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The technical standard for coal seam gas needs to be set

Many have been questioning the pace at which energy giants seem to be rushing to get gas out of the ground. There may be public misconceptions about the industry particularly surrounding access to the abundant resource, but there’s also some concern with the gas extraction methods.

This aside, Australian companies mostly apply world class practices where the practice has been refined over many years.

However, with CSG, this is not necessarily the case and in fact a different economic and technical model is mostly required before the project is viable.

Scaling any system whether it includes technology, business processes or resource management requires careful operational consideration and generally a lot of trialling.

It may have worked for the initial production, but will it work for full production? Even if we think we have the solution, you can be assured you will still be modifying and adapting to the new scale to maintain your position as a low cost producer.

One of the most significant costs in a CSG project is the operational cost due to the number of wellheads compared to a similar conventional gas reservoir. And one of the most significant methods to reduce those operational costs is through technology operator integration.

There are gas companies leading the pack in technological solutions that could lead the way to low cost quality production on a large scale ensuring profit. These companies are not shy to try something new, however they insist on best practice, open and maintainable solutions that are fit for purpose.

The rush that was on to see who could get gas out of the ground the fastest is now proving to be less efficient than knowing how your asset should operate in an efficient manner for optimum performance during its life.

The business costs of manpower on the ground are driving CSG companies to work with automators in developing control systems that ensure their technology design is flexible and open.

Knowing how to integrate the latest technology such as RF IP, allows them to adequately monitor and micro control their assets 24/7 from anywhere in the world (including from a smart phone). The right technology approach upfront, means not repeating mistakes as you expand.

The cost of replacing downhole equipment and working over a wellhead all because you didn’t know when your pump was about to seize is completely unnecessary. Correlating well attributes with live data ensures you know your field and how best to manage it.

One might presume that the standard of today’s control and monitoring technology is great and yet the typical standard of technology actually deployed for CSG is mind boggling. Disparate assets, costs and the technological demands of coal seam gas are proving drastically different from conventional gas applications.

So in this case it seems, you can’t teach a young dog old tricks! You simply cannot apply plant technology to disparate assets and expect your system to deliver the low cost production results.

If only few CSG companies are leading the technology game, what is everyone else waiting for? Perhaps sticking to old methods, legacy technology or more importantly the wrong approach is the reason.

For the last 20 years Australia has been proving area wide asset operational issues can be managed effectively. Water, transportation and electrical transmission and distribution industries have been getting great results with successful large-scale disparate operational systems.

Their approach is nothing like a service facility or plant approach and that’s the reason they succeed.
Resource planning, remoteness and asset particulars are Australian CSG problems that you can’t solve using a US, Europe or other international model of information management.

Not enough gas companies are investing early enough in fit for purpose technology that is perhaps the smallest cost component of CSG capital costs yet supports a low operational cost model and ensures the value of the field is realised earlier.

You can have appropriate technology that supports the desire to test new methods without starting again every time. Technical flexibility and core development services will help to deliver again and again.

A ‘considered’ design and smart ‘open’ technology choices, mean that the cost need only be borne once in the lifecycle of the coal seam, especially where the newer approach shows that hundreds of assets can be added to a system with little impact on the cost of expansion.

Whether or not gas companies see the light in taking up the technical challenge the right way remains to be seen, but what is becoming abundantly clear, is the investment in the right technology approach can only help boost confidence in this new Australian industry.

[David Greally (pictured above) is COO, Parasyn.]

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