Synchronized Information for Proving Oil Sands Extraction Process

A Data Driven Search for Oil - Control MagazineA Control magazine article, A Data-Driven Search For Oil, captures the results of integrating intelligent devices, the automation system, and plant wide history to improve productivity of oil extraction from the oil sands of Northern Alberta, Canada.

The authors highlight the importance of this information:

At Laricina Energy Ltd. (, data acquisition and management are essential elements in proving the validity of a unique process for extracting crude (bitumen) from a carbonate reservoir in the Alberta oil sands region of Canada.

A pilot plant was built to test a new process injecting steam and solvents into wells for oil recovery. The oils sands in this location posed challenges:

…the carbonate bed is neither uniform nor consistent, making economical bitumen recovery a technological challenge.

The control, safety, and information system combined a DeltaV system with AMS Device Manager software which were connected across a corporate network/bridge to a plant wide OSIsoft PI historian—which performed production accounting, regulatory accounting, corporate data user access, and reporting for operations and management. Also connected to the corporate network was a utility network with PLCs, variable frequency drives (VFDs), and SCADA systems.

The DeltaV system performed pump and motor controls, process control, safety and emergency shutdown (ESD), AGA gas volume standardization, and historical data collection. The authors shared some wisdom for other project engineers to file away:

One of the biggest early challenges was establishing a consistent, plant-wide tagging methodology, ensuring reliable instrument recognition for configuration, accurate measurement and reliable documentation. Uniform tagging is also the key to the integration of three separate databases. Tagging must be coordinated right from the start, and it can’t be fixed later.

600 HART-based smart field devices were connected to the AMS Device manager software:

…enabling Laricina technicians to configure, calibrate, and troubleshoot 95% of the plant’s analog devices from the control room.

This predictive maintenance has eliminated the need for one instrument technician per rotation, saving $400,000 each year, ongoing.

For the Coriolis meters, magmeters, and vortex meters the current operating signatures can be compared against the commissioning and/or factory signatures without the need to shutdown the process:

That alone saves another $400,000 per year by maintaining production uptime, thereby satisfying one of the original design goals.

The information architecture supports remote access via secure VPN. Remote access:

…to field devices allows managers in Calgary to interrogate specific devices in the plant—and reconfigure them if necessary. Limited on-site resources make it important to have this remote assistance available 24/7.

The authors provide an example of how the integrated, synchronized data helps troubleshooting:

For example, when steam generators trip, operators are able to see simultaneously what was happening in the boiler’s dedicated burner management safety system… Automatic data synchronization alone saved the $150,000 per year that it would have cost to hire a person (at this remote location) to perform this function.

They summarize the results achieved:

The biggest benefits of this integrated, software-based system are availability of high-quality data through the corporate historian for efforts at the corporate level to optimize the carbonate bitumen extraction and processing technologies; cost reductions through faster configuration, commissioning and start-up, as well as meter health verification and reduced manpower; easier, error-free documentation based on accurate field-generated information and synchronized databases.

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