There are billions, maybe even trillions, of different routes that an oil molecule can travel through a production facility. Take BP’s vast North Sea business, for example, where, every day, enough oil to fill around 200,000 barrels flows from the rocks beneath the waves through thousands of miles of wellbores and risers into a complex web of pipelines and processing infrastructure.
At the heart of these operations are BP’s petroleum engineers, making daily choices that require intricate calculations that determine which valves to open, what pressures to apply and how much water to inject – all in the name of safely optimizing production.
Decision making can be complex and lengthy but vital to continually improve performance and increase production.
Engineers have always relied on their own skills and experience, but now they have a twin to call on. Not a human clone, but a digital one – a highly-sophisticated simulation and surveillance system that recreates every element of a real-world plant in digital form. BP’s North Sea business has been at the forefront of this digital development, and the APEX system it has helped to shape is now being rolled out to all of BP’s production systems around the world.
North Sea petroleum engineer Giuseppe Tizzano explains: “Apex is a production optimization tool that makes use of integrated asset models. But, it is also a formidable surveillance tool that can be used in the field to spot issues before they have major effects on production.”
And, it added 30,000 barrels of production globally last year.
Find out how the APEX system works
Picture a digital twin of the human body – but instead of arteries, veins and organs, APEX is programmed with data about each one of BP’s wells, their flow regimes and pressures, and is underpinned by physics-based hydraulic models.
And, like the human body, it’s fast and responsive. With APEX, production engineers can run simulations that used to take hours in just a few minutes, making optimization continuous.Gulf of Mexico petroleum engineer Carlos Stewart says: "Engineering time has been the biggest payback – a system optimization could take 24-30 hours. In APEX, it takes 20 minutes.
"It can also be used to safely test ‘what if’ scenarios. By pairing the model with the actual data, irregularities can be detected hourly and the impact of procedures can be simulated to show engineers how they can tweak flow rates, pressures and other parameters to safely optimize production.
As some of BP’s most complex production systems are found in the North Sea, APEX was piloted on a number of fields there first. Today, the team, including Tizzano, provides expert advice globally as new regions take up APEX and start benefiting from its incredible power to pinpoint where efficiency can be improved and also to predict where problems are likely to occur.
The response from production teams has been positive: BP Alaska optimization engineer Amy Adkison says: “We weren’t sure we could use APEX on the North Slope because of the sheer scale of routing options, but we’ve had great support incorporating that complexity. We’re excited to be able to collaborate with the other regions on the same technology platform.
"Each one has solved a puzzle for their region and we’re eager to share learnings to boost optimization here in Alaska. It’s meant that we have deployed in months instead of years,” she says.
BP’s Trinidad and Tobago system optimization lead, Shaun Hosein, explains: “There is always some kind of activity in such a large system – wells starting up, valve testing, pipeline inspections, and so on. Using this new tool, we can now quickly simulate what will happen, so we can optimize production.
“In one case, we had to shut in a pipeline for maintenance at our onshore facility, which would previously have meant lost production – but the system simulated the procedure and showed us exactly how to re-route the flows and at what speeds. It protected a large volume of production for the three days it took to complete the maintenance.”
APEX delivered 30,000 barrels of additional oil and gas production a day during 2017 across BP’s global portfolio, with more expected in 2018, proving that the digital twin is more than just a virtual phenomenon, but a very welcome new member of the BP family.