Much like NASA’s flight control rooms, Aera’s command centers are critical to supporting our energy mission
There’s more – much more – to an Aera oilfield than the pumping jack or pipeline you see from your car window.
Somewhere out on that field, housed in a plain-looking building, a high-tech command center is at work, monitoring and controlling everything you can – and can’t – see from the road.
Inside each center, experienced operators are paying close attention to a bank of computer screens mounted above their desks. They’re looking at thousands of inputs and outputs in the form of diagrams, charts, graphs and numbers displayed on the screens.
They’re watching for important indicators — pressure, temperature, flow, levels, sensors – sent through an invisible network from tanks, wells, pipelines and compressors. And these captains of Aera’s command centers are ready to act if a color-coded alarm signals a mechanical, electrical or other issue outside of parameters.
Aera’s command centers, or control rooms, are part of the automated systems that remotely monitor and control Aera’s onsite equipment and processes every hour of every day. Each centralized location is critical to supporting Aera’s mission to safely and efficiently produce oil and gas to help power California’s homes, businesses, schools, hospitals and more.
They’re remotely monitoring and controlling Aera’s onsite equipment and processes every hour of every day.
“Our control rooms help us identify and resolve issues quickly,” said Alexandria Nosrat, a facilities engineer for the Treating Team at the Belridge field. “They allow us to know what’s going on without having to be next to the equipment in the field. Without them, we would need many more people on the ground monitoring plants and infrastructure.”
Moreover, these high-tech hubs with their automated control systems help reduce human error. “They add another layer of safety in protecting people and the environment,” Nosrat said.
Every Aera oilfield has at least one control room. The Belridge Producing Complex, about 45 miles northwest of Bakersfield, has 12. That’s not only because the Belridge field is so large – 22 miles long by 2.5 miles wide – but because it’s home to several operating facilities, including oil- and water-treating plants, a water-softening plant, steam generators and a co-generation plant.
One of Aera’s largest control rooms is dedicated to the Belridge water-softening plant. Located in a 6,000-square-foot building, this command center includes 30 display screens. The room looks out through a wall of windows to the plant just a few yards away. There, the facility treats water that was captured during oil extraction. The treated water is then ready to be converted into steam and injected to enhance oil recovery.
Pre-COVID visitors often likened the plant’s command room to a NASA mission control center with its rows of computer screens and complex data displays.
Tools and teamwork
Often, it only takes one experienced operator to manage an Aera control center. That’s possible because of the sophisticated technology, advanced computer programming, automated control systems and input of a full team of engineers, programmers, specialists and supervisors working behind the scenes.
Through that teamwork, one control-room operator can safely and effectively manage an 85,000-square-foot plant with over 50 pieces of equipment, including pumps, vessels and tanks. Likewise, that collaboration of machines and humans can enable one person to monitor the operation of all the wells. By assessing the detailed data on the display screens, an operator can make a quick call to a technician to troubleshoot a pump or valve that may have malfunctioned.
Aera’s Hector Torres-Gonzalez knows what that’s like. He has more than 20 years’ experience managing control rooms at the Belridge field. Now a senior reliability specialist, he spends less time inside control rooms than he used to. But he well remembers learning to spot potential issues as he focused on multiple screens displaying oilfield operations. He became adept at troubleshooting issues and making data-driven decisions at the helm of his desk.
“For me, the best part was knowing you figured out the situation and found a solution,” Torres-Gonzalez said. “You feel good about that.”
One control-room operator can safely and effectively monitor the operation of over 1,000 wells.
Supporting our mission
The command centers also ensure Aera is meeting the complex regulations that oversee daily life in California’s oilfields. “We’re always striving to be better than the state requires,” Nosrat said. “This equipment helps us do that.”
“Our control rooms and remote monitoring systems are crucial to our business,” added Jacob Spears, a process specialist well-versed in command centers at Aera-Belridge. “We take our license to operate very seriously. When it comes to producing oil and gas as safely as possible, people should know that they’re in good hands with Aera.”