As oil prices remain unstable, investment has slowed in fibre sensing technology - a counter-intuitive move when optical sensors add significant value in a downturned market by enabling major production efficiency enhancements

As oil prices continue to dominate the agenda in the Oil & Gas industry, discussions around production performance and efficiency are increasingly focused on how new technologies can be harnessed effectively to make meaningful improvements. This includes everything from new well stimulation treatments in unconventional plays, to increasing the use of fibre optic sensors.

In this rush to find a solution it can be difficult to understand where the priorities should lie. However, there are some significant insights that can be gained by looking back at production performance data that were published before prices started declining.

For example, data that came out last September highlighted that in some unconventional plays, such as Eagle Ford, a high percentage of wells are not producing from all of the stages, and ultimate recovery is as low as 5% to 15%. This was despite an increase in drilling efficiency.

Back in September 14 the diagnosis was clear, production efficiency was growing in importance for operators. Aaron Burton, Product Line Manager, Multistage Completions Systems at Baker Hughes, was quoted as saying: “There is a big focus on improving production going forward. A lot of that shift is coming from operators who are switching from the exploration phase where they were proving the economics of the plays to the development phase where their focus is on improving production and efficiency.”

In a climate where every barrel counts, improving production efficiency is more important than ever. However, the price crash has caused another significant shift in the playing field. Despite the importance of increasing production efficiency a more recent market analysis has shown how investment in fibre optic sensing systems that increase downhole visibility during production, has actually slowed since oil prices started to decline.

This seems counter-intuitive. Indeed, the report by the Photonic Sensor Consortium (PSC) and published by Information Gatekeepers emphasised the importance of fibre sensing technology to the oil and gas industry, noting: “There is no other technology that can provide critical process control information spatially throughout the [oil or gas] well in real time over long periods. Without smart well technology, fracture monitoring and analysis and applications like steam-assisted gravity drainage would be difficult to effectively implement.”

This is crucial to understand. DAS and other optical sensors are a value-add in a downturned market as they can dramatically improve efficiency. It is also important to consider that no matter how useful any one technology is, no data stream should be treated in isolation if operators are to achieve a step change in their visibility and understanding of their production processes.

Whether the ‘data’ in question is microseismic, DTS, MWD, LWD, DAS-enabled production monitoring or a combination of all of the above, it is real-time data capture and analysis that has the biggest potential in maximising recovery and efficiency. For us this is the key priority for operators and the industry. It is a huge challenge, and the volumes of data involved mean that it is as much an ‘IT’ challenge as it is a technical challenge. It is a challenge that must be solved if operators want to thrive in the current market conditions that seem to be here to stay.