Voice of the industry: Johnathan Hottell, SCADA supervisor

Well Site Automation spoke to Johnathan Hottell, SCADA Supervisor at EXCO Resources in a pre-conference interview, ahead of the second annual Well Site Automation Congress in Houston, TX January 27-28, 2016.

By Johnathan Hottell January 5, 2016

Well Site Automation (WSA):For how long and in which companies have you been involved in the automation space?

Johnathan Hottell (JH): From 2002 until 2006, I was an automation technician contractor for companies including BP, Texaco, Chevron, Williams Field, WPX and CDX Gas (Enervest). Then from 2007 until 2014, I was a software engineer and systems integrator with Pure Automation Inc and AutoSol. I helped build numerous upstream and midstream oil and gas SCADA systems.

WSA: In that time what is the most exciting or innovative automation project that you’ve been involved in? Can you give a brief description?

JH: Two major projects stand out; both were building massive SCADA systems, one for XTO Energy and the other Chesapeake Midstream (now Access Midstream). These were multi-year projects and the sheer volume and diversity of work it took to make an innovative and dynamic SCADA system was fun and challenging.

WSA: Why is well site automation with regard to multi-well pad control and monitoring so important in the industry right now?

JH: The increase of horizontal drilling has made multi-well pads much more common, this allows for some opportunities. For instance, a close proximity of wellheads and onsite equipment allows the sharing of automation hardware which can reduce initial cost of hardware and labor. Maintenance can also be reduced by the sharing of hardware and power sources.

An ‘object-oriented’ approach in your PLC or RTU software should drive standardization. Having standardized ‘cookie cutter’ copies of tags and logic in the RTU saves time and money. Time is reduced to install and configure onsite, to maintain and troubleshoot onsite, to train SCADA personnel and users of the systems and to add and maintain wells and assets in your SCADA system. It is somewhat unquantifiable to estimate how much time and money this saves but it adds up significantly at scale.

WSA: What kind of benefits can an effective automation program offer an operator?

JH: Collecting data is expected but conveying actual information effectively to end users is key. The back end of the SCADA host system needs to rapidly wade through information under the covers and provide concise and actionable information. Some key tools for the operator include:

  • ‘Morning reports’ to rapidly get to the most important issues
  • Ad-Hoc reporting to analyze data as needed 
  • With the tightening of budgets and manpower a critical addition is report by exception. No one has time to wade through all the data – SCADA systems need to have logic to automatically bring anomalies and troubled wells to quick attention
  • SCADA needs to be able to rapidly accommodate changes, enhancements, and customizations. In the world of IT in general, one of the number one stated needs is to be able to more rapidly deploy applications to users.

WSA: What are the main considerations in establishing a successful automation program?

JH: Multi-well pads introduce some challenges and changes to existing SCADA systems that were not built for the purpose. Most systems don’t do a good job accommodating the one to many relationships of equipment. For instance the sharing of equipment such as tank batteries, flares, separators, and measurement devices with multiple wells on a pad makes visualizing the data complex. If you are looking at a well screen in your host system, how do you convey that the equipment is shared between wells? Some companies benefit from not only well-centric but also pad-centric architecture.

WSA: Almost all of the majors are involved in large-scale well site automation, but what would you say to smaller companies that are considering an automation program?

JH: Let the actual business needs drive the automation program, there are lots of niceties and wants but innovation usually comes from a driving need. What do you see as being the next area of progress in the automation space Geo-fencing for operators, getting feed data depending on which sites they are on. Higher resolution data, smarter analytics.

– Edited by Eric R. Eissler, editor-in-chief, Oil & Gas Engineering, eeissler@cfemedia.com

Original content can be found at Oil and Gas Engineering.