Remote monitoring of blowout preventers improves operations

Oil & Gas Engineering | BY MICHAEL FRY

BOP system tester uses analytics software to help its oil & gas clients avoid downtime and incident

In April 2010, the malfunction of a blowout preventer (BOP) contributed to the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, leading to the loss of life of 11 crew members and one of the worst oil spills in U.S. history. Since then, a movie was made about the incident, with an unsurprisingly Hollywood take. In addition, there has been a not-so-surprising emphasis on comprehensive BOP monitoring throughout the oil & gas industry.

BOPs are assemblies of valves, hydraulics, and electrical devices used to seal, control, and monitor wells to prevent the uncontrolled release of oil or gas (See figure 1). They are deployed on both land and ocean drilling rigs, and they are secured to the wellhead at the top of the wellbore.

Deepwater Subsea uses real-time data analytics software to minimise downtime & incidents
Deepwater Subsea uses real-time data analytics software to minimise downtime & incidents

To comply with regulations instituted in 2019, BOP system testing must be handled by third-party companies, such as Deepwater Subsea, headquartered in Katy, Texas. Deepwater Subsea provides these services to its clients by streaming data from BOP systems located anywhere in the world to their monitoring center for analysis and reporting.

In addition to BOP testing, Deepwater Subsea provides subsea operational support and training with their team of subject matter experts (SMEs), all of whom are highly trained specialists, to provide downtime reduction and operational performance improvements.

To provide these services, the SMEs make extensive use of Seeq advanced analytics software to create insights from the streamed data.

Searching for a better solution

Initial Deepwater Subsea projects reinforced the need for an improved solution in an industry where many operators and service companies were set in their own established, and often inefficient, procedures. Like most operators, Deepwater Subsea was using general purpose tools such as Excel to analyze data, making it difficult to predict and troubleshoot problems, and to help its customers meet regulatory requirements.

As part of BOP regulatory compliance, reports must be sent to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which often requires customized reports going back months or even years. These must be created quickly and efficiently, a task not well suited to spreadsheets.

Achieving operational excellence for operators requires analyzing rig data, producing compliance reports, generating failure reports, and conducting regular inspections. The information generated by these activities provides operators with historical lessons, key performance indicators, operational logs, and inspection reports — which they use to improve their operations and comply with regulations.

Delivery of these services is complicated by geography, as most BOPs are installed thousands of feet below water or land surface. Another issue is the sheer volume of data, with up to forty thousand data tags coming into the Deepwater Subsea monitoring center daily, streaming in real-time 24/7/365.

This data must be quickly and accurately analyzed, with any problems immediately brought to the attention of the operator. The main goal is preventing failure of a BOP system, but an important secondary goal is keeping a system in operation, if a problem is found that does not jeopardize BOP operation.

To attain the required level of certainty, Deepwater Subsea switched from spreadsheets to Seeq for interacting with the data of interest, creating insights and producing customized reports.

Deployment details

Deepwater Subsea uses the OSIsoft PI data historian to collect and store time-series data from its clients’ wells and BOP systems. This data is primarily pressure measurements from the hydraulic system that controls different aspects of BOP operation, and the method of communication from a rig to the monitoring center is typically via a VSAT satellite communication system.

In addition to real-time data streamed from wells regarding BOP system operation, the historian also contains BOP asset information such as make, model, serial number, date of manufacture, date of installation, date of last maintenance, historical failure and leak data, and the like.

A Seeq system reliability engineer initially worked with Deepwater Subsea SMEs to install the software, which took less than two hours. Upon installation, Seeq automatically detected, connected to, and indexed the PI system data. When new data sets need to be analyzed, the data extraction process is quick and easy, in contrast to spreadsheets where data must be manually copied from the historian and pasted into the spreadsheet.

Multiple PI systems can be connected to provide data comparison across different sites. Tight integration between Seeq and OSIsoft PI’s asset framework is used for analytics and asset-relative displays. Seeq also offers integration with Event Frames and PI Notifications to enable the reuse of existing investments in software and analytical configurations.

The combination of Seeq and OSIsoft PI also provides integration with other tools such as Microsoft Excel and Power BI for pivot tables, graphing, and business analysis.

Deepwater Subsea runs Seeq as a SaaS application on Microsoft’s Azure cloud service platform. Cloud-hosting provides several advantages as compared to an on-premises installation. Local server hardware and support is not required; scalability is quick, easy, and nearly infinite; and security, backups and other features are provided by the cloud-hosting company. Offloading these activities allows Deepwater Subsea to focus on its core mission.

Focus on the BOP

Using the software’s unique analytics capabilities, SMEs at the monitoring center apply their domain expertise to help detect BOP system anomalies. SMEs can now accurately quantify changes in BOP control system performance, pressure leaks and more, and quickly share this information with rig personnel.

Data tags can be pulled in, captured and overlaid on historical data to analyze asset performance, such as the results of pressure tests (Figure 3). The data in the historian is not disturbed by these activities, and full fidelity PI data is cached and always ready for quick acces

The ability to overlay the previous test results for comparison allows Deepwater Subsea monitoring personnel to ensure that the mechanical integrity of the equipment has not changed.

BOP systems can have over one hundred functions associated with a single hydraulic circuit, and pinpointing a problem, often due to a leaking component, is extremely challenging. Using Seeq, SMEs can look at a signal (for example, a manifold regulator pressure trend), and compare it to other signals over any desired time. These signals can be overlaid on top of each other, allowing quick identification of which component is leaking or causing some other type of problem.

An example result would be an upper outer choke in a BOP system that leaks when a valve is closed. Further analysis can reveal whether this is a problem which must be addressed immediately, or if repair can safely be deferred to allow proactive instead of reactive maintenance. Each of these items could have resulted in a non-productive time event, resulting in millions in lost revenue.

Increasing uptime

Deepwater Subsea’s monitoring services have resulted in significant improvements for its oil & gas operator clients. Some of the operators seeking approvals from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) have been able to extend BOP testing intervals from 14 to 21 days, saving them approximately $10 million annually per rig. These testing interval extensions not only decrease downtime, they also provide an opportunity for more detailed analyses during which problems can be pinpointed. This helps speed maintenance and repairs by ensuring the right parts and personnel are on hand to perform the required work.

Figure 5: Analyzing a BOP system leak with Seeq allowed regulatory approval for continued safe operation. Courtesy: Deepwater Subsea

They submitted a report to the BSEE showing the leak would not impact BOP performance, and approval of this report allowed the operator to keep the BOP system in operation. The subsequent return on investment associated with a week of avoiding non-productive time for pulling and servicing the BOP was approximately $2.5 million.

Final words

Following this initial success, Deepwater Subsea has recently expanded its deployment to include Seeq Data Lab, which provides an environment optimized for developing, training and deploying machine language models and enhanced visualizations.

Further expansion of services is planned to analyze data from many other aspects of rig operation. Seeq has enabled Deepwater Subsea to partner with many clients to deliver improved operation, comprehensive reporting, minimized downtime, superior worker safety and better environmental protection.