Downstream Refineries and Chemical Plants have benefited from real time optimization systems (RTO) for the last 30 years. Downstream RTO is a well established and permanent fixture in many plants – the "way we do things ‘round here!". Upstream E&P operations have "come to this party" much more recently and are using RTO more sparingly, even though the economic and HSSE benefits can be very significant.

There are key differences between downstream and upstream. For example, downstream facilities do not deal with sub-surface uncertainties, multiphase flow and isolated/harsh environments; while upstream operations do not usually have to deal with complex chemical processes.

Integrated Oil Companies run upstream and downstream operations and integration of tools/practices across both regimes is often perceived to be of significant value. Hence, the purpose of this paper is to compare and contrast downstream and upstream RTO learnings with a view to identifying and describing:

  • similarities in production unit operations e.g. fluid separation, compression etc.;

  • key differences between production unit operations;

  • cultural differences between operations;

  • RTO activities from a technical perspective;

  • RTO business benefits and how these might be leveraged and sustained in both directions.

What will emerge from this analysis will be a comparison, highlighting points of commonality and differences, leading to a better understanding of how RTO can be more effectively exploited in the upstream business – the cheapest oil available!

Specifically, it is concluded that RTO in upstream operations is feasible and lucrative, but is relatively rare with sustainability a challenge. Downstream RTO is more common and sustainable, significantly less lucrative, but a "must do" to compete in a highly competitive, margin constrained business.

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