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Feature: Can Ambyint’s Promising New Technology Make Well Monitoring More Affordable?

How Ambyint, an oilfield service company, is using a smaller device to capture a larger slice of the market

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At Ambyint, good enough just wasn’t good enough any more. That’s why the company recruited Nav Dhunay, a serial entrepreneur in the consumer technology world, to come in as CTO in 2013, and elevated him to the role of CEO in 2014. It’s why it changed its name earlier this year, replacing the stodgy PumpWell Solutions moniker with a more tech-oriented and futuristic-sounding brand. And, most important, it’s why it rolled out a brand new piece of technology in September that it thinks will change the way companies optimize their wells. It replaces the company’s existing offerings, a series of much larger devices that helped optimize the output on high-performing wells but were uneconomical to apply to older or less prolific ones. “I had this idea that we needed to look at a different market,” Dhunay says. “We were aimed at a sliver of the market, which is the high-performing wells – but only about 20 per cent of the wells in Canada are like that. The other 80 per cent wasn’t being addressed by anybody, and we found that most of the oil producers that are out there would put technology onto a high-performing well, and as it declined they’d relocate the technology to another well and leave this well naked, without anything on it whatsoever. Eventually, it would be too costly for them to run, and they’d either shut it in or abandon it. That’s not good for the environment – that’s not good for anybody, in fact.”

His solution was a substantially smaller monitoring device, one that’s about the same size as an old Sony Walkman, that both costs less and does more than the product it was replacing. “We started building a technology that would go on every single well, and you could afford to leave it on every single well for the life of the well,” Dhunay says. “No longer are you trying to make decisions on whether you should put technology on this well or that well – you put technology on all your wells.” That technology, he says, will allow operators to better understand exactly what’s happening inside a given well and squeeze more barrels of oil out of it as a result. “Previously, you might get down to three barrels of oil [per day] before you find that it’s not economical for you to continue to operate that well and you shut it in. But there’s still oil down there. You just can’t afford to get to it. So you may shut it in, and at some point you may have to abandon it. Well, that’s terrible, because there’s still oil there. [But] with this technology, you can afford to leave it on there. It’s monitoring it for you and adjusting it for you, and you can leave it on until it gets down to a barrel or even half a barrel because you don’t have those costs.”

The $1,500 sticker price on Ambyint’s new product is anywhere from one-tenth to one-twentieth as expensive as the bulky boxes it will be replacing, and Dhunay says that the investment will deliver a return almost immediately. “Operators are budgeted, roughly, $250 to $500 per trip to a well. That can go up, depending on whether it’s a third-party contractor who’s charging you by the kilometer. If I can save you one trip a week, you’ll have paid for the box pretty quickly.” And with Fortis and Enmax both rolling out time-of-use metering in the oilfield, Ambyint’s new technology will allow operators to align their pumpjacks with the pricing environment and push down their electricity costs. “It gives you a couple of options,” Dhunay says. “The first option is scheduling. You could actually schedule it so the pumpjack runs slower during the day and harder at night, or even off during the day. You certainly wouldn’t want it to be off when it’s -40, but during the summer it could be. Or, you could let us optimize it based on electricity prices and oil prices, so we can find the most profitable spot for you.”

And because Ambyint’s new product is tied into the Internet of Things, it’s constantly refining and improving its knowledge of what it’s tracking. “It’s like reading books,” Dhunay says. “The more books you read, the more words you become familiar with and the more your vocabulary increases. It’s the same kind of concept here: the more wells it sees, the more different types of patterns it can detect, and it can now make predictions on things that it hadn’t seen before.” That means it can tell operators not just what’s going on with their wells but which ones to focus their attention on and how best to optimize their performance. “Our goal is to allow operators to look like superstars. They’re going to use this technology to optimize their day and prove that they can deliver, versus just spending time driving around.”

Ambyint worked closely with Penn West and Bonavista during the beta phase, and began a wider rollout of the devices this past September. And while it’s currently focused on selling the technology to companies with oil producing wells, Dhunay says it could easily be applied to gas producing ones as well. “We think that we can certainly help with those. We just haven’t done that because our focus has always been on oil. But there’s no reason why we can’t effect change on gas wells.” And as for potential competitors? Dhunay doesn’t think there are any. “We’re the only guys in town, and the only guys in the world, that are doing this.”

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