Glencraft Prodrill
A day in the life - James Johnstone, Production Chemist at ProdChem

A day in the life - James Johnstone, Production Chemist at ProdChem


I’m a production chemist in the Oil and Gas industry managing the application of chemicals to help the production of oil and gas - whether that’s onshore/offshore or conventional/unconventional hydrocarbons. I run my own consultancy, ProdChem limited, and I’m contracted into a mid- cap oil and gas operator, Ithaca Energy, who is very active in North Sea production and field development.

The remit of production chemistry is quite wide ranging. my work is critical to the development and production of an oil and gas field, and quite often, some of the decisions that we have to make can be production critical or even field development critical.

There are a lot of fields out there that are not producing and my role is to help them increase production to economically deliver oil and gas at a saleable specification. The chemicals that we typically use fall into three main categories.

One is flow assurance, which is making sure that the oil and gas can flow. So, looking to mitigate production limited issues such as wax, asphaltene and scale deposition as well as gas hydrates, all of which have the potential to limit production or in extreme cases cause blockages in production lines. So, very focused on effective chemical treatments for the reservoir, wells, inter-field pipelines, topside facilities and export pipelines.

We also have asset integrity, offering a full scope of production chemistry for both subsea and topside application. We safeguard facilities through effective corrosion inhibition, management of sour gases (hydrogen sulphide) and control of oilfield bacteria.

Then we have the production optimisation which delivers on-spec oil and gas and efficient produced water management. With oil and gas production comes an awful lot of water which is sometimes difficult to treat. First, the oil and water are separated, where the latter has to be cleaned up so it can be dealt with. For offshore that can be discharged to the sea (meeting strict criteria) or it can be re-used for reinjection into the oil- bearing reservoir for pressure management or production enhancement.

My day-to-day work can be split up in to three main areas. For operational support I represent Ithaca and have a great working relationship with our duty holder, who runs our offshore production facility and the contracted production chemical company who provides us with products and services. A portfolio of production chemicals are injected continuously at various points in the process, whether that be that be downhole, subsea or on the production facility itself. This enables the oil and gas to be produced on spec and exported via separate pipeline networks to Teesside. To ensure the chemical treatment program is effective, we carry out extensive chemical selection to sure they are sufficiently effective and environmentally acceptable. That’s the daily support, but I also have an important role in some of the field development projects.

At Ithaca some of these projects are already sanctioned. So, they are in the process of being implemented and whether they are field upgrades or new field tie ins, we’ve got projects coming live on stream 2019/2020. All of those need production chemistry input as part of the field development plan to ensure we select a fit-for-purpose chemical treatment program. This starts with identifying the fluids we expect to be treated and then carry out extensive lab studies to select the most effective chemicals to best treat those fluids. 

When you are in a consultant role you need to be able to demonstrate that you are a competent person. So, in 2018, I spent a lot of time working up a portfolio of work experience and presented that to the Energy Institute for award of Charted Scientist. Although certification doesn’t prove competence, it demonstrates that my work is of a verified standard, supporting my delivery of specialist consultancy work.

Running your own consultancy is a little bit different to my previous work, be that in small, medium and big companies. You have to pick good support people and you have to keep networking all the time.

At Ithaca, I work with some great people on reservoir issues, well performance management and process optimisation of our production facility. It’s a great working environment, where I really feel at home, feeling that I’ve been welcomed into a family. The challenge is that we don’t have a vast number of people to manage a busy operation, so the level of responsibility and accountability is very high, but with great colleagues we meet and beat expectations.

Published: 30-01-2019
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