Oil & Gas Primed For IoT Solutions: Efficiency, Safety, Risk Management

November 12, 2019

Since oil was first tapped in North America (Oil Springs, Ontario, Canada in 1858, and Oil Creek Pennsylvania in 1859, the oil and gas industry has been repeatedly revolutionized by technology.  Over the years, civil and mechanical engineering improvements have massively allowed for the ability to drill deeper, the ability to drill sideways, the ability to drill in deep oceans, and to drill in the harshest conditions (from the deserts of the Middle East to the ice fields of the Arctic).

Leaps in the innovation of petroleum and chemical engineering have allowed for harvesting a broader range of hydrocarbons, including turning what was waste into new fuel sources.  Most recently we have seen Electrical and Computer Engineering provide the ability to better predict and find large carbon reserves using personal and large-scale mainframe and cloud computing.

Looking forward, we see the coming ubiquity of low cost, industrial and environmentally hardened computing devices with the ability to run edge-based applications driving the next wave of innovation and improvements in operational efficiency and cost reduction, safety, and overall risk management.

The edge has emerged as a critical element in the architecture and implementation of IoT solutions.  With the edge, we can process and store data closer to our devices rather than hundreds of miles away in the on-premise back office or cloud.  Ultimately with the edge:

  • We can ingest data from all types of vendor sensors and protocols,
  • We can be sure our processing occurs locally providing real-time decision making,
  • We can be sure that safety mechanisms are running even when the cellular, radio or satellite backhaul is having an outage, and;
  • We can limit and groom the amount of data to efficiently send to the back office, prioritizing vital information over operational and analytical data.

Petroleum, with its sprawling set of assets, its significant liabilities and safety regulation is primed and ready to leverage these edge attributes better than many other industries.

Here are 5 areas in Oil and Gas with specific characteristics that can benefit from information and applications at the edge:

1. Human Safety: Protecting the Lives of Workers & Contractors

In the US alone, oil wells are coming online regularly, and each requires people on-site to maintain each well. The safety of each worker is top of mind for all drilling companies, and while training programs help reduce accidents, the information provided in real-time can save real lives.

Workers can wear helmets, vests or badges that allow for communicating their position and orientation.  With just these two data points we can detect events like “man down” or other unusual signs that an individual may be injured.  With connected equipment, we can match workers with the machines they are trained and approved to work on.  By putting an edge on the well or rig, we can ingest and normalize all this information wirelessly over protocols like BLE, UWB, Lora, or others no matter where the work zone may be located or moved to tomorrow.  The edge can then implement the rules to ensure adequate alerts and alarms are triggered on the worksite.

2. Oil Field Efficiency: Automated Replenishment & Maintenance

The oil field is full of “moving parts,” industrial assets that are at the heart of their business.  These assets perform the necessary tasks of getting oil from the ground and into the economies of the world.  These assets include pumps, tanks, parts, electrical equipment, and more, all which need routine and scheduled maintenance. With a tracking system that collects signals from the equipment itself, including pumps, tanks and more.

3. Pipeline Efficiency: Liability & Loss Reduction Via Leak Monitoring

Oil flows from the fields to the refineries through a network of pipelines.  To push the oil through the pipes, chemicals are added to reduce refraction and increase the flow rates.  These pipes must maintain pressure and contain the oil safely.  Preventing leaks means that petroleum companies protect themselves from both lost products but also from the liability of catastrophic environmental disasters.  Pipeline leakage leads to major financial, environmental, and reputational damage; by deploying IoT solutions, companies reduce the number of manual checks, while delivering more accurate and timely information, including alerts based on policies set.

Refinery safety and efficiency: monitoring and distance management:

Industrial IoT solutions implemented in refineries measure data points including flow rates, pipe pressure, temperature, and other performance indicators.  There can be thousands and even tens of thousands of components in modern refineries. Not only can monitoring be moved from manual to automated to reduce the time and money spent today, but safety can also be dramatically enhanced, especially when it comes to critical equipment including pressure valves, which can be instrumented to deliver precise measurements in real-time. Given the dependence of different components, having the ability to instantly understand a dangerous situation and take action can keep the entire plant from being shut down. This monitoring can take place in remote safety and command centers, in addition to locally when data is sent into the cloud. For the most mission-critical, local edge computing is ideal as it supports not only communications but closed-loop systems (for example automatically shutting down a pressure valve when certain conditions require this).

According to a study by Bain, oil and gas production can be improved by 6-8% based on the proper use of data (which is collected through endpoints as part of Industrial IoT systems).

4. Shipping Efficiency: Real-Time Visibility Into Your Supply Chain

Monitoring the transport of oil and gas, whether via trucks, trains or ships, can dramatically improve the efficiency of O&G industry supply chains. Oil and gas cargo ship monitoring, unlike terrestrial vehicle monitoring, requires satellite internet, but with the right solution, local IoT systems can collect information on the ship (or in the truck) which can then be sent into the cloud for processing in batches.  LPWANs make it possible to collect information automatically on large cargo ships, for example, and this information can be sent to the crew, reducing the requirements for physical inspections, which can be time-consuming and potentially dangerous. Building an edge for any truck, train, or ship and connecting it with low-power networks (conserving battery life) makes many innovations possible.

5. Risk Management: Regulatory Compliance

The instrumentation at the edge can provide all the necessary audit history to ensure that regulations were met and followed, with reports automatically generated, shared with headquarters, and stored for future reference. Connected sensors and cameras can provide detail and help guide responses to emergency situations.

Connected systems, local and distributed, can help reduce deaths and injuries. Operational efficiency, as noted by Bain, can improve output by 6-8% which translates to billions, but in order to protect those profits, it is mission-critical to comply with regulations and report on safety and environmental aspects. Workers benefit through greater safety, and companies benefit from lower insurance and corporate liability.

As the petroleum industry moves forward making it safer and more efficient it will continue to adopt new technologies.  The edge is an emerging technology ready for adoption today that can make a huge impact on the safety, operational processes and customer experience for the oil and gas industry.

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