Texas Radio

High-Frequency Industrial Radio Networks Help Oil-Patch Producers Ride Herd Over Far-Flung SCADA Control Systems

By Steve Kuehn, Managing Editor

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IF THERE’S ONE THING TEXAS HAS IT’S REAL ESTATE, miles and miles of it. Be it thousands of cattle on the range or field instruments and control devices distributed among hundreds of wells in an oil field, ranchers and oilman alike have to ride herd over these critters to keep them in line. To help better manage widely dispersed oil field assets, two companies with operations in Texas recently implemented radio-based wireless networks to remotely control and monitor wells and other oil production process systems.

Magnum Hunter Resources Inc. (www.magnumhunter.com), headquartered in Irving, Texas, is an independent oil and natural gas exploration and development company that manages oil and natural gas producing properties for its interest owners. At its Walnut Bend oil field located near Gainesville, Texas, Magnum Hunter subsidiary Gruy Petroleum Management Co. installed a new wireless radio network to overcome interference problems and more reliably control and monitor its wells located in an environmentally sensitive area of the state.

For similar reasons the CO2 Group of Kinder Morgan (www.kindermorgan.com), a leading producer of the gas to U.S. businesses, recently deployed its own wireless radio network. The company’s goal: speed up transmission rates so it could more efficiently manage its SCADA system and tighten control response of the company’s CO2 injection equipment sited in an oil field located in a region known as the Permian Basin near Snyder, Texas.

Both Gas and Liquid
FIGURE 1: CO2 COMMAND CENTER  
 
Kinder Morgan controls sophisticated CO2 injection equipment to help keep its customers Texas oil wells productive. Its new radio-enabled wide-area wireless SCADA network ensures fast efficient control across 120 square miles of territory.
  

The Snyder Area Canyon Reef Operators Committee (SACROC) operates more than 400 wells within the Permian Basin. To help keep SACROC’s oil wells productive, Kinder Morgan operates a plant that injects the oil-bearing strata beneath the field with CO2. Kinder Morgan delivers the CO2 to its facility adjacent to the field via a pipeline from an underground deposit of the gas that the company owns beneath Cortez, Colo.

According to Kinder Morgan, the underground CO2 is actually a cross between a gas and a liquid. Once it arrives via pipeline, the CO2 is cooled and forced under pressure into the ground (known as flooding) with water. When forced underground, the “sudsy” compound works with the water to grab oil and force it to the surface.

Monitoring and controlling injection operations across 120 square miles of oil field from its facilities control room (See Figure 1) is a daunting task. In the ‘90s, Kinder Morgan relied on employees traveling in trucks to monitor sites, and fielded a large radio network of 200 9,600-baud serial radios. The company also used a very-small-aperture terminal (VSAT) network using satellite technology to monitor and control the wells and CO2 injection equipment.

Out With the Old
As time has passed, the serial radio-based network’s slow communication rate and the weather-dependent, temperamental nature of VSAT prompted the CO2 Group to rethink its wireless control strategy and start looking for ways to improve the performance and reliability of this critical system.

John Ory, the group’s senior facility engineer and Jerry Martin, on-site instrument and electrical supervisor, began working with local integrator Cain Electrical Supply Corp. to migrate the old system to a new wireless SCADA system configured with Schneider Electric Modicon PLCs and a network of solar-powered Locus industrial radios (See Figure 2).

FIGURE 2: SOLAR POWERED 
 
Solar panels provide the power, the 2.4 GHz radios do the rest, transmitting a range of control information to a central SCADA system miles away.
 
In With the New
To monitor and control operations, Kinder Morgan deployed a point-to-point, point-to multipoint network of 44 Locus OS2400-485 radios to communicate with the PLCs controlling wellhead injection and other process control equipment. The new network radios use digital signal processing and asynchronous communication to reliably transmit critical control signals from sensors and other field instruments including well pressure, flow rate, temperature, voltage, vibration and hydrogen sulfide levels.

The network polls the sites every 30 minutes, and moves serial Modbus data via an interference and license-free 2.4-GHz frequency repeater network between 43 injection wells and the company’s central office. The new radios have an I/O data rate range of 1,200 bps to 115.2 Kbps and therefore can easily handle the 19,200 baud transmission rate of the SCADA system. “With a range of up to 16 miles, the longest hop in the network—a little over six miles—is no a problem, and signal latency is practically nonexistent,” says Cain Electrical Supply Corp.’s automation specialist Ken Cook.

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