Overall, the last decade has been very tumultuous for the global upstream oil and gas industry, with the global crude oil prices per barrel nose-diving from $135 USD at its highest in 2011 to under $20 USD at its lowest in 2020. The culmination of overproduction and decline in demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions led to severe market volatility, especially in the last half. The crunch has led the oil and gas producers to actively look for opportunities to cut down operational costs and optimize plant performance.
The last decade has also been transcending with disruptions and breakthroughs from conventional technology and practices. There is a growing emphasis on operational data-driven decision-making amongst process plant operators, especially in plant maintenance for asset condition monitoring and performance management. This digital transformation wave across process plants has also led to the migration from conventional mechanical and electro-mechanical technology to advanced electronic field devices and instruments with operational data transmission and storage capability.
Historically, the global upstream sector has been very traditional and hesitant to embrace new technology, unlike other process industries. This is also because the upstream sector is riddled with challenges, such as sensitive media, extreme temperature and pressure, remote locations with harsh environmental conditions, filed standardization issues, and an ageing plant base and workforce, to name a few. The upstream flow control actuation requirements range from heavy-duty isolation in Xmas trees and kill rigs to continuous modulation in choke and dump valves. Traditionally, pneumatic and hydraulic actuators were widely used for valve actuation in upstream field operations. Although fluid power actuators have improved over time, the data being monitored is still basic, such as valve status, pressure, and flow conditions, resulting in reactive maintenance techniques
There is an increasing level of automation in process fields among upstream users/operators to monitor and control field operations from a central location. With the concept of digital oilfield services and digital twins gaining popularity amongst operators, there is an increasing need for operational data being captured from the field assets for well production optimization, forecasting, asset condition monitoring and performance management.
Retrofitting a digital positioner on an existing fluid-powered actuator may address the precision control and operational data transmission-related requirements. However, this comes at a higher expense for an additional product with a digital positioner, sometimes costing close to the price of a new electric actuator. This substitute might be a feasible option for the existing base. However, for greenfield applications or new actuator purchases, a new age electric actuator with brushless dc motors, operational data storage and transmission and other advanced functionalities would make a stark difference in operational benefits and total cost of ownership.
A few of the key benefits of new-age electric actuators are:
- Robust and compact design for harsh working condition and extreme climates with optional upgrades, such as explosion-proof design, mechanical spring-based emergency shutdown (ESD) with SIL 3 certification, and designs for higher submersibility in offshore application
- Elimination of fugitive emissions from valve actuators powered by process gas and the need for actuation fluid compression, filtration, piping and instrumentation.
- Adjustable speed, noise-free and vent-free operations in continuous modulation application
- Remote monitoring and control when enabled with a wireless protocol, such as Wireless HART
- Ease in integration to a centralized remote control system, or even well suited for stand-alone ESD operation
- Eliminating the need for physical presence for ESD resets and maintenance, and partial stroke testing boosts operator safety factors
- Possibilities for field standardization for multiple instances of installation and commissioning
- Advanced connectivity, such as Bluetooth and infrared, for non-intrusive management
- Due to low voltage requirements from minimal utility grids or solar-powered options, cleaner power sources can be connected to electric actuator technology
Some of the potential application for electric actuation in upstream sectors are:
|▪️ Portable skid mounted solution required||▪️ Pneumatic actuation was widely used
▪️ Portable compressor and
leading to higher cost
▪️ High vibration may cause leakage from pipelines in fluid power systems
|▪️ Compact size and low voltage power requirement
▪️ Robust design for harsh condition
▪️ Operational data transmission with other advanced functionalities
|▪️ Emergency Isolation during an emergency event||▪️ Large hydraulic and pneumatic powered actuation units were widely used
▪️ Electric actuators with batteries/supercapacitors are unreliable for ESD application
|▪️ Relatively compact electric actuators with a mechanical fail-safe spring return system are best suited for ESD application with requirements SIL 3 certification.|
|Choking||▪️ Continuous modulation at high speeds and precise positioning
▪️ Diagnostic data is key for well production optimization
|▪️ Hydraulic or Pneumatic actuation
▪️ Slow reaction speeds lead to poor control and risk to the valve seat and trim due to erosive condition
|▪️ Electric actuators offer adjustable high-speed technology and precise control, which improves the choke valve’s life|
|Gas separation||▪️ Separation of gas and water content from oil
▪️ Heavy-duty modulation with fail-safe is required
|▪️ Pneumatic actuation
▪️ Requires air compressors and air filtration
▪️ Requires regular inspection and maintenance
|▪️ Removes capital expense for compressor and filtration
▪️ Mechanical failsafe and electric actuator housed together in a compact package
|Flare and combustor systems||▪️ Burning off unwanted excess hydrocarbon gases
▪️ SIL 3 rated failsafe requirement
|▪️ Pneumatic actuation
▪️ Extreme application and environmental condition challenges leading to contamination and freeze off
|▪️ Robust design for harsh condition
▪️ Mechanical failsafe not affected by poor instrument air or extreme cold
|Flowline delivery system||▪️ Remotely located valve sites
▪️ Solar power commonly is used in remote sites
|▪️ Hydraulic or Pneumatic actuation
▪️ Self-contained hydraulic ESD systems lead to the very high cost
▪️Traditional Gas-powered actuators lead to high fugitive emission
|▪️ Electric actuators with low voltage requirements would be well suited|
With a growing emphasis on clean and sustainable energy production for lowering carbon emission, environmental and social governance would significantly impact the oil producer’s bottom line. The environment protection regulations in North America are becoming stringent with a significant penalty and increasing fines for methane emissions and hydrocarbon spills. Also, strongly promoting one’s company as being ‘environmentally conscious’ also helps attract customers looking to support environmentally mindful businesses while strengthening the relationship with its existing customer base. ARC is witnessing a gradually growing number of upstream onshore and offshore owners/operators opting for electric actuation for both flow isolation and continuous modulating applications. This trend is forecasted to have a significant growth prospect in the upcoming years.
ARC Advisory Group‘s global market research reports on industrial valves and actuators markets reveal which technologies represent the largest share of the market, provides a detailed forecast on which regions will see the fastest growth, and explains how digitalization can enhance the overall process of valve operation, in detail. Also, ARC would like to help owner-operators assess where they are on their ‘Digital Transformation Journey.’ As part of this effort, we have developed the following survey to help us quantify the “adoption level” of each respondent’s company, compared to their peers, to optimize the maintenance frequency, safety checks, and performance of their plant’s industrial valves. Please consider taking a few minutes to respond to ARC’s survey. Everyone who responds can view the consolidated results https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/YKPGWXK. If you have questions about the survey, please contact us at email@example.com.