Energy Excellence Awards: Long Promised Digital Oilfield Gaining Traction With Cost-Cutting Solutions Across The Value Chain


The second annual Energy Excellence Awards (EEAs) program, presented by the Daily Oil Bulletin, uniquely recognizes energy excellence and focuses on the advancement of collaboration within Canada’s energy industry.

The country’s oil and gas industry is entering what could be the most challenging period it has ever experienced. While the current COVID-19 crisis will undoubtedly touch each one of this year’s nominees, there may be no better time to celebrate the achievements of those developing the energy solutions for the future.

For 2020, the DOB received close to 90 nominations in four broad awards categories — Project Execution Excellence; Innovation & Technology Excellence; Exporting Excellence; and Environmental Excellence — recognizing work completed last year. The nominees were further broken down into 12 subcategories across the four groupings, before being judged by a committee of industry leaders.

From April 21 to May 6, we will be sharing the finalists in each of these subcategories. Today, we feature the best in Innovation and Technology Excellence in the subcategory of Digital Oilfield.

Special Note: Starting May 7, we’ll be hosting a series of special online webinar presentations to honour these companies and announce the champions in each category. Register here for these events.

The digital transition may never be so vital for the oilpatch as it succumbs to another spell of anemic oil and gas prices that threaten to produce another round of cost cutting and downsizing throughout the sector.

The promise of digitalization has long rested on the notion that it will cut costs and bring new efficiencies to long practiced activities throughout the value chain. The four Energy Excellence Awards finalists in the running for top Digital Oilfield technology fulfil that promise in diverse areas of the industry — from drilling and completions to data analysis to water handling to worker safety.

Blackline Safety Corp. exemplifies an innovative local company that successfully competes against safety technology giants by keeping one step ahead, to the benefit of field workers the world over. Similarly RS Energy Group enlisted leading-edge digital technology to transform data analysis — and the company itself.

Velvet Energy Ltd. turned data analysis lose on its specialty, water handling, to equally transformative results, while Precision Drilling Corporation showed its long in development drilling automation technology has come of age, leading to record setting wells that would have seemed inconceivable by manual means alone.

RS Energy Group: from research shop to software specialist

RS Energy Group (RSEG) exemplifies a company’s all-in transition to a digital platform in a way that transformed the company from top to bottom. In creating its RS Prism platform, it leveraged the latest in intelligent digital technology to radically speed up data analysis and reporting, altering the way companies look at their data and make decisions.

“Technology is the lifeblood of our business. Not only has it been a strong focus for the company since 2015, but it has transformed RSEG from a research shop into a true SaaS [software as a service] technology firm,” the Calgary-based company said.

It said RS Prism represents the industry’s first multidisciplinary, advanced analytics software platform that seamlessly integrates contextual insights, prescriptive and predictive analytics and advanced machine learning/artificial intelligence models to empower organizations and their technical teams to make rapid, more accurate decisions.

Before releasing the RS Prism technology in 2017, engineers and technical teams within an exploration and production, energy investment or oilfield service firm would spend weeks or months gathering and cleaning data to generate critical business analysis, such as merger and acquisition (M&A) due diligence, competitor intelligence, type curve generation, forecasting, completion optimization and planning.

The genesis for developing RS Prism came directly from a dire need within RSEG, the company explained. Its growing 110-plus person analyst team was writing deep, comprehensive research and intel on the oil and gas industry and just like its clients, spending weeks and months gathering and normalizing data sets before they could even start developing a meaningful thesis. The time and resource strain became more and more significant as the volume of data available in the public realm also increased.

So RSEG’s executive team sought out to hire a chief technical officer — the role in itself was an unusual hire in the energy market — to help transform the way it did business. After a year of evaluating various technologies, the CTO identified a powerful Silicon Valley techstack upon which RSEG began pouring all its previously collected and curated data and analytics into — some 20 years of intel.

“As the technology was released to RSEG analysts, the speed and volume of information that it was capable of processing immediately revolutionized the process by which analysts wrote research, the time it now took to respond to client questions, and the deeper level of analysis we could do in one-tenth of the time. Transforming the workload for technical teams and engineers from 60-80 per cent data collection to renewed, high-value analysis and bottom-line, impactful decision-making has saved ourselves — and RSEG clients — millions of dollars,” the company said.

Today, the innovative development of RS Prism is integrating machine learning, artificial intelligence and other cloud-computing processes that make it the industry’s first software platform to operationalize advanced analytics with proven results of saving money, lowering risk and eliminating costly trial-and-error, added RSEG.

Feedback from clients has been extremely positive, the company said. RS Prism technology, for example, has allowed clients to complete M&A due diligence in minutes versus hours or days. “One client explained that RS Prism helped them make a $2-billion divestiture after just a few minutes, confirming his ‘hunch’ on that particular acreage position.”

Other clients said the technology is enhancing the value of their engineering and technical teams by five times as they no longer have to spend their time cleaning raw data sets and running analytics. “The ability to rapidly gain insight into a single well, or an entire basin in seconds, is transformative to the energy industry.”

In 2015, RSEG had a small staff that was 100 per cent dedicated to writing highly technical, robust research. In the years since, RSEG’s technology initiative to build the industry’s first single-solution, multi-disciplinary solution transformed it from 37 people to 350-plus today, with two-thirds of the employees focused on data science and technology. The company’s transformation prompted it to update its tagline recently to Technology that Inspires Innovation.

“To us, that means that technology not only drives RSEG’s business but is inspiring ourselves — and our clients — to think outside-the-box,” the company said. “When we think of technology, we ask ourselves how it can allow a firm to operate more efficiently, at a higher value to their business and ultimately drive shareholder value.”

Precision Drilling Corporation: Setting new standard in drilling automation

Automated drilling has long been a goal of the digital oilfield suite of offerings, and with the rollout of its Alpha technology suite last November, Precision Drilling took some major strides at reaching that objective.

Precision’s Alpha, which includes AlphaAutomation, AlphaApps and AlphaAnalytics, drives performance through its core strength of integrating data insights, human ingenuity, automation consistency and smart algorithms to drill better wells.

AlphaAutomation, previously referred to as Process Automation Control, helps bridge the gap between the drilling engineer’s well plan and execution by ensuring compliance to the drilling envelope. During execution 14 different built-in core apps enable Precision to automate all of the major drilling activities.

Already, the suite that is setting new standards with record wells drilled in Western Canada. Utilizing its 1500 Super Triple Rig fitted with AlphaAutomation technology, Precision completed a first-of-its-kind well for Shell Canada Limited. Precision safely delivered the longest well ever drilled at a total depth of 8,510 metres including the longest horizontal lateral section of 5,000 metres in one bit run and fully cased.

“Utilizing AlphaAutomation technology enabled the reduction of variations on several key drilling processes which contributed to saved time and reduced overall costs for Shell Canada,” Precision said. One specific process relates to connection times whereby using AlphaAutomation saved half a day of drilling time, it noted.

The system offers the ability to set 122 different configuration points for every action; this way every activity can be fine tuned and then repeated in precisely the same manner every time. The drilling optimization process is simplified by the system’s ability to learn from the most optimized sequences as performed by the driller, in the exact details with the right situational awareness. Once learned, AlphaAutomation performs them over and over again with impeccable consistency.

The same optimized sequences are portable to other rigs with AlphaAutomation, enabling a broader learning network of rigs — thus resulting in significantly reducing learning curves and improved drilling efficiencies across the company’s fleet of rigs servicing the same customer. This results in an efficient and consistent process execution every time, across different drillers on the same rig and across the fleet of rigs working in the same area for the same customer.

AlphaAutomation leverages the industry leading NOVOS platform, which combines the best safety and drilling practices for both onshore and offshore drilling rigs. The level of control the system offers is unparalleled in the industry as all rig equipment, machine control systems and automation platforms are seamlessly integrated.

It also features a reflexive drilling system designed to perform a predetermined series of actions when prompted, just as human reflex responds to a specific stimulus.

Velvet Energy Ltd.: waterworks digitalization

Digitalization of field operations can pay big dividends when simplifying complex procedures and replacing manual, and often error prone, inputs, as Velvet found when it digitized its water handling operations.

Prior to digitalization, Velvet’s water data was captured through traditional operational paper reports and managed through third-party consultants. Data turnarounds often exceeded two weeks and water sourcing was limited to single water transfer licences. Velvet, whose operations are focused in the light oil window of the Montney in Alberta and northeast B.C. and the liquids-rich window of the Deep Basin of Alberta, found that reporting was time-consuming and costly.

Starting in 2017, Velvet deployed water infrastructure (pipelines, storage hubs, decentralized treatment nodes, disposal wells and pumping infrastructure), processes (ongoing monitoring, remote data capture and fit-for-purpose cloud water management databases) and studies (chemical compatibility and modelling) intended to gain a better understanding of its water operations and gradually eliminate the use of freshwater for hydraulic fracturing operations.

It subsequently launched a pilot implementation of WaterTracker and FieldTracker in partnership with Calgary-based startup Random Acronym, who acted as a development partner and tester. The pilot aimed to address the growing operational complexity of water sourcing, transportation, usage and reporting. It also worked with third-party service providers including WhiteWater Management, Jadler Industries and Brad Saville Enterprises to co-ordinate and further the implementation of FieldTracker in various parts of the water network.

The large volumes and flow rates of water demanded by hydraulic fracturing operations often require the aggregation of multiple sources of water with varying diversion volumes, flow rates and durations. Traditionally, this is completed through the ad hoc licensing of freshwater and combination of trucking and pumping operations, said Velvet.

The accounting of the water volumes and flow rates is often completed manually and tracked in various spreadsheets. This process is slow and inaccurate, resulting in unreliable data used for further planning and reporting. Blending operations with recycled produced water brings additional operational complications through the bridging of two different regulatory frameworks with their associated reporting requirements, noted Velvet.

The uncertainty around water data results in over-allocation of water and the implementation of inefficient, environmentally adverse water strategies. To address this challenge, Velvet Energy implemented a customized digital water remote data capture and database platform to optimize its water while reducing operational costs and environmental footprint.

WaterTracker is a cloud-based, Alberta-specific water database, intended for the aggregation, analysis and reporting of industrial water inventories. The database allows for: the mapping of water inventories and infrastructure; identification of operational water opportunities; automatic tracking of water movements, diversion and usage; streamlined water usage reporting system compliance; and generation of on-demand water management statistics.

FieldTracker is a portable remote hardware implementation that allows for the monitoring of water telemetry (volumes, flow rates, levels, pressure and temperature) intended to provide reliable and up-to-date water data during hydraulic fracturing operations. FieldTracker is self-powered, satellite- and cellphone-compatible, remotely configurable and intrinsically integrated with the WaterTracker database.

Since its implementation, Velvet has successfully optimized water planning, reduced operational costs, partnered with vendors to integrate the technology further along the oil and gas value chain, and gained access to reliable, up-to-date water data needed to implement a successful produced water recycling strategy.

Furthermore, the system’s implementation for winter operations with temperature probes distributed along the network allowed for further optimization of heating requirements, resulting in lower operational costs and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, Velvet said.

The use of FieldTracker in groundwater applications has also allowed it to closely monitor the aquifer performance, optimize pumping profiles and minimize potential adverse hydrogeological effects. “This constant monitoring implementation was found to be cost-effective when compared to manual monthly measurements, allowing for the responsible resource management above industry standards and regulatory requirements,” the company said.

Blackline Safety Corp.: Putting worker safety first

Already a recognized leader in the remote worker safety space, Blackline Safety moved forward in 2019 to bolster its remote safety offerings and further grow the company in difficult times. Remote worker safety can be assured and responded to in any location through Blackline’s advanced proprietary platform, which leverages satellite and cellular connectivity, the Calgary-based company said.

Blackline’s innovations in 2019 to develop the product line of G7 Connected Safety devices allow instantaneous response for lone worker health incidents or mass evacuation in the event of a gas leak, including real-time location tracking of all evacuated employees. G7 provides wireless, two-way voice communication and text messaging, ensuring reliable contact with workers in distress.

Real-time gas readings deliver an enhanced level of data to appropriately deploy life-saving rescue operations, as well as characterize industrial facility possible gas leak “hot spots” to predict and remedy a gas leak before it reaches hazardous levels. The collective impact of these step changes in their digital oilfield technology platform has elevated the safety of the energy industry’s workers to an entirely new standard, Blackline said.

Advancements made to the G7 family included developing a new push-to-talk system to allow two-way communication, greatly improving safety of workers and eliminating the need for workers to carry multiple devices and ultimately reducing costs. The addition of a pumped air sampling cartridge provides workers with the ability to easily switch between diffusion and pumped air sampling, again reducing the need to carry multiple devices.

Blackline Safety also offers the most advanced analytics platform in the world for connected gas detection and lone worker monitoring, Blackline Analytics, included with every G7 wearable. It is quick and easy for customers to gain the insights they need to run a superior gas detection and comprehensive safety monitoring program, according to the company.

Blackline Vision, a new data science offering, provides critical consulting and tools that use data to help companies achieve their digital transformation goals. Blackline Vision leverages the full suite of Blackline’s data science, connected wearables and upcoming connected area monitoring, including the ability to proactively orchestrate workforce activities knowing upcoming tasks and the location of people and resources.

Users can also view time-on-tool through interactive reporting that enables comparisons between teams, individuals and other projects, as well as respond to emergencies using real-time connected safety wearables, complete with two-way voice calling, Blackline said.

The G7 advancements made in 2019 “have allowed Blackline to become the de facto premier choice for safety systems, occupying an estimated two per cent market share in the approximately $1 billion North American portable gas detection market,” the company said.

Blackline has grown by 60 employees since 2018 to 220 total employees, a 38 per cent year-over-year increase, and has increased year-over-year revenue by 87 per cent to $33.3 million for fiscal 2019. While further contributing to Canada’s position as a leader in digital oilfield and safety, the company is poised to continue growing and innovating in 2020.

The Innovation and Technology Excellence awards category is brought to you by our Industry partner, Fluor Canada.

Since 1949, Fluor Canada has been involved in the engineering, procurement and construction of a wide range of energy related projects that are spread across the Canadian landscape. Throughout its 70-year history in Canada, Fluor has provided local, regional and international clients with full-service capabilities, which include economic evaluations, conceptual engineering, feasibility studies, program management, detailed engineering, procurement, transportation and logistics, modularization, fabrication, direct-hire construction, construction management, commissioning, start-up, operations and maintenance.

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