A modern distributed control system helped an offshore exploration and production firm achieve its first deepwater-field extraction in just 36 months.
Oil and gas exploration company LLOG, based in Covington, Louisiana, operates in the depths of the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana border. Despite the company’s relatively small size among oil and gas industry giants, LLOG is the fifth largest operator in the Gulf. The company’s success rate of drilling exploratory wells is 70%, compared to an industry average of approximately 35%.
In 2012, LLOG wanted to achieve production from multiple discoveries in the Gulf of Mexico’s Mississippi Canyon protraction area as quickly as possible. The company developed an unheard-of timeline of just three years to build a new, automated floating production system (FPS) in the deep water off the Gulf of Mexico.
At this time, the company had one successful FPS, called “Who Dat,” producing from nine wells. LLOG studied the underwater landscape, negotiated a final agreement, and began construction of a new FPS, known as the Delta House FPS, to act as a hub in the Mississippi Canyon.
Short Timeline, Unique Challenges
With just 36 months to complete design, implementation and drill, LLOG required an accelerated build schedule. Beginning engineering work prior to oil discovery in the area facilitated the fast schedule.
This early engineering was a bold endeavor, but a leap LLOG was willing to take given the company’s higher-than-average success rate and large prospect inventory. LLOG also was comfortable that the new design could accommodate a range of possible oil characteristics.
A typical deepwater approach for new-drill FPSs includes oil discovery, identification of well locations, a front-end engineering and design (FEED) study, a bid for production FPS types, then detail design and, only then, can construction begin. This traditional approach typically takes several years before the first drop of oil is produced from a well. The unique timeline for the new Delta House FPS was far more compressed.
In addition to an accelerated timeline, LLOG also was looking to commission, design and implement a completely different process control system than the existing proprietary system deployed on Who Dat.
“The controls system on Who Dat wasn’t easily scalable,” says Rick Fowler, vice president deepwater projects, LLOG. “With our new Delta House FPS, we knew we needed a process control system that would be scalable to meet future needs, and help us recover return on investment quickly.”
To achieve speedy ROI, LLOG required a highly reliable, secure, flexible distributed control system (DCS) that could be easily duplicated for future projects.
Far from Shore
Working with a system integrator, LLOG designed and implemented the new Delta House offshore FPS using a one-size-fits-most approach. Because of the accelerated timeline and the optimistic outlook for similar projects in the future, the company decided to design an FPS that would fit most offshore Gulf of Mexico locations, versus building it specific to one location. This decision helped speed design and implementation time, and also allowed for a flexible FPS design that could be repeated easily elsewhere.
The company chose to implement a modern, virtualized PlantPAx® DCS from Rockwell Automation. The virtualized system improved reliability and expandability with built-in disaster recovery and the ease of provisioning new hardware when needed, in hours versus days or weeks.
Also, because the PlantPAx system is built on open communication protocols, it provided LLOG with a scalable approach that could easily integrate with various OEM process skids deployed across the topsides processing equipment.
“Our existing Who Dat FPS is running on physical servers,” Fowler says. “In order to expand, we need to add and integrate another full physical server, a costly and time-consuming process. With a virtualized PlantPAx system on the Delta House FPS, we can easily expand and add another virtual server in minutes, and at no cost.”
As part of the PlantPAx system, LLOG expanded visualization into its process control operations. Using the software suite for production intelligence, the system allows operators to easily capture historical data for tracking trends, monitor the process, and collect and report key data, alarms and events. This helps LLOG personnel make more informed operational and business decisions. The system also uses updated grayscale graphics, making it easier for operators to see issues and rationalize alarms.
LLOG can centralize authentication and access control by verifying the identity of each user who attempt to access it. Direct communication through the software allows the system to either grant or deny user requests for increased, built-in security.
In addition, using embedded Cisco® technology, Allen-Bradley® Stratix® switches helped LLOG ease network configuration, management and support. Enhanced security features of the switches support system-wide security as part of a defense-in-depth (DiD) approach.
LLOG completed the full Delta House construction on time in just three years, including the DCS design and implementation and the first oil extraction. Not only was the timeline and FPS build extraordinary, but process system results since implementation have been equally momentous.
“The PlantPAx system has helped us realize increased uptime,” says Fowler. “In the first year using the system, we averaged an industry-leading 99% uptime on the new Delta House FPS.”
Since the first oil extraction in April 2015, the facility has already produced over 60 million barrels of oil equivalents. From inception, the breakeven price for the development was $27 per barrel of oil. Going forward, the breakeven price is below $20.
The features of the PlantPAx system also have helped the company save valuable time and money. “When the FPS has an issue, the system is designed to safely shut down operations,” he adds. “Recently following a nuisance shut-in, with improved reporting and insight into system trends, we were able to get production back up and running in hours, minimizing downtime.”
The controls system easily can be expanded. The Delta House FPS began operations with just a few wells. After a year and a half in production, LLOG has been able to simply add new wells as needed. Wells are typically miles away from the FPS, but through PlantPAx standardization, ease of integration and virtualization, incorporating new wells into the controls system is a painless process.
At the 2017 Offshore Technology Conference, LLOG was awarded the Distinguished Achievement Award for Companies, Organizations and Institutions in recognition of the Delta House project. The project also was named one of the top five projects in the world according to Offshore magazine.
The Delta House FPS now processes five fields versus just three at the time of construction, and in late 2018, began processing an additional three fields.
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