Golder Associates’ UK oil and gas leader, Mark Cottrell, explains how integrated operations and efficient water management can maximise resource recovery
Necessity may be the mother of invention, but even more so of innovation. Companies are frequently re-examining their existing operations to discover new ways of extracting more resources from existing wells. Maximising resource recovery, however, is not only about optimising production; it is also about linking all capabilities closer together to make whole projects more efficient.
Recent Golder Associates projects have demonstrated that companies – used to working in silos – can make operations more profitable by linking disparate processes and bringing them closer together. This is particularly true when water management is integrated closer with exploration. By establishing clearer communication channels between water management and exploration teams, operators can significantly increase the output of existing wells, enabling them to retain production levels while developing fewer new wells.
Continuous discussions between exploration, reservoir engineers and water management teams about reservoir stimulation are integral. On a recent project in East Africa, Golder worked with a leading oil and gas operator to undertake water resource assessments in tandem with exploration surveys. These in-depth assessments enabled water supply requirements to be refined in parallel to field developments, so that water supply would not be the critical operational constraint. In many areas it is necessary to identify new water resources: these can and should be developed using similar exploration methods as for oil and gas.
Another opportunity in which different teams can better communicate and enhance productivity is the relationship between subsea and surface teams. Discrete fracture network (DFN) modelling simulations, using tools such as FracMan, can help to inform water and permitting teams about well locations, orientations, water requirements and waste disposal requirements. Golder has worked on a number of high water-demand fracture projects and therefore these have had to be designed with the constraints on water supply in mind.
This is achieved through combinations of optimising stimulation design, optimising the recycling of flowback water, and developing new water supplies. With the confidence that any impacts on the community have been mitigated, operators are able to extract resources at a higher rate.
Companies should also look to optimise project schedules to make operations more efficient. A good way to do this is to consider oil exploration operations as integrated environmental and engineering projects from discovery through to closure.
This incorporates regulatory requirements with site planning and engineering, and minimises the time required to get permits for projects. It also co-ordinates the project design with the environmental assessments at the earliest stages of the project.
It should also be highlighted that environmental and permitting issues can sometimes derail projects without a sound technical justification. Optimisation in those instances involves education of regulatory bodies and stakeholders, so as to make the whole process seem less intimidating.
Golder’s strategy is to initiate workshops with engineers, regulatory expertise and owners to identify critical constraints and issues at the beginning of a project. By undertaking this step early, it develops a schedule that is aligned with regulatory requirements, engineering design inputs and the owners’ commercial needs.
When completing engineering and regulatory tasks in parallel, environmental assessments become consistent with engineering design assumptions over the life of a project, as well as including design mitigation measures to address significant environmental and social concerns.
Optimisation is multi-faceted and integrates many more considerations than a simple cost-cutting exercise. For optimisation to be successful, operators must take an end-to-end approach to operations and unify the various teams and practices. Moreover, they should also take into consideration the availability of the necessary infrastructure and resources, as well as compliance to regulation throughout the life cycle of an operation.