With spring breakup inevitably comes geo-hazards that oil and gas companies must be prepared to deal with — in particular the risk of high spring runoff and wildfires, both of which have struck in dramatic fashion in recent years.

The devastating southern Alberta floods of 2013 and “The Beast” — the catastrophic 2016 Fort McMurray area wildfire were the top two costliest natural disasters in Canadian history. Such events take their toll on the energy industry — the Fort McMurray fire alone forced the disruption of some 14 million bbls of bitumen production, equating to over $450 million in lost production. And a record snowpack throughout the western provinces is to bring more extreme water events later this spring — with overland flooding already occurring

Yet the monitoring of and ability to proactively respond to such natural disasters has largely failed to meet the digital age — until now. Having already successfully launched a first-of-its-kind WildFire Notification application in 2015 to monitor wildfires in proximity to pipelines and facilities, software specialist Cenozon recently introduced HydroFlow to provide a notification system for flooding and abnormal water flow events, as well as critical historical water level data.

Both are part of its Geo-Hazards Module within its market-leading Pipeline Integrity Risk (PIRM) software, adding to the Calgary-based company’s growing portfolio of digital solutions.

Geo-hazards covered

Introduced in response to the identified industry need for a timely and cost-effective means to deal with weather-related challenges, WildFire and HydroFlow are stand-alone cloud-based apps — meaning users don’t need to be an existing Cenozon customer to use them. The agnostic platform means each app can be integrated with third-party databases or as part of Cenozon’s PIRM software for a comprehensive approach to risk management.

HydroFlow remotely monitors water body gauges in real-time and automatically notifies operators of abnormal water flow events occurring near their pipeline water crossings, enabling operators to quickly assess the situation and dispatch the required resources if necessary, explains Mark Woynarowich, Cenozon technical services manager and integrity specialist.

Users can define their own monthly or seasonal thresholds for tolerance of flow or tolerances for water level and velocity, as well as customize how often they wish to receive status reports. When conditions exceed the specified acceptable range, users receive an automatic notification so they can quickly review historical trends and current conditions to assess if and when further action is required. The application also provides accurate records for regulatory and compliance requirements, which is especially timely with recent inspection requests from the Alberta Energy Regulator for spring runoff.

Rivers and streams present unique risks to pipeline operators both for the risk they present due to abnormal stream flows that can cause erosion and expose buried pipelines, and for the potentially high environmental impact a pipeline break and hydrocarbon spill can create when they occur in an aquatic environment, said Woynarowich.

“You want to monitor your pipeline to make sure it doesn’t ever become exposed, because if it is exposed it is no longer being protected by the ground and there is a higher probability of it being damaged — and because it’s in a water body, having huge environmental impact. We are giving industry the ability to responsibly and proactively manage water crossings where operators can identify, prioritize, and inspect them, and to make sure they are continually monitored.”

While companies have a requirement to monitor when abnormal flow events occur, monitoring government bulletins can be a very time consuming affair, Woynarowich said. “We send notifications through our system so that you do not have to look for it — it’s coming to you.”

HydroFlow incorporates data associated with the pipeline, including precise location and size, when and how they were installed – whether bored, trenched or dredged for example — and what they carry, he said. It then spatially intersects pipeline data with water flow data collected from thousands of river gauges at hydrometric stations throughout western Canada.

HydroFlow includes an intuitive web-mapping feature so users can enhance the data visualization of their pipeline water crossings and flow gauge assets in one place, which enables them to easily locate the affected area. “We are giving them this information in one spot [on the map] and allowing them to associate it visually. They can immediately see what gauge is on what river and what pipeline it is associated with. It allows them to assess the situation more quickly and be more confident with what decisions they are making.

Historical context

As valuable as real-time notifications are, historical water flow data dating back up to 100 years provides much of the real value of the app. Access to historical data enables operators to identify trends they may not have been aware of previously, empowering them to derive more accurate risk profiles, set their own risk analysis priorities and proactively manage those risks at water crossings. Companies can then better determine if or when a field inspection or geohazard assessment is needed.

“Being able to see the historical data, not only volumes but flow levels — river heights — is a way of doing a quick assessment,” Woynarowich said.

For example, in one case study with a mid-sized producer operating hundreds of pipelines in Alberta, a water crossing identified by the company as potentially vulnerable was reviewed on the HydroFlow app. The historical data revealed that there had been nine atypically large flow levels over the previous 20 years and a one-in-100-year event in 2010 — the year after the pipe’s last inspection.

The HydroFlow-generated data prompted the operator to perform a geo-technical assessment which determined that while it would take another once-in-a-century event to expose the pipeline, their parameters for optimal safety and efficiency required addressing the risk in the near term.

Measurement reporting meets AI

Helping companies cope with Mother Nature’s unpredictable nature, however, isn’t the only area to which Cenozon is applying digital solutions to increase oilfield efficiencies. Chart reading, measurement reporting and other live monitoring has largely remained a labour-intensive and time-consuming process — another area where automation and digitization could bring about faster processing of vast amounts of data, translating into big time, and cost, savings.

With over two million upstream and midstream oil and gas meters processed each month in the U.S., for example, some 20 per cent generate data — on things like temperature, pressure and flow rate — from chart recorders. After being physically gathered at the meter, the chart is delivered to an integration office, where it may sit for days with thousands of other charts before being turned into a file for emailing.

The file is then imported into a measurement system for validation and approval before finally being turned into meaningful results — days or even weeks after being gathered in the field. It remains a cumbersome and error-prone process ripe for innovation.

Cenozon has teamed with Houston-based Peak AI Solutions to dramatically shrink that entire weeks-long process — down to under a minute. As the exclusive Canadian supplier of Peak AI Solutions’ technology in Canada, Cenozon is employing that company’s game changing InstantChart™ technology to digitize the process to make it as simple as taking a photo.

Cenozon calls the InstantChart™ technology — which leverages big data, machine learning and powerful GPU parallel computing to enable the near instantaneous processing of charts — a ground-breaking solution in the oil and gas measurement space.

Using a mobile device like a smartphone, operators simply scan or photograph the chart to be fed back a calculated volume within a minute — making the process 100 times faster. InstantChart™ also uses the device’s GPS to auto-detect nearby meters and can work offline by storing data until the user regains internet or cellular network access.

Using proprietary computer vision and image recognition algorithms, the app automatically captures and digitizes chart readings and instantaneously computes volumes.

“We are taking something that used to be a very manual operation and bringing a mobile application and algorithms and digital reading of pictures with artificial intelligence into play to instantly read and export the data off of that chart as soon as you take a picture,” said Woynarowich. “It will be a huge change.”

Though many aspects of the digitalization of the oilfield have been slow to implement, Cenozon has seen rapid growth in its digital offerings in recent years. Since the company relocated from Red Deer about five years ago, it has expanded from offering one core product to two major clients, to five product offerings and close to 40 clients, Woynarowich said.

He credits the company’s close collaboration with clients in developing the solutions and keeping up with the latest technologies for their success.

“Technology is going to keep pushing the limits, staying up with ways to make people more efficient, more effective and reducing the overall cost. Something Cenozon is always pushing is, how do we support our clients to be more efficient, more innovative, and do things better than they are currently doing it.”