James Buis
District Manager Mexico
Nalco Champion
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View from the Top

Production Efficiency Rests on Flow Assurance

Wed, 01/20/2016 - 18:23

Q: What were the main challenges that oil and gas companies were facing this year?

A: I would say that increasing productivity is one of the main issues for our clients. In critical times like these, all companies look to be as efficient as possible, shifting the focus of business plans to productivity and efficiency. In this regard, we want to make sure that every dollar that our clients spend for our services contributes toward enhancing their production rates so they can quickly recover their investment. This year, products aiming to improve the flow properties have been gaining momentum as they help the viscous oil to rise to the surface. Flow assurance relates directly to transporting the oil all the way from the ground reservoirs to the surface and later to a sales point where the first custody transfer takes place, which can be either offshore or onshore. Afterward, there is an additional stage for flow assurance in which the product is transported from the refineries to the barge ships or trucks. At Nalco Champion, we are mainly dealing with the first stage, where the crude is taken from the well to the first custody transfer point. In this case, our flow assurance packages ensure that all the lines can produce at the expected rate. We offer emulsifiers, an eternally popular product that can dictate the quality of the crude, scale inhibitors, and asphaltene inhibitors that keep the lines clear so production can continue flowing at an optimal rate. A company requires the entire package to maintain the integrity of the system.

Q: How does Nalco Champion help operators during the development stages?

A: Our goal is precisely to prevent downtime, which is why we look at the asset as a whole. For deepwater projects, we assist companies with the projects’ FEED. We have a whole team dedicated exclusively to that area, with considerable expertise in identifying engineering issues. Therefore, if a company is planning to design a platform or a subsea station, we collaborate with it to identify the possible risks in the project, as these relate to flow and asset integrity challenges. We can make predictions based on fluid properties. In summary, we provide companies with a tailored design and treatment. Currently, we have a large number of exciting products awaiting to be launched, and our R&D department is doing a great job in predicting the future needs of the sector. Our value lies in the fact that we have a team of experts on the front line who collaborate with a global team to help companies solve these problems.

Q: What sort of opportunities is Nalco Champion preparing to seize?

A: When mixing crude oils, the focus is needed on the properties of the crude oil. This is especially important when mixing crudes with varied API gravity levels, which can provoke certain instability with respect to flow management. We have already experienced this in areas where lighter crude is blended with heavier crude oil, and in these cases, we need to predict and monitor the flow assurance and consider the use of products such as flow improvers, asphaltene inhibitors, or other similar product that can help prevent obstructions blocking the flow or incrementing the crude’s viscosity, which would make it harder to pump. We are now involved in a couple of projects for analyzing the possibility of mixing different crude oils. In these projects, our role is to help companies deciding which type of crude oil has the best mixing potential, what the optimal mix  characteristics would be, and the possibilities for improving flow management through these mixes, among other issues.

Q: How is Nalco Champion preparing for the launching of the unconventional oil sector in Mexico?

A: We are heavily collaborating across other areas of the company that have are experienced in this kind of projects, mainly in the US. At Nalco Champion, we have a tremendous amount of experience in the Eagle Ford Shale and other similar unconventional projects that have been conducted in the US. We have a broad product portfolio designed to specifically cover those needs. We know how to identify and address the potential problems that are most challenging to shale production, and we know how to develop a chemistry that works well for those areas. Our company gained plenty of experience in South Texas, which borders Mexico, giving us a considerable launching  point as we can bring our experience to Mexican shale producers.

Q: What is the role of companies like Nalco Champion in adding value to deepwater projects?

A: Deepwater projects will bring a different flavor to the Mexican oil and gas market, as well as new opportunities for companies with different levels of expertise to get involved. Nalco Champion had several learning experiences and opportunities in deepwater fields in the Gulf of Mexico when the US started exploring this region. Therefore, we can bring all the solved challenges and lessons learned from the products that we have developed for this area into the Mexican market, supporting the country’s entry into that sector

Currently, we have a presence in about 65-70% of the deepwater platforms operating on the US side of the Gulf of Mexico, covering companies like Shell, Chevron, and BP. Rightfully, these companies are quite demanding regarding asset integrity, flow management, and flow assurance. In these facilities, when there is an issue with flow management 10,000ft below the surface, it is not just matter of stopping production and cleaning or changing the pipelines, as this would cost millions of dollars. Deepwater projects should prevent similar incidences, for which operators should partner with companies with a proven track records in challenging environments, such as Nalco Champion. Together with other companies’ international experiences, we can help Mexico to navigate its deepwater sector without experiencing the same challenges that other countries have already overcome. We are involved with the Lakach project, since we have been collaborating with some of the companies working in that field. In the future, I foresee the company getting involved in other deepwater projects, including Perdido, as I believe that we can have a positive impact in these fields.

Q: How is the Connecting Resources (CORE) knowledge- sharing system influencing your operations?

A: The system helps us substantially by allowing any employee with internet access, regardless of location, to go online and solve a technical problem with the assistance of the company’s international community. The CORE tool works like an internal online forum where people can ask questions about the different categories that we have, for instance, flow assurance or emulsion breakers. Afterward, the inquiry gets circulated to our international community, and the person can obtain an answer from an expert within hours. The longest waiting time I have seen was 24 hours. Large firms like Ecolab, Nalco’s holding company, have a significant number of employees around the world, highlighting the importance of a tool that allows this level of information sharing. CORE has been fully operational for about five years, so the database of information and questions is rather extensive.