This month’s Oil & Gas Measurement Podcast episode features measurement expert Dean Graves discussing why correct measurement training is an important skill to have.
In this month’s episode, you will learn about why measurement training is necessary, the fundamentals behind it, and the importance of on-the-job training. Dean and Weldon also discuss the importance of combining formal classroom training with on-the-job training from mentors in order to help technicians learn the “whys” of the way things are done.
Measurement Technicians Training: Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms
- Dean Graves is the former Manager of Measurement Services at Devon Energy, now retired after 36 years. During his career, Dean served on numerous industry standards committees with API and GPA, was directly involved in the key research, and has been instrumental in updates to multiple standards. Dean has also been involved with various industry organizations and is published in Pipeline & Gas Journal, American Oil & Gas Reporter, and others. Dean continues to be involved in our industry as a consultant and measurement fundamentals instructor for GCI. Dean is also a senior advisor to the Board of Directors and an active instructor for ASGMT classes. Connect with Dean on LinkedIn.
- Mitchell Energy & Development Corp is an independent oil and gas exploration and production company that was acquired by Devon Energy in 2001.
- Devon Energy Corporation is a leading independent oil and natural gas exploration and production company. Devon’s operations are focused onshore in the United States. The company’s portfolio of oil and gas properties provides stable, environmentally responsible production and a platform for future growth.
- BLM – The Bureau of Land Management is an agency within the United States Department of the Interior. Their mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. It administers over 245 million surface acres and manages 700 million acres of subsurface mineral leasing and production.
- API (American Petroleum Institute) has developed more than 700 standards to enhance industry operations. Today, it is the global leader in convening subject matter experts to establish, maintain, and distribute consensus standards for the oil and natural gas industry.
- GPA (GPA Midstream Association) is the primary advocate for a sustainable midstream industry focused on enhancing the viability of natural gas, natural gas liquids, and crude oil. They develop standards, conduct industry research, educate our workforce and improve operational safety. As advocates, GPA works with legislators and regulators to promote a safe and viable midstream industry.
- ASGMT (American School of Gas Measurement Technology) is the largest gas measurement school in the United States that is devoted to natural gas measurement, pressure regulation, flow control, and other measurement-related arenas. It is divided into seven main subject groups: Fundamental Measurement, Gas Quality, Distribution, General and Advanced Measurement, Transmission, Office Procedures and Accounting, and Hands-On training.
- ISHM (International School for Hydrocarbon Measurement) provides instruction in both technical and non-technical subjects for personnel in the industry. In this way, problems that pertain to the measurement, control, and handling of both gaseous and liquid hydrocarbons may be studied so that useful and accurate information can be developed and published for the benefit of the public in general. The data and information found in the school classrooms and in the published proceedings provides great value to all who are engaged in this phase of the industry.
- AGA (American Gas Association) was founded in 1918 and represents more than 200 local energy companies that deliver clean natural gas throughout the United States. There are more than 76 million residential, commercial, and industrial natural gas customers in the U.S., of which 95 percent receive their gas from AGA members.
- EFM (Electronic Flow Measurement) has become a preferred method of natural gas measurement.
- Orifice meter is a type of flow meter used to measure the rate of flow of liquid or gas using the differential pressure measurement principle.
- Orifice plate is a device used for measuring flow rate, for reducing pressure, or for restricting flow.
- LAUF or L&U means “lost and unaccounted for” product. Discrepancies between the metered inlet volumes and the metered outlet volumes on any pipeline system. This may be a combination of measurement inaccuracies, leaks, fugitive emissions from equipment, or unreported use.
- OQ is a regulation of the Office of Pipeline Safety of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). DOT’s Operator Qualification (OQ) regulation 49 CFR 192 subpart N requires operators to develop and maintain a qualification program for individuals performing covered tasks. The intent of the OQ rule is to minimize human error by establishing a verifiable and qualified workforce.
- Phase Envelope or Phase Diagram is a graphical representation of the relationship between the different phases of a mixture or compound (gaseous and liquid) as temperature and pressure changes. This is highly dependent on the composition of the gas mixture.
Measurement Technicians Training: Full Episode Transcript
Weldon Wright: Hello, and welcome to the Oil and Gas Measurement Podcast, episode 8, sponsored by GCI (Gas Certification Institute), providing training, standard operating procedures, consulting, and field operation software to the oil and gas industry for over 20 years.
Announcer: Welcome to the Oil and Gas Measurement Podcast, where measurement professionals, Bubba geeks, and gurus share their knowledge, experience, and likely, a tall tale or two on measurement topics for the oil and gas industry. Now, your host, Weldon Wright.
Weldon: Hello, and welcome to Episode 8 of the Oil and Gas Measurement Podcast. I’m sitting here today on the banks of the Colorado River in an undisclosed location, but if you hear some Canadian geese in the background, or maybe a little traffic, you’ll know what’s going on.
I have caught up with Dean Graves here in Colorado. Dean is going to be joining us to talk about the training and the importance of training to our measurement technicians.
Dean, can you tell us about what you’re doing in retirement, because that’s an enviable place to be and yet you’re still out there doing training?
Dean Graves: Yes, I love being retired, and I try to rub it in whenever I can, because I have enjoyed being retired. One of the things I’m doing, as you’re aware, is I have a passion for training and teaching in the measurement area.
That’s one thing I’ve done for many years through my years in business. I’ve seen people who didn’t understand it, wanted to understand it and just didn’t understand it. Some of us folks who have been in it a long time make it look like it’s nuclear science, rocket science, and it’s not.
I want to get that so people can understand it, so I’ve been teaching. I teach with GCI right now, doing some teaching for folks from operations to new measurement folks, trying to give them some ideas and understanding as they get into operations and gas measurement.
Weldon: Tell us a little bit about your background, how you got here, Dean, though, because a few of us are going to know your varied background and how long you’ve been in the industry, but let’s make sure the rest of our listeners know. What qualifies you to talk about training to measurement people?
Dean: What qualifies me? I’ll give you a little bit of rundown of who I am and my history. I have been involved in measurement since 1978, so I’ve been involved with measurement for about 44 years. If I haven’t learned something at that time period to be able to share with folks, I’ve not done a very good job.
I was actually a teacher before I got into measurement. I found out teachers didn’t make enough money to support their family. That’s back in ’78. I got involved with measurement. I thought it was gasoline measurement. I had no idea what I was doing.
Got started working for a measurement company and got involved with starting there working in the office, and working in the field, and doing a whole lot of learning. Back in about 1981, I got a chance to go to work for a gas pipeline company in west of the Fort Worth area and went to work there and did a lot of learning.
Was there with the Mitchell companies and got bought by Devin. I was with the Mitchell/Devin companies for 36 years. Involved with midstream measurement, measuring gas coming from the wellhead all the way up into the processing plants.
Over a period of time, I got very involved with the production side as far as measurement and have been doing it for 44 years. One of the things I’ve tried to do through that time period was I learned because I had to learn what measurement was, what gas was, and I felt there was an importance in teaching folks to help understand it. Teaching, especially folks that are sort of related to it. Your office people, your accountants, give them some kind of understanding so they understand the world that we’re in and we’re dealing with. Also, working with measurement techs.
Through this whole time period, I have gotten involved with that. Also, during the time period, I’ve been involved with the API. I went to various committees with that. Also involved when they were dealing with the BLM. I was chairman of some subcommittees on GPA.
I am on the board of American School of Gas Measurement Technology. Have been an instructor there, an instructor at ISHM, and instructed various other ways over the years. Even now, as I’m retired, I continue to do the teaching because I have a passion for folks learning and understanding.
Weldon: Great, Dean. I know I’ve learned from you, too. I first met Dean back around ’95, or somewhere else, sitting across the table from him. I was a field service engineer working for the equipment vendor, and Dean was on the other side educating me on what was going to be required to sell stuff to him. [laughs]
Dean, there’s a lot of things that go into measurement for technicians, for operations people. On the measurement side, I know that one thing I’ve fought throughout my career is the concept from upper management that training ought to be riding around with Bubba in the truck for a couple of days and that makes you a measurement technician.
We all know today that more is involved in that than just a few days in the truck. One of those is knowledge of the fundamentals, the theory behind measurement, the actual on-the-job training, the experience you learn riding with someone, vendor training, specific training to your company’s procedures.
Start us off by talking a little bit about what fundamentals training is and why that’s so important to people beginning in measurement.
Dean: You’re talking about riding with Bubba in the trucks and getting trained. That’s how all of us were trained, I would imagine. Getting out there for a couple of weeks and all kinds of plans.
You’ll be riding for six months, piggyback, that kind of stuff, but it never lasts that long. You’re out there a lot sooner than that. We have all been that way. I was the same way. One of the things I have learned over the time is I’ve learned that I should have known something sooner, but I didn’t know it.
That’s where I’ve come into respecting the fundamentals. Fundamentals of not just what do you do in gas measurement, but what is gas and things about it? How does gas react?
As I teach classes, one of the things I tell folks, I say, “I have either cost the company or I’ve kept the company from making millions of dollars because there were things that I didn’t understand and I didn’t handle right because I hadn’t understood some of the fundamentals.” That’s where I go with the fundamentals.
One of the things is important in fundamentals, we always want to teach and train folks how to do this, how you calibrate a transmitter, how you commission or configure an EFM. How do you do this? How do you do that?
Somebody can learn the hows and never understand what they’re doing. We’ve all seen folks like that. They can understand the hows and they don’t understand the whys. Got a story. Many people have probably heard this story.
There’s this little story told of a little girl watching her mother cook a roast in the kitchen. As she did that, the mom cut the end of the roast off and put it into the pan, putting both ends in the pan. The girl, being inquisitive and trying to pay attention, says, “Hey, mom, why did you cut the end of the roast off?”
The mom looked at it and thought, she says, “Well, that’s how my mom taught me.” Why? She called her mom to find out why she did it that way, because she didn’t know. The mother, who is the grandmother, said, “Ah, that’s how I was taught.”
They called the great grandmother, who was here, and the grandmother said, “Why do I cut the end of the roast off from my pan? My pan wasn’t long enough.”
Dean: There are a lot of things that we have been taught, just because Bubba did it, because it’s been done, and not understanding the importance or the whys. I do a lot of teaching about the whys, and what is gas, what is measurement before you get to the hows.
Granted, sometimes the why is a little bit boring, but there’s a whole lot to understand. I can honestly tell you that if I had understood various things of gas 15 years earlier, I would have made a much bigger difference for the companies because of dealing with it. I just didn’t realize it. We all can say that.
I’m not talking deep, deep, deep stuff. I’m talking stuff that’s just in the fundamentals. I spent a lot of time with fundamentals, teaching about what gas is. A lot of folks think we talk like we’re dealing with one gas, but we don’t. We deal with 10, 15 different kinds of gasses in our stream, and they all act differently.
They do different things differently. I talk about how they react with each other and what they do, and then press the importance of understanding all that before we ever get to any kind of gas measurement, and then spend a lot of time on measurement.
One of the things I spent a lot of time on, and you’ve heard me do this, Weldon, is I’ve learned a whole lot by learning what screws up measurement. One of the things I teach is, what do we see that’s messed it up, and take that and we learn from that. That’s one of the things I deal with in the fundamentals.
We spent a lot of time in preparation by getting folks to understand gas and what they’re dealing with, and what are the characteristics of gas, and what does it do?
Weldon: Dean, I couldn’t agree more. The comment that you made about learning what screws up measurement, some of the hardest lessons I’ve learned had been that way. Not by screwing up, but trying to figure out and understand why you screwed up and how you got that way.
In the fundamentals of measurement, that understanding of why you’re being taught those steps is so important. Like you said, I did a whole lot of learning by screwing up measurement before I got it right. As we go through fundamentals training with folks, we hear that thrown around a lot.
We hear talking about measurement theory about “what is gas”? Talk to us for a couple of minutes about some of the specific topics you’re covering as you go through fundamentals of measurement.
Dean: Some of the specific topics that I spend time on is, first of all, before I even get into measurement, I talk about gas. I call it chemistry, but the gas characteristics, with the fancy term phase envelope.
At what point does gas try to change from gas to liquid, or liquid to a gas. I didn’t understand that for a long time. Once we learned to understand that, I went back and realized I could give you several examples of mismeasurement because we were living in that world of changing between gas or a liquid and how you handle it.
The other thing that I spend a lot of time on is, especially for orifice measurement, is a flow diagram, the flow profile of how the gas is coming into the meter tube and how it goes through the orifice plate. I have learned a lot over time that people don’t understand how it’s supposed to work as it goes through the plate.
I break it down into certain sections and segments and look at, before I get to the plate, what it should look like, and what can screw that up, what can mess that up. As it goes through the plate, the importance of the plate, and then what happens if things aren’t done right there, and go down the chain there.
To emphasize and understand the importance of recognizing gas is I take it and I compress it. I may obviously change some to liquids, being aware of that. When I’m sampling, how I sample gas, it causes issues going through that, where I’m changing from gas to liquid and how that can screw things up. Then, spending a lot of time understanding the flow.
One of my goals in my fundamental teaching is to give the guys about four or five questions to ask they can think through that can help them understand whether whatever problem they’re looking at might probably be causing mismeasurement.
Hopefully been successful with that by just getting a general understanding. This is not deep stuff. It’s understanding the process.
Weldon: I’m going to disagree with you on one thing. You say it’s not deep stuff. You talked about phase envelope and that being a fancy term. The truth of the matter is, though, that let’s say with crude, old school crude, if we got a barrel, we know when that barrel is full, it’s running over.
If we can agree there were 42 gallons in that barrel, we know we got a full barrel of oil. Gas measurement is a little more removed from that. We can’t see what we’re measuring. We hope we can’t smell it, but much of the time, we can.
We’ve got to define what full is, how we do those measurements. There is a lot of complex stuff that goes into gas measurement. We try to make it look easy if we’re doing it right. If we’re not doing it right, everybody from the president of the company to the janitor yells at us.
That’s one thing to remember there. The other thing is that when we talk about the parts of gas measurement, we’ve been practicing this for 120 plus years, and we’re still getting better at it every day. We’re still learning there are new questions we should be asking and stuff we should be looking at.
When we talk about the fundamentals, why they’re important, you’ve talked about some of the things that you cover there, and I agree with all of those things. What the issue with fundamentals is to me, all too often, it gets classified at the management level, and I’m guilty of doing this at one point in my career also…”We’ll teach that later. Let’s get the guy out there working, and then we’ll get him some classroom training”. That can be the backwards way to do it. You talked about fundamentals, learning that theory stuff.
Visit with us about some of the other areas and how those fit together, how on-the-job training fits in, how vendor training, how those pieces all fit together.
Dean: You’re right, training is a continual process, and it’s not something you do right off the bat necessarily the first day. There needs to be a good plan in how you train and what you’re trying to accomplish.
Fundamentals, the quicker you can get somebody to understand some of the fundamentals, the quicker they can start making sense of how things work in the field. I like to go through fundamentals, and real quick, real soon, so they understand what they’re up against, and then work from there.
Then, when they’re riding with Bubba or riding with somebody and testing in the field, they have a better understanding. I’ll give you my example was the opposite of that. I started riding real quick, and I started learning and being taught things that weren’t correct.
I had a guy one time inspecting a meter station and checking the plate. The plate had a little nick on it, and I said, “I don’t think this is right.” He took his instrument screwdriver out and rammed that orifice plate out and cleaned that nick off. We all agreed, “Hey, this is good to go.”
Well, it wasn’t. We just dulled the plate. Because I had started riding without understanding fundamentals and understanding the importance of what the plate was, I called it good and I signed off on it. There’s value in understanding the fundamentals, but you’ve got to get out in the real world.
You gotta get out there and you gotta see it. You’ve got to see some things, because we have to admit that teaching, we are going to under emphasize something, and we’re going to talk about things that aren’t going to make sense to them. They need to get out in the field to do it.
Then, as you get along and go along, take them a step further along. You start off with Measurement 101 and the importance of that, then go deeper. It’s important to get vendor training.
Vendors can tell you how to do the hows, but the more you understand the whys, then the hows will make more sense. Then, you can also differentiate between what they’re teaching that’s correct other than what they’re also teaching because that’s what they were taught.
Vendor training is important, and understanding the equipment is very important. Again, have a better understanding of the whys. There’s a continual learning about this. There are various ways you can do it, going to schools, going to ISHM, to the American school, places like that where they can learn various things.
Learning from other people, you can use that way. Training is not something I can do one week and be done with it. It should only be a start in that way, but again, it should be a continual thing.
Weldon: Absolutely, Dean. We talk about Bubba. Sometimes, we kid a little bit about Bubba, but more often than not, Bubba’s a respected guy out there in the company. A guy out there that’s been doing measurement for 10 years, 20 years, he’s got a lot of experience, a lot of knowledge stored upstairs.
Part of what we talk about fundamentals, the guy that you ride around and do that training with is very likely the best measurement tech in the company. That’s why they had you riding with him. I’ve seen cases where that best measurement tech in the company was like your grandma on that pot roast.
He was two generations of meter techs removed from sitting in a classroom and learning of the why and what he was doing. He’d learned from a guy that he rode with in the field, who learned from a guy he rode with, who learned some stuff about the fundamentals of measurement.
Having that background, knowing what’s there. Like I said, Bubba may be the smartest guy in the company, but Bubba can’t necessarily relay to you all of those details that he may have learned 20 years ago and forgot. He just knows naturally to do it the right way.
Having that fundamentals is there, and it’s really important. One thing that also gets short changed is how much training we need to give a measurement tech.
A week’s worth of fundamentals training, two weeks’ worth of fundamentals training, riding around a truck with a guy for a couple months, get checked off with all your OQ, that probably qualifies you to go out and do a meter test and a meter calibration where there’s no issues and there are no problems.
As you mentioned before, that part is not rocket science. When that meter test doesn’t go the way you want it to, when you can’t get that transmitter back within specs, or when the boss calls and says, “Your area’s unaccountable has doubled. What’s going on out there?” Those are all a lot more complex questions.
To me, I claim to have been doing this, I call it 35 plus years now. I don’t want to be the old guy that counts off year by year by year, but, of course, I’m still a youngster compared to you. I’ll tell you right now that I got some of that education from Dean Graves, who taught me that the stuff your company said about your equipment is not the whole story.
Any rate, what I’d like to visit for a couple of minutes more, Dean, is when does that stop? I can tell you now, I don’t stop learning about measurement.
When I talk to measurement managers, measurement directors, when they go in and talk to their VP the say, “Those crazy people over there told me that my tech needs 400 hours of training before he’s a technician,” that needs to be qualified. What you need to know to go out and do the basics of the job versus what you need to know to be the lead on a lost and unaccountable investigation is quite a bit different. You have anything to add to that?
Dean: No, I agree with you. I know AGA has done some white papers about training and how much time you need for a technician. Based on their definition of what a technician is and does, they have a bunch of hours involved in there.
There’s many ways of approaching it, but right off the bat, fundamentals, on-the-job training where you’re working with somebody and learning from somebody who understands what he’s doing and is able to convey it in a good way.
Some people are good, they just don’t know how to convey it and how to teach and train in that way. You mentioned earlier you learned a lot from things where you had screwed things up. I learned a lot where I screwed up measurement or I was trying to correct screwed up measurement.
Getting people to the point that they start troubleshooting, not equipment, but LAUF (lost and unaccounted for) and trying to figure it out, and then you start asking these questions and thinking.
You’re getting answers many times that you have to disavow it and go deeper than that as you’re trying to figure out why things are not working the way they should be. Your learning escalates tremendously as you start solving those things and start understanding it.
Part of that is along with the training, you have to have a passion to want to do better at it and to understand it. Your best folks in measurement are folks who love it and are constantly wanting to learn it. You can say that in any field.
I also do woodworking as a hobby. I’m not very good at it. I’m slower than Christmas. One of the things I’ve learned through screw-ups is how to do things better, and what I don’t do next time. I’ve also learned by having a passion, by listening to YouTube stuff, and by following different things to learn, different techniques.
It’s advanced my end results in woodworking. The same thing goes with whatever we’re doing in measurement. Having the passion to want to go further than what your company is going to give you right off the bat, where you spend more time looking up stuff and researching.
One of the things, Weldon, is I’ve learned in talking to folks who I respect a lot and feel like they have a lot of knowledge. I could name you a few that were mentors to me. I’d hit them with questions. I still have people I would go to if I have questions regarding it, who I consider to be experts to learn and to kick things around and try to better.
For example, I had a guy that I learned from, and he was doing work for me as a consultant. I would go to him and we’d spend hours basically arguing about certain things. I mean really getting down into it, arguing about certain things.
I didn’t always agree with him, but I learned a whole lot. I also learned when to stand firm when I thought I was right about something. That’s all part of the process of learning as we go beyond the first stages, and basics, and get to truly learning on a deeper level.
Weldon: Thanks, Dean. We talk about on-the-job training. There’s two points I’d like to make about that. First of all, on-the-job training needs to be in an environment where you can learn it. Teaching a guy how to calibrate a meter while the plant’s on fire is not necessarily the right environment. Or, sending a guy out when the president of the company is beating on the table about the L&U and saying, “You better find it today before you close,” that’s not the learning environment. The other thing is that, as you mentioned, you still have folks today you call when you have questions on the tough stuff.
One thing we’ve got to remember is that if we have a guy that is the top measurement expert in our company, and he’s the guy we go to for every one of the tough problems, we’ve got to make the commitment and the investment in the younger folks and stick them to his side when he’s doing those kind of investigations.
When you have that top-priority lost and unaccountable investigation, when you have that one particular site with that measurement discrepancy with the custody transfer that no one can explain, that’s the time you need your newer measurement guys, especially rising stars, you need them attached to the hip of the old guy, because their industry has been bad about that.
Old guys, and I’m looking at one across the table here, they have the habit of retiring and taking a lot of knowledge with us. You’re a rarity…you’re here to share and give some of it back. That’s not always the case. I certainly appreciate you spending some time with us today, Dean, talking.
We got more Canadian geese that have landed on the other side of the river from us today. People are walking their dogs out here, and I see a guy fly fishing. That fly fishing might be a good thing to try here. I’m going to let Dean go.
What he’s talked about today has been a real good segue. He mentioned talking about Measurement 101, and that’s a great segue to me, because our goal here on the Oil and Gas Measurement Podcast has always been to gear this up to more than once a month.
What we’re going to be launching is a series of podcasts that we’re calling “Measurement 101.” We’re going to do a light touch of individual topics in there, whether it be pressure transmitters, whether it be sampling, those sorts of things.
We’re going to begin down that road and we’re going to interweave those episodes with their other episodes here on the Oil & Gas Measurement Podcast. Thanks again, Dean, and thanks for sharing your knowledge with us.
Dean: I appreciate you wanting to talk to me about it, and I enjoy talking about this. Thank you very much.
Weldon: Thanks for listening. If you liked our podcast, leave us a review on iTunes, Google, or wherever you get your podcast fix from. A full transcript of this episode, along with any geeky terms they may have used, is available at pipelinepodcastnetwork.com.
If you have questions, comments, topic suggestions, or if you’d like to offer yourself up to the microphone as a guest, send me a note on LinkedIn, or use the contact page on pipelinepodcastnetwork.com. Thanks again for listening.
Transcription by CastingWords