Automated Flowback Reporting: Eliminate Wasted Time and Money

In this study, we look at how the Plow Technologies team uses OnPing to quickly deploy accurate, reliable automated flowback reporting systems in a constantly changing – and often sensor poor – wellsite during flowback operation.

Flowback, a turbulent time

As a well transitions from frac to steady production, it enters a critical phase focused on maintaining operational efficiency and equipment integrity. During this period, operators manage the decreasing flowback rates and adjust production strategies. They fine-tune pressures, flow rates, and the chemical composition of fluids to enhance oil and gas recovery while keeping operational costs low. Continuous monitoring is crucial to identify and resolve issues such as leaks, blockages, or mechanical failures that could affect production.

During this time, flowback operators are tasked with the laborious job of manually collecting data, a process many oil companies are keen to automate. However, while the flowback process is ongoing, equipment on site is often being updated, including the installation of permanent production equipment like pumps, separators, and storage tanks. This equipment changeover can temporarily limit the availability of sensors needed for full data automation.

Despite the longstanding presence of automation, its absence in some systems often signals specific operational constraints. Yet, advancements in industrial automation tailored for rapid data reporting and data capture have made comprehensive data automation more practical. Systems like OnPing now integrate sensor data with manual entries and use smart algorithms to compensate for any lack of sensors. With this technology, the Plow team has managed to generate flowback data reports for clients without needing significant operational changes on site.

Teamwork is essential

Plow and our customer worked collaboratively to solve this problem. Without that hand in hand work, the automated flowback report would be fatally flawed conception. We were able to review the manual data collected on several well completions in order to improve our systems and understand the challenges better. Onping’s flexibility both in generating reports in various formats and in providing recalculable parameters (our virtual parameters) sped the process up significantly.

Automated Flowback Reporting, a recipe for success

The general methodology we use to prepare automated flowback reports is as follows:

  • Understand the physical parameters of the well and sensor availability
  • Collect all low hanging fruit
  • Identify trouble spots by comparing against manual entry data
  • Find sensor combinations to overcome these challenges

Understand the physical parameters of the well and sensor availability during the flowback period

Most production companies have settled on a set of parameters to monitor that are fairly similar. First of all pressures a few examples: tubing, casing, static, differential and separator and downhole. Pressures tend to indicate the health of the well and equipment on site. Along a similar vein, temperatures like: separator temp, gas temp, wellhead temp, downhole temp are often desired to understand how the wells health is doing. There are also several control points in the well that are usually recorded like chokes and maybe tank selections. Lastly, the volume: gas, oil and water, often these measurements are the ones that present the most difficulty in automating the reporting for flowback.

Collect the low hanging fruit

Many parameters are gathered as a snapshot. Tubing, casing and other pressures are usually pretty straightforward to add to a report. Tank levels also can usually be gathered in a straightforward way as well. Though one complicating detail for both these measurements may be changes in how fluid flows through the system. We often find only one of several tank levels actually gives stable readings throughout the flowback period.

Identify trouble spots by comparing against manual data

Looking at the data produced by the reporting system and comparing against manual entry data allows for immediate visibility of errors. Taking the time here to create reports that are easy to compare with the format that the manual data is entered is essential. This involves timing your snapshot values to overlap well with when manual entry measurements are made. In our experience the most troublesome data occur in volumetric readings.

Find sensor combinations to overcome these challenges

Sensor combinations can help overcome troublespots in design structure of an automated flowback reporting system. A good example  is our use of transfer pump rates and tank levels to mitigate the challenges presesented by a lack of an inlet measurement for water volume.

As water enters a tank, the inlet flow rate can be approximated by taking successive readings of tank level over a period of time. However, during some periods a system might also involve outlet transfers. By combining the inlet and outlet transfer measurements we can approximate the inlet volume for a given period.

Modern tooling has greatly improved how we can handle the tricky parts of tuning the system. OnPing allows users to see the results of their scripting and tuning in real time.

Here is a piece of the virtual parameter created for the flowback reporting.

let ?resolution = toResolution 64 in
let calculateChangeForNMinutes =
 fun minutes inputs t ->
   let calcInputValueSum =
     fun tp ->
         (Array.keepSomes ( (fun i -> valueAtOrAdjacent i tp) inputs))
   let inputsAtTime_tf = calcInputValueSum t in
   let inputsAtTime_ti = calcInputValueSum (t - minutes) in
   let delta = inputsAtTime_tf - inputsAtTime_ti in

This snippet sets the smoothing resolution for inputs to the script. Then it grabs the sensor input values at 2 different times subtracting the initial time from the final. Because we are able to quickly adjust the timings and tunings of everything here the problem of approximating fluid volume becomes tractable. In fact through careful tuning, our automated flowback measurements track very closely to the manual entry parameters.

Because accuracy and precision are absosolutely vital to a project like this, it is important to start with a strong foundation. Building in a robust, well tuned, trustworthy platform like OnPing – which can handle the nuance of data calculation and communication – is a crucial component of successfully automating the flowback report system.

Other considerations and final thoughts

This flowback report project demonstrates the ability of a modern automation platform to provide data in short duration situations.

We have done this process now for ten different installations and are able to get it up and running in a few hours. Sensor approximation, rapid reporting and flexible scripting have drastically increased the places we can apply measurement in the Oilfield. OnPing’s inverted control model – which allows field technicians to quickly bring equipment online – is the other essential ingredient to facilitating timely installs while maintaining accuracy and information integrity.