This month’s Oil & Gas Measurement Podcast episode features Stephen Anson discussing the technical report for produced water published by API and how it has been edited, the challenges being produced water measures, and where the industry is headed in the future.
In this month’s episode, you will learn how popular produced water is and how many meters of water are in the system, the downside of using poly pipe, and the importance of keeping a balanced system.
Real World Water Measurement Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms:
- Stephen Anson is the Measurement Manager at WaterBridge Resources. Connect with Stephen on LinkedIn.
- WaterBridge provides best-in-class long-term water management solutions for the E&P industry through its integrated pipeline networks for produced water transportation, disposal, recycling, and supply. WaterBridge creates long-term, permanent infrastructure-based solutions that provide its customers with the essential takeaway, disposal, and recycling capacity required to accommodate the rapid growth of produced water and reuse requirements facing the E&P industry.
- API (American Petroleum Institute) represents all segments of America’s natural gas and oil industry. API has developed more than 800 standards to enhance operational and environmental safety, efficiency, and sustainability.
- GPA or GPA Midstream Association is a voluntary industry organization composed of member companies that operate in the midstream sector of our industry. GPA Midstream sets standards for natural gas liquids; develops simple and reproducible test methods to define the industry’s raw materials and products; manages a worldwide cooperative research program; provides a voice for our industry on Capitol Hill; and is the go-to resource for technical reports and publications.
- AGA (American Gas Association) represents companies delivering natural gas safely, reliably, and in an environmentally responsible way to help improve the quality of life for their customers every day. AGA’s mission is to provide clear value to its membership and serve as the indispensable, leading voice and facilitator on its behalf in promoting the safe, reliable, and efficient delivery of natural gas to homes and businesses across the nation.
- “Manufactured Gas” / “Town Gas” / “Coal Gas” are used somewhat interchangeably to refer to synthetic fuel gasses produced by the gasification of combustible materials, usually coal, but also wood and oil. Manufacture Gas was important for lighting, heating, and cooking purposes throughout most of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. The fuel gasses generated were mixtures of many chemical substances, including hydrogen, methane, carbon monoxide and ethylene, and could be burnt for heating and lighting purposes. Coal gas, for example, also contains significant quantities of unwanted sulfur and ammonia compounds, as well as heavy hydrocarbons, and so the manufactured fuel gasses needed to be purified before they could be used.
- Midstream is the processing, storing, transporting and marketing of oil, natural gas, natural gas liquids, and now water.
- Mag Meter refers to meters based upon the principals described in Faraday’s Law, where the meter measures an induced voltage generated by the fluid as it flows through a pipe.
- NGL (Natural Gas Liquids) is natural gas that has been cooled down to liquid form for ease and safety of non-pressurized storage or transport.
- Produced Water is brackish and brinish (salty) water that is brought to the surface as a byproduct of oil and gas production. The amount of water produced along with oil and gas varies greatly between geological formations and even between wells in the same formation. In some cases, the volume of produced water can exceed the produced oil volumes. The collection and responsible disposal of produced water represents a significant expense to E&P companies. The physical and chemical properties of the produced water can also vary considerably depending on the geological formation from which it comes, and the type of hydrocarbon product being produced. Due to the salt content, trace hydrocarbons, various inorganic and organic chemicals, and even naturally occurring radioactive material, the produced water must be treated before injection back into geological formations or reused in drilling and fracturing.
- Raw water is water found in the environment that has not been treated and does not have any of its minerals, ions, particles, bacteria, or parasites removed. Raw water includes rainwater, ground water, water from infiltration wells, and water from bodies like lakes and rivers.
- Green energy is any energy type that is generated from natural resources, such as sunlight, wind or water.
Real World Water Measurement Full Episode Transcript:
Weldon Wright: Welcome to Episode 24 of the “Oil & Gas Measurement Podcast,” sponsored by GCI, Gas Certification Institute. For more than 20 years, GCI has been providing measurement fundamentals training and measurement standard operating procedures to the oil and gas industry and now proudly offers the Muddy Boots Online field operating platform.
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Announcer: Welcome to the Oil & 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. I’m your host, Weldon Wright, of FpvPrime Measurement Consulting.
We have Stephen Anson coming up for another discussion on produced water measurement. Welcome to episode 24 of the Oil & Gas Measurement Podcast. I’m here with Stephen Anson from WaterBridge. Stephen, how are you doing today?
Stephen Anson: Doing very well. Thank you for having me.
Weldon: Great to have you back. You were with us first on episode number two, I think. Before we get into all of that, tell us a little bit about yourself and what you’re doing, Stephen. I understand you had a change here recently.
Stephen: Yes, sir. I’ve recently moved back over to the operations side of the industry, working for WaterBridge Resources as their Measurement Manager. WaterBridge is a produced water gathering midstream company. We will collect water from all over the Permian Basin, Eagle Ford Basin, and Arkoma Basin and inject it into any number of our saltwater disposal wells.
As the Measurement Manager, I oversee all of our measurement operations, everything from our measurement technicians out in the field, the engineering and design of all of our measurement systems, and then the back office data management side of the business.
Weldon: So you’re responsible for the whole thing.
Weldon: A lot of times, that’s the best place to be, until something goes wrong, right?
Weldon: Stephen, before we talk about what you’re doing today with WaterBridge, when we talked almost two years ago now, I guess, you were deeply involved with API, putting together what we hope one day will become a new standard over the measurement of produced water.
At that time, y’all were putting together the initial white paper, I guess. You had a pretty aggressive timeline. Tell us where you’re at right now and how that timeline’s going.
Stephen: It’s a technical report, which means it’s not quite a standard. Usually, the emerging trend now within this standards body is things that are new and emerging, like the focus of produced water measurement, will start off with a technical report. They used to call them recommended practices, but now they’re technical reports.
With the hopes of getting information out to the industry, letting it marinate with the end user, and put it into practice and then collect feedback to still have a referenceable document in agreements and business practices.
It’s a technical report right now. Think when we last spoke, we were still drafting the initial version. We’ve since drafted the original version. It has gone out to the working group within the API Committee of Liquid Measurement and gone through a comment period.
We collected roughly 150 comments on the document. Some of those were pretty detailed and required significant changes to the document, mostly around structure and organization of the document itself. Some of it had to do with technical details around terms or definitions or use cases, things like that.
We had to go through the entire document, resolve or address all the comments, work with the commenters in the event that we couldn’t resolve it, and get to a point that we could mutually agree that things didn’t need to change or would not change.
As a result of all of that work, the document’s been restructured. We had the original version. Then we have a proposed new version, both of which have all of the comments addressed in it.
We’re in the process right now of merging the two documents into a single version that would then go back out for working group comment. Hopefully, there would be no real big, major comments that need to be addressed. Then it could go back out for committee review and, ultimately, publication.
Our initial goal was to have something in the publication queue by the fall of this year. Because of some of the things I just mentioned, we’re going to be a little slower than that.
Weldon: One thing I’ve learned over the years is that the timeline on all of these things is always aggressive. The amount of work being done and what y’all are doing right now with the entire comment and going through and reviewing and addressing each individual comment, that’s a tedious process.
It’s a lot of work up front to ever become a standard. All the stuff you’re doing now, if you had not done this process, would have slowed down or maybe even sidelined a standard trying to go out to vote through the community, right?
Stephen: Absolutely. There’s a lot of people who are involved in API standards development, from companies all across the world. They all have interests in different things, from crude oil to refined products and everything in between.
One of those focus areas now is produced water, the measurement of produced water, and the management of produced water. A lot of focus and attention in this area, a lot of different experiences and operational practices. There was a lot to take into consideration here and a lot of information to digest and translate into the document.
Weldon: That’s great work you’re doing. The things y’all are doing there at API, as well as at what goes on at GPA Midstream and AGA, that’s all invaluable to the industry. I’ll throw in a little plug, right quick, for folks to get involved in these standard groups.
You don’t have to be an expert. In fact, one of the best ways to learn details about any particular microcosm of our world is to get involved in these standard groups. Stephen, tell us a little bit about what you’re doing there at WaterBridge. I guess I’d like to start talking about what goes on out in the field.
Stephen: What we’re doing at WaterBridge, I’ve already mentioned we’re a produced water midstream company. Specifically, my role is the measurement integrity, so everything from the devices in the field to the data in the office, and how that information is reported, allocated back to the producer, etc.
Starting at the field, we look at things on how we get the best measurement performance at our different locations, whether it’s a receipt point coming off of a customer’s well pad, a gathering point where we bring all these receipt points together, or all the way down to the injection well.
As a midstream, we’re worried about what comes in. We’re worried about what goes out and everything in between. We need to maintain good balances with transparent measurement and operational practices. Because water is not a saleable commodity, like crude oil or natural gas…
Weldon: At least not today.
Stephen: Not today. We have to be very cost conscious. When you’re designing a measurement skid for a custody transfer application that may measure 60, 80 thousand barrels of crude oil a day, it is a little different than something that is measuring 10 or 15 thousand barrels of produced water.
Weldon: That’s all some pretty interesting stuff. Can you give us an idea of the scale of your water measurement there at WaterBridge? How many points are you measuring out there? Can you tell us that?
Stephen: Yeah. All and all, across all three of our basins, we probably are approaching 2,000 meters. I would say roughly half of those are in West Texas.
Weldon: When you start to look at your field operations, tell folks what you see is the predominant technology used for measuring water. If you’re not sticking with that predominant, what are some of the other less popular things being used out there today?
Stephen: The predominant one – is especially emerging as the predominant one – would be mag meters. They’re cost effective. There’s no obstructions. They are either full line bore. They’re easy to fit into risers and headers in piping segments.
Designing around a mag meter is pretty effective when it comes to producing water gathering, where you’re having to look at system hydraulics to move water around to different disposal wells. That’s emerging, if not already there as the dominant technology of choice.
However, we do still see a lot of turbine meters used. We have a handful of them out in our different locations that came with acquisitions. We don’t install them new. They came as part of some acquisitions. When they finally fail, we’ll replace them with a mag meter.
We do also have a few applications that we use for very specific scenarios, where we use valveless meters, because they have some advantages in certain measurement applications of produced water. They do a good job.
The cost is sometimes a prohibitor when it comes to selecting those, but we do use them in very specific applications. Then, we’re starting to see clamps on ultrasonics.
Weldon: The whole concept of a mag meter is going to be a little bit of foreign to most of the folks in oil and gas measurement. Can you give us the Bubba geek’s Cliff’s notes version of what that does?
Stephen: Yeah. I’ll do the best I can. A mag meter is a volumetric type of flow measurement device. It’s sensitive to velocity. Obviously, it has to be within a certain range. Can’t be too fast. Can’t be too slow.
It has two or more sensors in the body of the meter that will measure the conductivity of a given fluid. They operate off of a principle called Faraday’s law, which discusses electromagnetic induction, which basically states that as voltage is induced to the conductor as it moves through the magnetic field, it can then be calculated into a flow rate.
Based on the conductivity of the fluid is how the mag meter will calculate the flow rate. It does have to be a conductive fluid for it to measure.
Weldon: That’s good enough. I was involved in installing and commissioning one of these back sometime around or before 1990 in some fairly dirty water measurement. I know back there in those days, it was really an emerging technology.
There were a lot of limits. It couldn’t be too pure. It couldn’t be too dirty. It couldn’t have too many particles, but it needed enough. Anyway, very interesting technology. I can see why the produced water world latched onto that.
Back to getting things done out in the field, what are the challenges you’re seeing with produced water measures?
Stephen: The biggest challenge is typically always finding a suitable installation location. A lot of times, we are connecting gathering systems. We may acquire some already existing pipe in the ground. Finding suitable locations to get optimal measurement performance is one of the challenges.
One of the other challenges is always cost. It’s very common for produced water gathering systems to be made of poly pipe. The issue with poly pipes in a meter run is that you can’t really get the flow profile performance that you desire going into a meter.
Carbon steel, obviously, will rust over time, especially within produced water with a high salinity and corrosiveness to it. We have to use stainless steel on our meter runs. Cost becomes an issue with that.
Then, one of the other challenges is we’re usually using system hydraulics to move the water around. In some cases, we’ll have a booster station to help move the fluid. A lot of times, we’re just using pressure from the producer’s well pad in our gathering system to our facility that has the disposal well.
We have to manage our pressures and be aware of how we can move water around, based on the pressure throughout the gathering system.
Weldon: Well, you mentioned something that I had not thought of. I’ve driven around out there in West Texas, and I’ve driven for 15 miles down a caliche road with that piece of 24 inch poly running beside the road.
Haven’t seen any installations, but I just envisioned this poly coupler bolted on the flange of a meter, and then poly going the other way. I’ve never thought about the issue of poly being so smooth, we don’t develop a flow profile. There’s lots of things that are little twists to what we think is old news, right?
Stephen: Yeah. I’m not saying you can’t use poly. Again, when you’re trying to maintain the integrity of your volumes, your data, and your balances, you want to do everything you can to manage the uncertainties. Remove as many unknowns as you can, and then focus on the things that you can’t.
Stainless steel obviously has a better shelf life. It’s a little more durable. You just get better measurement performance out of it.
Weldon: That makes a lot of sense. What happens in the back office, Stephen? A lot of us are familiar with the machine that exists at so many companies for handling our gas, for handling our crude or NGL volumes. Do y’all do something similar in the water industry?
Stephen: Very similar. It’s eerily similar, as a matter of fact. Flow measurement data is the same regardless of the fluid being measured. It’s data. Just like the saying goes, garbage in is garbage out. You’re focusing on bringing in high quality measurement data into your system, regardless if it’s crude oil, natural gas, produced water, purity products, whatever.
We take the approach that the produced water is a commodity to us. It’s ours. We take it. We manage it. We treat it. We dispose of it. In certain situations, we’ll sell it back to a customer who needs to use it for fracking or other operations. We treat it like it’s our own commodity. We bring it in. We review this data just like a typical oil and gas production or midstream or pipeline company would.
We tend to focus more on daily data. We can get down to the hour if we choose to. We tend to focus on the dailies because that’s how we manage our system balances on a daily level. We go through the typical review and close out process just like any back office measurement team would. We’re making sure that we have all of the data, first of all.
The data that we do have is complete and does not have any known errors in it. We do prove our meters. We do inspect them. Any time we inspect or prove a meter, if there’s a noticeable difference, we make adjustments to that data. One of the things we don’t do is apply any type of quality source application.
We’re not applying sample or analytical data back over the measure volumes. We also don’t make any corrections for pressure temperature.
Weldon: Interesting. I was going to ask you about the quality part of it. You beat me to that. Do you balance your systems like we would on the hydrocarbon?
Stephen: We do. We’re actually looking at our systems balances on a daily level. My analysts are looking at these things. They have different dashboards that they use to interpret this data and what the balance is. We have entire areas that we balance. Then we’ll break it down into two subsystems, where we can consolidate volumes and measure ins versus outs.
We look at that primarily so if we start to see an issue we can assess it early on before we get to our close out process and we’re trying to find something that’s been going on for weeks. It also helps our operators know how they’re managing the system effectively.
Weldon: Very much in line with what we’re doing on the oil and gas side. I suspected you were going to say that. It’s amazing to me to sit back and watch from a distance what an industry evolved where there just wasn’t one at all. While you evolve you’re putting a few trucking companies out of business in the process.
As you look at what you’re doing now over at WaterBridge and where your work is taking you with API on the technical report, where do you see this going forward with that? Do you see the emphasis on measurement? Do you think that has reached the point it needs to be, or do you think their measurement emphasis needs to increase in the ravine?
Stephen: I’m probably biased in giving this answer but as someone who’s spent the entirety of my 23 year professional years in this industry and specifically focused in measurement that whole time, I would always say that I think we’re constantly thinking for ways to do things better, more accurately, more repeatedly, and with better intelligence.
At WaterBridge, we leverage our data heavily. We’re a data driven organization. We make decisions based on data. We take pride in that. We’re always looking for ways for the data to tell us what’s going on and how we can get in front of that.
I think we’re going to continue to make progress in flow meter technology, in best practices for operations, in data management techniques. I don’t see it stopping. We’re always focusing on how to do things better.
Weldon: Interesting, Stephen. When I got into oil and gas measurement, when I started trickling on the gas side – it was a while before I got into liquid measurement – I was a young guy. My mentor was an old guy that probably should’ve retired 20 years ago at that point in time, right?
He had been in the industry through natural gas becoming a product of its own right. When he started in the industry, gas was strictly a byproduct, not unlike water is today. Producers were happy if you driveled a few pennies back to them for the processing plant. Processing plants were being built at that point in time out of the blue to get the gas in, all the expenses they could throw at it.
There were many contracts that had no more language in it other than just, “We’ll give you half of the money we make from the backend after all our expenses.” Natural gas measurement at that point in time, saying it was rude and crude would’ve been an understatement. I don’t mean any negative to chart recorders.
At the time, chart recorders were the best technology out there and they could be accurate for that day, but natural gas measurement wasn’t where the focus was. Water is the same thing today. It’s gone from being strictly a byproduct to an expense to something we want to handle more responsibly. A lot of people are looking at it becoming a revenue stream at some point down the road.
Stephen: Yeah. I agree. We do a little bit of that at WaterBridge. We gather produced water. We have treatment facilities where we’re not making it potable or freshwater by any means, but we’re taking out as many of the solids and hydrocarbons as we economically can. We’ll do some treatment to it and turn it into what we’re calling raw water.
That gets sold back to drilling companies, fracking companies, and producers. In some of those cases, we’re treating this water. We’re turning it back to the people we got it from.
Stephen: Yeah, so they can continue to use it for sea drilling , drilling mud, and frack water.
Weldon: Two questions I have, one of which is: at the producer level, when y’all get water, take water away, is that generally free of commercial hydrocarbons, or do y’all sometimes get significant amounts of hydrocarbons in the water coming to you?
Stephen: It probably varies by producer and location. Significant I would not say. We do get skim oil in with our produced water. We do in most cases allocate that back to the producers. I say most, it’s really all.
We’ll take that off at our treatment facilities because even when we’re injecting into a well, we have an obligation to make sure that we are only injecting produced water into the well. We have to make all reasonable efforts to make sure that that happens.
We have storage tanks and units that help clean up this water through pretty standard practices of retention time and temperature.
Weldon: Great info in there, Stephen. Great info. Before we go here, do you want to spend a little time telling us about specific issues or concerns you see at the industry level? If not, what else do you have to say before we wrap up?
Stephen: I think one of the concerns at an industry level – more whole than just produced water, its industry-wide, bigger than even measurement – is our attraction and retention of talent. There’s a lot of differing opinions on the need for fossil fuels. There’s some emotion and thought around green energy, which is very good and supplemental to our lifestyles.
Attracting and keeping talent in the industry is proving to be difficult. Those will be one of my concerns. Once we attract the talent, we’ve got to do a better job of keeping them.
Weldon: I would say fairly often in my episodes those words – that could be a whole episode. That’s a whole podcast series there that you’ve opened up. I think that’s something that all of us that have been in the industry are becoming… I want to use the word panicked on, Stephen. because we’ve been talking about it for 20 plus years.
In 2000, 2002ish, I’ve been in industry meetings where we have talked about specifically, “We have got to attract more talent. We’ve got to retain more talent. We have too many people retiring. How are we going to fill that void?” As an industry, we’ve talked about it for 20 years. What have we really done?
Oil and gas wasn’t a popular career going into the 2000s, right?
Weldon: Now it’s like we’re the bad guys in many cases, right?
Stephen: Yeah. It’s interesting because I’m actively hiring for several positions right now and almost half of everyone I’m talking to or spoken with have all said, “I just want some stability.” They’re coming from an industry that might be stable but because of the working conditions or the environment or the people they’re exploring, it’s not.
They all say, “I heard oil and gas is volatile.” I think that’s a concern for especially technicians and guys at the field level but also people in the office. I’ve seen it in my 20 plus years. There’s been a handful of ups and downs. It’s an industry when you’re up, you’re up, and when you’re down, you’re worried.
Weldon: Yeah. Also has been an industry that has a history of knowing we have ups and downs, but we don’t always save any pennies while we’re up for the down part. That’s a whole nother story. Stephen, this has been some great info. It’s great to get the update on where API is.
It’s great to hear a little bit of information about the real world of water measurement and how closely it overlays with what we’re doing, especially on the crude side of measurement. I thank you for your time. What I am going to do is I’m going to go out and I’m going to provide a couple of links in our show notes for information on mag meters, the theory behind mag meters, and how they’re being applied.
Anyone out there that has some interest in that, check the show notes. I appreciate, again, your being here. Look forward to seeing you around at committee meetings, conferences. Thanks again for being on the podcast, Stephen.
Stephen: It was my pleasure. I love what you’re doing with the podcast, Weldon. Thanks for having me back. Looking forward to what lies ahead.
Weldon: Great, Stephen. Be careful out there.
Stephen: Thank you. Yes, sir. You, too.
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Transcription by CastingWords