By Fred Haberle
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Technology is rapidly changing everything about how we lead our lives. Can you remember what your life was like before cell phones? computers? microwave ovens? Few industries have remained untouched by the marvels of modern technology, and the oilfield is no exception. From electronic flow meters (EFMs), to emergency shut down equipment (ESDs), to pump off controllers (POCs), there are monitoring and control devices for every function on the modern well. All of this equipment has to be controlled and monitored, which falls in the realm of "SCADA" – an acronym for supervisory control and data acquisition.

SCADA-hosting systems collect data from the field devices – sometimes once an hour or many times a minute – using radio, cell modem, or satellite communication. This information is organized, stored, and made available so oil and gas companies can keep a close eye on their operations. The data provides insights into operating conditions that aid decision making to increase oil and gas production while lowering costs.

To better understand the power of SCADA, consider a simple example. Imagine a gas well with wellhead compression. Assume the compressor goes down an hour after a lease operator made his once-daily rounds. Without SCADA, that producer could lose 23 hours' worth of production. With SCADA, that lease operator would get a text message on his cell phone and return to the location to see what went wrong. Or how about a small gas gathering system without SCADA? A line leak may not be discovered until the next accounting cycle weeks later. With a SCADA system, the operator would know immediately.

More generally, effective use of SCADA saves time. Personnel heading to a location arrive better prepared to address problems. SCADA systems can provide the ability to open and close valves and even restart compressors, completely eliminating some trips. It can replace costly, time-consuming rounds to remote facilities with pumping by exception. This leads into the least recognized benefit of SCADA: safety. The most dangerous thing field personnel do is drive. Reducing unnecessary trips to locations reduces hours on the road and the associated risks.

Another big benefit of SCADA is improving collaboration between departments. It provides a single source of data for operations, accounting, and management. By way of example, an accounting department might need to identify why profits are down in an area. Conversations with the operations department should revolve around the same data set.

While upfront costs for monitoring and communications equipment can be significant, the recurring monthly costs of SCADA-hosting services are extremely reasonable. Over time, the myriad benefits of joining the "digital oilfield" make it something for your company to consider.