault Immune monitoring system to market this year. Responding to industry calls for an alternative to DC sensors which consistently fail due to earth leakage in ESP cables, Zenith set about developing a fault immune gauge which would maintain continuous downhole monitoring on all operational ESP systems in artificially lifted wells.
ZSight, the company’s well surveillance system, automates the process of data analysis and optimisation. The dynamic tool provides real time recommendations on how best to operate the well to achieve optimum production within the limitations of the lifting equipment. Well trials carried out in South Africa earlier this year, following on from successful trials in the Middle East and India, showed that ZSight was capable of significantly increasing production by up to 30% per day.
The company’s 500°F (260°C) HT gauge has been successfully trialled in an Arabian Gulf ESP well. Ongoing trials in the region have demonstrated that the high temperature gauge can monitor steam flood production wells lifted by ESPs during all three phases of the steam cycle including injecting, soaking and production. The gauge is reported to have operated reliably at temperatures of 247°C in Middle East wells.
Zenith also plans to launch its new extreme temperature monitoring system this year. Targeting steam flood operations and also HPHT wells, the XT gauge is looking to push the operational envelope out to 500°C. The company’s first 400°C prototype XT sensor – from a well installed in July 2009 – is still alive, with further installations planned for 2011. New prototypes currently in test are reported to have operated reliably and accurately at over 450°C. Zenith now has a full calibration and test facility in place in the UK.

 



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