Oil firm in Oman employs drone technology to monitor flaring

By Conrad Prabhu — MUSCAT —

Underscoring its vigorous embrace of innovation and technology to sustain its business, Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) employed an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (drone) to undertake its first ever live flare inspection at one of its interior oilfield locations, the majority government owned oil and gas producer has revealed.

The drone flight, designed to survey live flare emissions at the company’s facilities in Nimr, took place last year — one of several technological successes reported by the company during 2012. The aerial mission was part of PDO’s ongoing efforts to minimise its impact on the environment, production interruptions and HSE exposure, it said in a report.

“Our innovative approach means PDO has continued to embrace new ways of thinking and working. Both in our coastal operation and in the Interior, the latest technology is being deployed to discover new reservoirs, improve recovery from unconventional wells, reduce energy consumption and increase collaboration,” the company stated.

Reinforcing its reputation as a trendsetter in the application of breakthrough innovations in support of its oilfield operations, PDO trialled an array of new technologies at various sites across its vast concession during the course of last year.

Notable was the trialling of distributed temperature sensors and distributed pressure sensors at Qarn Alam and Fahud respectively for fluid contact monitoring for thermal enhanced oil recovery. Both technologies, according to the report, use fibre optic cables and can differentiate the rim of oil from gas and water.

Further, in an effort to make its fields ‘smarter’, the company rolled out a number of tools last year. One such innovation, known as Nibras, is described as a web-based well monitoring tool developed in-house at PDO for well and reservoir management. Equipped with ‘smart alarms’, this tool was also found to be useful in identifying the cause of any alarm and not just pinpointing a faulty well.
Among the many technological highpoints of last year was the roll-out of collaborative work environments (CWE) — primarily open-plan offices boasting the latest audiovisual and software communications systems — across 10 assets around its Block 6 concession.
“These will enable us to address the challenges of working across multiple locations, the need to use new tools and oil recovery technologies and the desire to implement standard business processes that encourage increased collaboration,” the company said.
At Fahud, PDO undertook the successful trial of its Smart Mobile Worker technology, which is an extension of the collaborative work environment (CWE) project. The Smart Mobile Worker connects the production fields with experts sitting remotely, through mobile computing devices such as cameras, tablets and environmental sensors.

Strengthening its co-operation with Sultan Qaboos University, PDO continued to tap the R&D capabilities of Oman’s top higher education institution to help find answers to some of the company’s pressing technical challenges. Over the years, PDO has collaborated with SQU researchers on more than 100 projects encompassing enhanced oil recovery methodologies, materials, fluid analysis, geological studies and environmental issues.

But the biggest highlight of last year was the ongoing pilot study involving the use of concentrated thermal energy from the sun to produce low-cost, low-emission steam to extract heavy oil at Amal West. The Solar Steam General Pilot delivers a peak output of over 11 tonnes of steam per hour and average of 50 tonnes of steam per day across the year.