The challenges in achieving effective communication between facilities and reservoir engineers were addressed during a dinner and panel session held during the SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition in October, “Determining the Basis of Design for PFC Projects—Why Facilities Engineers Need to Think.”
Moderated by Paul Jones, subsea manager at Chevron, the panelists presented their observations and solutions to dealing with a reality faced by facilities engineers during project development. “We need to learn to deal with uncertainty and probability, because that’s all the reservoir engineers will give us,” Jones said.
While reservoir engineers focus on the uncertainties of reservoirs, facilities engineers are tasked with designing projects to produce first oil on time with the information provided by the reservoir engineers. The devil is in the details, and from the facilities engineer’s perspective, the devilish details are held by the reservoir. The range of uncertainties and probabilities fails to provide the specific parameters that facilities engineers prefer in designing a project from its earliest stages through its life cycle. Ineffective communication between the disciplines often compounds the difficulties.
The panelists included Luigi Saputelli, president of Frontender; David Aron, managing director at Petroleum Development Consultants; Maurice Mullaly, project manager at WorleyParsons; and Mark Hollaar, manager of systems design at SBM Offshore Houston.
Ongoing changes during project development are inherent. Saputelli said each phase of development is planned with the consideration of different scenarios. Each scenario is compared by the value it creates and the risks it represents. The contingencies are becoming more complex with the growth of more difficult projects, such as in deeper water, remote locations, and harsh environments. Decision making and gated processes, asset management, reservoir characterization, drilling and completions, production optimization, surface facilities, improved and enhanced oil recovery, and new technologies are evaluated and form the basis for the changing needs in the design of the project.
Saputelli said that although comprehensive gathering of information is important, “there must also be a balance between the investment in capturing information and the amount of information.”
Hollaar said that as the basis of design changes, the value that facilities engineers add is through their abilities to adapt. The bottom line is that “first oil doesn’t wait,” he said. “There are times when it is appropriate for facilities engineers to push back on suggested design changes.” For example, “Yes, we need to separate water from oil, but we don’t need two tanks.” A key to moving ahead is to implement the remaining changes with high efficiency. It is critical to “have quality people with experience who can make decisions to speed things up and to have the tools and systems that are fit-for-purpose,” he said.
“Facilities engineers need to be accurate enough that the plan works, but fast enough to meet first oil date,” Hollaar said. Providing extra space on a platform for future expansions and setting up processes so it is easier to do things differently are methods of adaption planned by facilities engineers.
Mullaly described the disconnection between the disciplines: “What facilities engineers would like is certainty. We want to know more than what you can tell us. What we need is understanding. A basis of design starts off as an idea and gets progressively more detailed as we move through the development process. We need critical information as soon as possible.”
He added that the link between the “what and why” is often missing in the communication between disciplines. What needs to be done is stated, but why the change is needed is not explained. A simple description of the reason for the change goes a long way in making the adaptation relevant to another discipline.
In more complex field developments, reservoir engineers have to deal with multiple component issues, such as gas condensate recycling. “My experience as a chemical engineer gave me a perspective that the reservoir was actually a processing plant. We injected chemicals and made adjustments,” Aron said. Reservoir engineers are interested in the oil/gas/water components, but may not be focused on the sulfide and other components relevant to the facilities engineers in process designing and planning.
Aron said that a complicating factor in effective communication is the role of contractors in project development. “Contractors don’t have a direct connection to the reservoir. Their point of contact is the process engineer.”
Aron suggested educational processes may offer solutions to improve communication between the disciplines. “In the UK, the oil and gas industry is the main employer of chemical engineers, yet many undergraduate chemical engineering courses ignore the discipline’s relevance to the oil and gas industry.” Wider educational integration across the engineering disciplines could improve understanding and communication based on increased familiarity and knowledge. Cross-training of a company’s new personnel would be beneficial, along with enhancing communication between disciplines.
“Much improvement could be achieved with a half-day meeting, where the project’s facilities and reservoir engineers come together to discuss the project,” Aron said.