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0524 Coal Bed Methane Well Automation

R.G. Ward Control Microsystems

ABSTRACT Coal Bed Methane (CBM), while not invented in Wyoming, has certainly been exploited in this area during the last decade along with new advances of field automation. The purpose of implementing control on a CBM well is to de-water the well so the low pressure gas can be recovered more efficiently. The level of automation has improved since the early 1990s, evolving from simple measurement and speculative control to being completely automated with somewhat intelligent field based hardware. Other considerations in an automated CBM field are cost savings relative not, only to the control, communication and measurement devices, but also to the extent of energy conservation at the site. The remainder of this document will attempt to cover legacy techniques still being used today as well as automation strategies limited only by the users creativity. The goal of the automation project is to produce the maximum amount of gas while extracting the minimum (optimum) amount of water. Well Automation Considerations Coal Bed Methane wells, while simple enough to drill and complete, are not quite so simple to produce and maintain. The nature of a coal bed methane well is that it provides an extremely low down hole pressure. Producing a low pressure well is difficult in itself, add to that the high rates of water derived naturally from the coal seam and you have an opportunity for optimization. The following will provide an overview of typical considerations while automating a CBM well. Down Hole Water Level This is likely the single most common point of failure to a CBM automation project. The popular choice for level measurement is a submersible pressure transducer. The sensor technology is proven, the weak link is the cable from which the transducer is suspended. There are however a couple of conditions that the sensor does not have in its favor. Firstly, the fact that the sensor is being suspended in a hostile environment from several hundred foot cable that was designed for signal conduction and not mechanical support. Secondly is the reality of installation, these sensors are generally sent down hole by roustabouts that do not realize the importance of the sensor reaching bottom hole without having been sliced, gouged or severed. Further to the sensors challenging task , is the interpretation of its signal. A 1-5Vdc output signal intended to represent 0-500ft of level may not really be what you get. Since the water is being aerated by the natural gas, its density changes yielding an error of thirty percent or greater. Many of the production technicians we deal with have a good handle on this factor and account for it in their logic.

Water Flow Meter There are several water meter technologies that have been proven to work quite well. Each have their advantages and disadvantages. The most popular choice is the traditional turbine meter. This meter works on the premise that a rotor inside the body of a meter will turn a predictable number of turns per unit volume. As each blade of the rotor passes by the magnetic pickup coil, the excitation signal in the coil is amplified and an indicator or field controller interprets that pulse as a unit of measure. These pulses are gathered and used to determine flow rates and total accumulated volumes. If the signal cable is being run very far, or in an environment with a high amounts of electrical noise, a pre amplifier may be required. A water meter technology that has not been utilized greatly in CBM automation is the magnetic flow meter. These meters are referred to in general process industry as mag-meters. This technology is extremely accurate and reliable but has traditionally not been used due to its high cost and power consumption. In the last few years a few manufacturers have released low power mag-meters but have not been successful in making them viable for small production wells. Mag-meters can only be used in processes where the liquid is conductive. The mag-meter is a non-intrusive device typically consisting of a spool with an electrode on each side. During operation a pulsed signal is sent to each electrode with the corresponding pulse reading and its time of travel interpreted as a velocity measurement. Since liquids are essentially non compressible, a simple multiplication of cross sectional area and velocity yields an accurate measure of volumetric flow. This volume rate is typically provided to another field controller at a pulse per unit volume. One of the technologies recently adapted for CBM applications are ultrasonic flow meters. These meters use time of flight to determine velocity which is then equated directly to volume. This technology has historically been quite expensive to implement. As of late, these have been manufactured in a clamp on style and advances in electronics have allowed for power and cost reductions. This too is a pulse per unit volume meter. The premise of this technology uses sound waves to determine velocity in the flow line. The lower end meters can be used only on liquids and have an accuracy nearing that of a turbine meter. Pump Monitoring/Control There are a number of ways the field controller can obtain process variables from the pumping system that can provide a basis for optimization. The first generation of automated CBM wells used simple pump panels to turn the pump on and off. This could be determined by monitoring the water level down hole or by measuring the current and voltage being supplied to the pump. Later techniques utilized serial communications that allowed the field controller to interrogate a device and read its data. In the last few years variable frequency drives, with the aid of high gas prices, have made there way to the forefront of CBM automation where they are used in conjunction with a field controller to determine when and how to pump off the well. There are a few VFD manufacturers playing in this field today. One or two are touting patented applications that can provide significant production increases and energy savings to the end user. Gas Measurement Transmitters (Secondary Device) Coal Bed Methane gas is measured by either the traditional orifice or a V-ConeTM meter. Both meters are differential pressure producing meters and must be used in conjunction with an electronic flow measurement device (EFM). The process variables used by the EFM are the static pressure at the meter, a measurement of the differential pressure across the meter and the temperature of the process fluid at the meter. The sensors used for gas measurement have improved greatly in the last several years and quite commonly allow the user to experience accuracies of 0.05% without spending a fortune in instrumentation. Several manufacturers have created multivariable transmitters (MVT) that provide all three process signals in a single instrument. The advantage to the user is the reduced costs of the

installation by taking advantage of serial or Ethernet communications while reducing the manifold/valve requirements and minimizing the points of potential fugitive emissions (leaks). Sensor technology accuracy has almost exceeded the ability for field technicians to properly calibrate them. According to API21.1, the governing document in the US, calibration equipment must be two times more accurate than the device being calibrated. This requires users be able to take to the field 0.025% test equipment. Recent transmitter enhancements have concentrated on electronics rather than sensors. As manufacturers respond to creative producers, users are seeing innovations such as 10baseT Ethernet at the sensor level allowing IP connectivity all the way to the process measurement device. Gas Meter (Primary Device) As noted above, the most common methods for measuring CBM gas are orifice and V-ConeTM meters. Both meters provide a similar function, they generate a higher differential pressure as the flow rate across them increases. This differential pressure (DP), used with a static pressure (P) and temperature (T) are enough to determine compensated gas flow volumes. The orifice plate design is tried and true and is still used today because people have learned to trust it. The orifice does however have a few down sides in CBM operations. The very nature of needing to optimize a CBM well is due to water concentration in the producing coal seam. This water being extracted with the gas makes for and entirely different set of measurement practices. The traditional orifice plate offers a restriction in the line that allows flow only through the center of the line. Being in the middle of the flow line, it allows the beta edge of orifice plate to measure the high velocity regime of the flow profile which requires conditioning to insure the meter is used properly. This restriction can also act as a dam and retain water upstream of the meter. When this happens, the liquid accumulation can have an adverse effect on the differential pressure measurement by changing the effective vena contracta. The V-ConeTM meter relies on the same process variables as the orifice meter; DP, P and T but uses a different technique to generate the DP. This design places the restriction in the center of the line so the gas flows around it, not through it. This design exhibits merit as the liquids are unable to accumulate near the beta area causing error. There are also advantages regarding range ability of the meter that can offer improvements in applications where flow rates vary offer large ranges. Electronic Flow Measurement (EFM) This is the device responsible for generating the volumes that will be used by accounting for royalty dispersion, field balancing and possibly revenue generation. In the US, devices are required to comply with API21.1 for complete audit trail of 35days of hourly averages, daily totals, user changes and process alarms. The physical measurements for orifice meters use AGA3 calculations, linear pulse type gas meters use AGA7 and compressibility of natural gas is determined according to AGA8. While the VConeTM meter is not approved for custody transfer measurement, it has been adopted by several agencies for such applications. In Wyoming, the Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has a requirement that must be adhered to in several states of producing on federal lands. This requirement is Onshore Order #5 and has been amended by Notice to Lessees (NTL) dated March 2004; this document encompasses Electronic Flow Computers (EFC). There are some products on the market today that have integrated the functions of the multivariable transmitter and the electronic flow computer into the same device even further minimizing the cost of automation to the producer.

Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) The PLC is where the intelligent functionality of well optimization is located. Traditional PLCs can manage the logic required at these sites, but the major consideration for determining which PLC to use is the operating environment. PLCs are traditionally considered control room equipment capable of only 32F to 120F (0-49C). Hybrid Field Controllers These are the products of ingenuity, the result of producers thinking outside the box, sharing their thoughts and desires with manufacturers. Several have truly accomplished the task of having a PLC and EFM in the same device. This combination allows a huge cost savings for the producer on the front of the project and even greater savings long term through reduced maintenance and field visits. Benefits of a hybrid controller: Environmental ratings of the controller are similar to those of an RTU o Class 1 Div.2 or Class 1 Div.1 o -40 to 158F (-40 to 70C) Operational Flexible programming options o IEC6-1131-3 Compliant allows Ladder Logic, Function Block Diagram, Flow Chart, Sequential Function Charts, Structured Text and Instruction List Ability to remotely configure/program the controller Ability to remotely re-flash updates in firmware Ability to remotely load new gas calculations as required by governing bodies Independent AGA program and IEC6-1131-3 program so the control strategy can be changed without losing gas measurement data. Shared database so the AGA inputs and results can be used in the control strategy I/O Platform is typically expandable Open architecture protocols such as Modbus, ModbusTCP, EnronModbus and DNP3. Ability to display measurement and process control data locally. Display needs to take into consideration requirements of governing bodies such as BLM. High Speed data logging of process data allowing the reservoir engineers to see well dynamics with as frequent as one second resolution. SCADA System Overview The seemingly weakest link in any SCADA system is the communications. There is not a lot of rocket science here, but if communications go down, so goes the entire system. The key components of the host system are the HMI environment itself, a data historian, a polling engine and a communications network. The HMI is the graphical interface that allows the user to easily navigate the system. Todays systems are capable of redundant servers, hot stand-by, synchronizing databases and immediate web publishing of the data for other non client users to access. The data historian can be either an integrated function of the HMI, or a third party application capable of report generation and data management. The data is collected by a polling engine and placed on the network at some predefined location for the historian to access and possibly perform some integration functions for back office accounting systems. It is not uncommon for this to be a third party package capable of managing multiple protocols over a serial wireless communication network.

The communications system can be any combination of spread spectrum or licensed serial radios. Ethernet radios are increasingly being used in todays systems as the fear of security is being somewhat resolved by the use of pseudo-random frequency hopping techniques in the newer serial and Ethernet radios. The HMI client will request all the real time data for SCADA operations and the polling engine will manage scheduling of historical EFM data. The radio networks also have the ability to act as a slave and repeater at the same time, allowing for tolerance within difficult terrain. If the host radio cannot see one of the remote sites, there is a good chance another remote can. The host can route the message through any number of remotes to find the path to the desired device. These techniques can also be supported in several of the hybrid controllers on the market as a function called store and forward. These type of enhancements have greatly increased the viability of spread spectrum radios even further reducing the installed cost to the user. Summary Many components of a CBM project have been covered here, each worthy of consideration. Subjects worthy of further investigation include the capabilities of evolving hybrid controllers and their ability to communicate through serial and Ethernet communications to sensors, (including pressure and multivariable devices) and to provide the logic by which you ultimately control the well. The real intelligence is not the hardware but the intellectual property that exists within. Questions that need answering include how will you monitor each of the process variables and will you be gathering information from enough process points or are there other things to consider? Finding the correlation between water level, pump loading, water and gas production rates are the fundamentals of optimization. The goal is to produce as little water as possible and to extract as much gas a possible while minimizing energy costs. There are hardware platforms today that offer a solution to these challenges, including the difficult tasks of interpreting well dynamics to a level where preemptive decisions can be made by the controller. Footnotes: 1. Federal Bureau of Land Management Onshore Order No.5 (43 CFR 3160) References: - V-Cone is a trademark of McCrometer - AGA American Gas Association - API American Petroleum Institute