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Automation aids in reduction of upstream water management costs

containment pond at fracking site

An upstream service provider has implemented a Bedrock Automation OSA Remote secure control node in a fracking water transfer application.

The Bedrock control nodes replace traditional PLCs to synchronize and monitor water pumping across three to ten miles of remote desert terrain. The application has increased operational efficiency by over 50 percent and improved the ability to spot and prevent water loss through leakage. 

Fracking a well in the Permian Basin can require up to 42 million gallons of water.  Getting so much water from identified sources to a well often involves synchronized operation of multiple large diesel pumps spread out over the entire length of the transfer line. The pumps must be started and brought up to operating speed in series and then ramped down in series to a stop every few hours. The process is repeated around the clock with each stage of the fracking operation, which can run for several weeks.  

"Having sufficient water available and delivering it reliably to the frac location is a critical piece of the supply chain in completing a new well. Setting up the projected water supply typically takes between two and eight weeks. It involves scouting water sources, negotiating rights-of-way with landowners, installing temporary or permanent piping, storing it in large membrane-lined containment ponds or tanks, and pumping the water to the wellsite," said Reed Taylor, founder and CEO of FLOWPOINT Water Solutions, a Midland, Texas-based water management firm serving the Permian Basin.

For most of today's transfer services, operating these pumps manually involves deploying field operators to monitor each pump, start or stop them as required, and spot and fix leaks. Seeking to improve water transport efficiencies, Taylor enlisted the services of automation integration firm Flow-Sync, a Texas-based automation supplier that provides specialty skid-based water transfer pump control solutions for water fracking applications.

The Flow-Sync application-integrates flow calculation software, the Bedrock cyber secure automation platform, cloud-based data storage and analytics, and a SCADA interface through which operators can interact with the system from anywhere via the internet. It deploys the Bedrock OSA Remote control nodes in the wiring cabinet of self-contained, portable skids. They are wired to the pumps so that the entire transfer operation can be monitored and controlled from any location. 

"We especially liked the fact that the cyber security is built-in. Our application is  sensitive to interruptions to the data communications within our automation system. Having a system designed to resist current and future security threats is one reason we've chosen the Bedrock OSA Remote over other options," said Harry Browne, CEO  of Flow-Sync.

Enabling users to interact with the automation system is Ignition SCADA software from Inductive Automation. The Ignition server integrates with the Bedrock controls and the AWS cloud, where Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud EC2 servers host an SQL database. This IIoT architecture is fully scalable in terms of processor memory and disk storage. The OPC UA connection with the Bedrock OSA Remote extends the secure PLC architecture to remote locations via TCP/IP.

"Operators can see the big picture, which is significant when most of our work is in remote areas. If you are trying to start up multiple pumps at once or bring things up or down in series without exceeding pressures or overfilling pit levels, having access to real-time information to support your decision making is invaluable. Or maybe your tanks are getting low and you need to increase the speed of your pumps  to boost the supply, you can see exactly what you need to do and the impact of your adjustment. This is IIoT the way it's meant to be," said Browne.  

A complete IIoT solution

By automating water transfer, the FLOWPOINT/Flow-Sync application boosts operator productivity in at least the following ways:

  • Real-time visibility into all operations to monitor multiple pumps remotely, giving each person control over a larger portion of the water transfer operations.
  • Automatic leak detection, alarming and intervention, avoiding costs related to lost water, system downtime, clean-up costs, and potential fines.
  • Reduced administrative costs in managing and reporting on water inventory and costs while also improving accuracy.
  • Improved transfer design improves efficiency and reduces energy costs, which could be the highest cost variable for most transfer operations.

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