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Bringing Petroleum Measurements into the 21st Century

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The oil and gas industry has changed a great deal over the past 50 years, thanks in large part to a wide array of technology and process advances that revolutionized how petroleum is found, produced, transported and refined. The industry has made vast improvements in its physical property databases, calculation procedures, and determination of density and petroleum quantities. But bringing the measurement of these properties into the 21st century will require the industry to incorporate modern technologies and support from industry organizations. 

Can evolving measurement standards help the industry bridge the gap between operations, modern technology, and an ever-changing hydrocarbon supply chain?

We are optimistic, but bridging this gap will require the industry to continue addressing some significant shifts to business operations while embracing new technologies at the same time. For example:

  • Computer technologies of the 1970s and ‘80s were limited in their processing power, forcing many companies to implement intermediate rounding and truncation in their measurement calculations at the time. Although the processing capabilities of modern computers make the need for intermediate discrimination a thing of the past, the use of rounding truncation inside calculations remains a standard process today.

  • Advancements in metering and measurement technology allow upstream and midstream operators to track the inventory and movement of multiple fluid streams with far greater precision. Sophisticated technologies like Coriolis and ultrasonic meters or radar- and infrared-measurement equipment can vastly improve inventory management, but only if the data is correctly handled and interpreted.

  • The physical properties of today’s crude oils and refined products are significantly different than they were in the 1970s. Feedstocks that contained primarily lighter, sweeter conventional crudes a generation ago now contain larger quantities of heavier oils from Canada and crude from shale plays across North America. And, the tetraethyl lead (TEL) that was used to boost octane in gasoline 45 years ago has since been replaced with ethanol.

  • Back in the 1980s and ‘90s, several oil and gas companies developed their own measurement systems, written in software languages like FORTRAN and COBOL. These programming languages are not widely used today, and the number of qualified personnel who can maintain these systems—many of whom are members of the retiring baby boom generation—has dwindled. As a result, the industry faces a deficit of qualified, experienced workers who can understand and support these legacy systems.

Upgrading Standards to Today’s Needs

Given the challenges of making accurate measurements with antiquated or outdated systems, the industry is working hard to update its standards and move fluid quantification into the 21st century. Quorum Software and other companies dedicated to hydrocarbon measurement are taking active roles in helping to rewrite several API standards to reflect changes to empirical data, to the type and composition of petroleum feedstocks and to the computing and metering technologies now available.

In 2004, the implementation procedure in MPMS Chapter 11.1 was updated to address advances in computer technologies, expand the operating density and temperature ranges, and shore up shortcomings with the previous standards. API Chapter 18.2 was introduced in 2018 to allow for the use of various measurement technologies.

These API standards updates and others will allow users to more accurately track inventory movements and pinpoint the precise time when a measurement error occurred.

An Enterprise-Wide Measurement Solution

Measurement systems like FLOWCAL by Quorum Software help the oil and gas industry minimize the uncertainty in measuring today’s crudes and processed products, even with the current standards available. And as measurement standards continue to advance, FLOWCAL already incorporates advanced functionality and automation to help users streamline their measurement processes, optimize data integrity and bring greater accuracy and accountability to fluid transfer and inventory management.

Designed to run as a data warehouse for an entire organization’s needs, the FLOWCAL software manages liquid measurement data from the field device to the corporate accounting system. FLOWCAL provides a complete balance at the product and component levels for all transactions—from batch meters and tickets to truck, rail and tank movements—with unparalleled data resolution. The application also allows liquid measurements to be completed in much tighter time intervals and imports data from multiple meter types simultaneously.  

With billions of dollars of liquid hydrocarbon being traded every day, a measurement variation of even 0.1% can result in a significant loss of revenue for a single transaction. Ultimately, FLOWCAL streamlines the data management process and gives oil producers, carriers, refiners, and marketers greater analytical and auditing control to ensure that every transaction is executed with the highest transparency and accuracy.