New Technologies to Help European Unconventionals
Of the current prospects for the development of unconventional oil and gas in Europe, Travis Hesketh, Vice President for Marketing and Applied Technologies, Emerson Process Management, points out that it is an exciting time. “It's a fluid, changing environment at the moment. This subject is a ‘hot topic’ and the landscape of how this business will develop has changed significantly over the past 12 months in terms of where the opportunities are. It's an interesting place to be working”, he says, but not only for the unconventional oil and gas producers.
“We're finding there's a lot of interest too within the business-to-business environment from the users of the oil and gas being produced,” he explains, because of the consequences for the whole supply chain infrastructure. “Emerson is especially interested because we can help support the producers, but also many of our customers are on the manufacturing and processing side of the industry,” he adds.
Emerson, he says, is a $25 billion enterprise, based on five platforms, one of which is Emerson Process Management. “Our expertise is within the process industries, providing intelligent control, measurement and safety. Emerson supports companies asking the question; how do I make sure that my production facility is running safely and optimally, is using the right amount of energy or can minimise it, whilst maintaining the quality and quantity of product that I'm looking to produce?”
According to Hesketh, Emerson is a very large player in this market, with virtually every process facility across the globe using some of the company's equipment, providing it with a clear view of the issues faced by such industries.
“Emerson is continually looking at how it can use its in-depth expertise in engineering, plus the technology that it provides, to address the really critical issues that its customers face across the whole range of process and production industries.”
Emerson Process Management provides technology in three key areas: equipment for measuring and analysing, provision of equipment that adjusts processes, and comprehensive equipment to control an entire facility. ”We provide the brains, the analytical tools, the software, computing and all the things in between to connect the measurements in the field with the control equipment – completing the full loop.”
Emerson also provides the expertise to solve specific engineering problems as well as providing support through its life-cycle services.
In preview of the 2nd EUROPEAN SHALE GAS AND OIL SUMMIT 2014, taking place in London, 29-30 September, Emerson Process Management's Travis Hesketh offered his perspectives to Natural Gas Europe and spoke about Emerson's capabilities within the unconventionals' space.
Considering the company's technologies and expertise, what would you say is Emerson Process Management's main area of interest?
Emerson is interested in applying itself into the equipment realm, especially the control strategies: how you connect facilities together to be able to reduce risk. Our aim is for a zero emissions strategy for these facilities.
As far as how this is done, in the UK and Europe there are some bigger players – a lot of the major oil and gas companies are involved in the UK – but there are also a lot of smaller companies that are involved in the initial extraction and production. One concern is that when compared with these larger oil and gas companies, the smaller exploration companies don't have the same infrastructure, standards or procedures in place. This causes some concern, because the simple fact is that in the UK currently there are no technical standards or legal requirements which would drive the use of state-of-the-art solutions. There is no minimum benchmark or standard of equipment that you should use.
There are some best practice recommendations, but they're not universally applied. The European Commission is working on this in terms of developing best available techniques. The UK, through the Department of Environment and Climate Change Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive, are working on these issues. This is where companies like Emerson can have a positive impact and are saying, “We think we can help provide some of the solutions - for example, to address the problem of how we minimise emissions from equipment as part of the process.”
Could you tell us a bit about Emerson's role in the so-called shale gas revolution in North America?
We have a significant installed base of equipment in that market place. It's an established market, with equipment used for controlling onshore well pads and other applications. The main purpose of our participation in the ESGOS conference is to look at the next steps we should be taking to make sure that the European concerns are met.
How would you describe the opportunity of developing unconventional oil and gas in the UK from the perspective of the products and services that you provide?
It would appear that the regulatory frameworks and the incentives that have been brought forward by the government puts the UK in a prime position to be the first country in Europe to be producing unconventional gas. If course we have a history of onshore oil and gas production, so there's some infrastructure there already. Also, we're a pretty small island, so transportation and supplying utilities, etc. is certainly easier in the UK than in many other countries.
Regarding the opportunity for full-out extraction, we all know that there are a number of concerns from environmentalists, NGOs and other bodies. These are the sort of things I believe a company like Emerson can help with, by looking at the way in which we apply the intelligence and technologies to the problems of production.
Could you share an example of how some of the specific risks associated with unconventional gas are mitigated by these processes?
It is important to understand that the opportunity for producing shale gas is there. It's very significant and can provide a very large proportion of Europe’s gas needs. The risk is that by using existing production and the production processes methods, there are significant methane emissions. These are twenty times worse in respect of their greenhouse gas effect than CO2. So, if we're going to make sure that we can meet our environmental obligations, then we need a strategy in place to make sure that that methane remains within the process and doesn't leak, or isn't given off as part of the standard production process.
That's one of the critical issues that we feel needs to be addressed.
There are techniques called `green completions’, where instead of allowing the bubbling off of gas, you can reprocess it, recapture that gas and use it. That's becoming a more common practice now and I'm expecting that within Europe, there will be a requirement for green completions to be in place at all facilities.
There is also substantial work to be done with flaring and the control of flare stacks.
Could you speak a bit about the role of early diagnostics as they relate to multi-well pads used for oil and gas production?
If you have a pump or a compressor which is working on one of these well pads, being able to provide early diagnosis of a potential problem before it affects the process is one of the most valuable things that we can offer as a company.
For example, in a situation where a bearing is starting to wear, which could cause damage of some kind, we have monitoring equipment that will detect an issue and communicate it back to the control room so the issue can be proactively addressed rather than letting it develop into an emergency situation.
How can Emerson Process Management contribute to assuaging people's fear of potential risks associated with unconventional gas exploration and production? Does the company play a part in helping industry overcome some of the public opposition?
Emerson and other industrial automation companies are having an open dialogue with those responsible for setting regulations and standards. The discussion focuses on the need to apply the best available techniques, processes and procedures across the industry. One of the things which would cause severe problems is if a company with a license to produce chooses to use the lowest capital investment possible to be able to bring production online.
We want to ensure that the best techniques and standards are used. To raise the bar and have a very high degree of confidence that a facility will run as designed and is heading for zero emissions. At the same time, should something happen which is unexpected, you've got all the safeguards and safety equipment in place to be able to manage that situation and put that facility into a safe state.
If we apply the best available techniques and technologies to monitor and control these facilities, there's a terrific opportunity to ensure that these are very well controlled and managed environments.
Drew Leifheit is Natural Gas Europe's new media specialist.