Flow assurance is a burgeoning field that offers many opportunities to young engineers—provided they are willing to develop expertise in a range of technical disciplines to obtain additional nontechnical skills.
“Flow assurance is an emerging discipline,” said Doreen Chin, a surface engineering adviser in upstream unconventionals at Shell Exploration and Production. Because the field is still evolving, there is a debate about whether it is a science or an engineering discipline. Chin’s presentation at a recent luncheon hosted by SPE’s Flow Assurance Technical Section was titled “Flow Assurance Engineer—What Are Our Career Expectations?” The field has evolved and matured over the past 20 years and tends to attract younger engineers who often seek career guidance, she said.
Flow assurance engineering draws from several areas, such as fluids and flow, hydrates, paraffins, asphaltenes, scales and salts, foam, emulsion rheology, and corrosion. Engineers can work in many specialties, including production chemistry and subsea, pipeline, or topside processing engineering. The technical skills needed include fluid analysis, simulation, and fluid characterization, Chin said.
Fluid flow modeling describes the movement of gas, liquids, and solids (single phase or multiphase) in wells, pipelines, and facilities. A responsibility of flow assurance engineers is to prevent unexpected interruptions in production caused by solid depositions in petroleum systems, she said.
Although flow assurance is a relatively new field, the management of many energy companies recognizes its importance and includes the advice of flow assurance engineers early in the decision-making process for projects. “When flow assurance goes wrong, they cannot achieve their goal,” she said.
Flow assurance engineers are responsible for predictions, designing prevention strategies, and developing remediation methods for deposits that could jeopardize production. Engineers must be familiar with a range of production assets, such as the reservoir, umbilicals, topside processing, pipelines, and end users, Chin said.
Flow assurance engineers are involved in all phases of a project, Chin said. Phase 1 identifies and assesses a potential project. Phase 2 is the concept selection. Phase 3 defines and specifies a potential project and is when front-end engineering design studies occur. Phase 4 is when construction and startup occurs and requires a company’s significant financial commitment. Phase 5 is the operation of a given asset or system, she said.
Chin said young engineers occasionally ask where their career can take them. “They want to know where they can go from here,” she said. Because the field is broad, there are multiple alternatives. “Flow assurance engineering can open the door to various career paths. It all depends on your aspirations for a career,” she said. Management and project management offer additional opportunities to flow assurance engineers, who are willing to expand the scope of their technical and nontechnical skills.