Tom Danielson

TECH CHAMP During his 26-year tenure at ConocoPhillips, Tom Danielson has been a strong advocate for multiphase flow technology. For his contributions, Danielson received a 2018 SPIRIT Award for Outstanding Technology Champion.

Engineer goes with the flow

By Gus Morgan

Unless you’re an engineer, you’ve likely never heard of multiphase flow.

It’s a complicated subject with economic, safety, and environmental consequences in the oil and gas industry. But that’s what makes it so interesting to Tom Danielson.

During his 26-year-plus tenure at ConocoPhillips, Danielson, now a principal engineer in Production Assurance, has been a strong advocate of multiphase flow technology. Leveraging his expertise in this area, Danielson has made significant contributions to numerous company projects and operating assets. 

It’s why ConocoPhillips named Danielson a 2018 Outstanding Technology Champion. This award recognizes an individual or business unit team that promotes the use of technology in business decisions and advocates for the development and application of new technology to meet business needs, resulting in a measurable impact on the company’s business.

In the oil and gas industry, multiphase flow refers to the simultaneous flow of oil, gas and water through the same pipeline or well. But oil, gas and water move at different velocities. Gas moves the fastest; followed by oil and then water. And since gas flows at the highest velocity, it drags the oil and water with it.

But getting liquid to flow up and out of a well is a challenge, Danielson said.

“Rivers don’t flow uphill,” Danielson said. “They flow downhill. And so, what we’re basically trying to do all the time is to get rivers to flow uphill.”

When oil, gas and water try to flow uphill through the same pipe, issues can arise that hinder production. To prevent a production slowdown, engineers like Danielson analyze and predict the dynamic behavior of multiphase flow. They do this through modeling.

Moreover, before developing an oil or gas field, producers want to be able to predict production problems, flow patterns and pressure losses. Thus, engineers use modeling software to optimally design pipelines, wells and processing facilities.

Danielson, one of the earliest adopters and promoters of multiphase flow modeling, was instrumental in the development and commercialization of a simulation software called OLGA that analyzes challenges related to multiphase flow.

When Danielson joined ConocoPhillips in 1991, multiphase flow technology was in its infancy.

Danielson helped finish and commercialize OLGA, the industry-standard tool for multiphase flow simulation. In addition, he championed and explored the potential of this technology in engineering designs for flow and operability assurance.

Over the years of applying OLGA to all of ConocoPhillips’ offshore projects and many onshore projects, Danielson identified gaps in the existing technology. Each time he identified limitations with OLGA, he developed in-house custom models that led to significant improvements. In many instances, his analytical models have been predictive of real-world scenarios, saving more than tens of millions of dollars.

Danielson also helped develop an alternative software to OLGA called Ledaflow, an advanced transient multiphase flow simulator. Ledaflow, a collaboration between ConocoPhillips, SINTEF and Total, was commercialized by Kongsberg Oil & Gas Technologies.

Danielson has made significant contributions to several company projects and operating assets.

He developed a steady-state and transient steam model to gain insight into how to optimize Surmont production and steam-based operations. His model was critical in ensuring a robust design of steam flowlines to prevent issues caused by condensate hammer during startup operations.

“It turns out steam is really tricky,” he said. “There were a lot of interesting challenges associated with handling steam that were unlike anything I’d done before.”

In 2016, Danielson used his knowledge of oil-water flows to significantly alter the water displacement procedure for a pipeline operation in the North Sea.

Danielson even built a full transient model of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) to predict and optimize pipeline operations as production rates through TAPS declined. He also created a course for ConocoPhillips engineers entitled “Multiphase Flow in Wells and Pipelines.”

All of these accomplishments and contributions leave little doubt that Tom Danielson is a true technology champion.