5 IoT Applications for Offshore Monitoring in Oil and Gas
Offshore oil and gas (O&G) production is highly complex and precarious. The remoteness and isolation of offshore rigs make it challenging for O&G companies to obtain a timely and accurate picture of their ongoing production. This means operators often fail to know when machine and process variables are off-spec, which risks asset failures and costly downtime. Worse, insufficient monitoring ability could result in disastrous explosions that take a heavy toll on the environment, worker lives and companies’ credibility. Today, the Internet of Things (IoT) and next-gen connectivity bring enthralling opportunities for reliable and cost-effective offshore monitoring.
The Connectivity Hurdle of Offshore Rig Monitoring
To optimize efficiency and safety, upstream O&G production requires round-the-clock monitoring of numerous equipment (pipes, valves, wellheads, tanks, etc.) and parameters (temperature, vibration, pressure, flow rates, corrosion, gas leaks, etc.). As such, it’s no wonder that O&G companies have been at the forefront of technology adoption for remote supervision. Having said that, traditional communication solutions are either limited, expensive or cumbersome for connecting large numbers of disparate assets at offshore drilling platforms.
Wired infrastructure like SCADA systems – while ideal for real-time control tasks – aren’t designed for data acquisition to serve remote monitoring. Cellular connectivity is most likely absent in the middle of the ocean. And, given the massive size and complex, dense structure of oil rigs, setting up mesh networks is often a difficult endeavor. Due to its seamlessness and ubiquity, satellite connectivity has been the most common option for offshore wireless implementation. Yet, the sky-high costs mean that satellite networks mostly pertain to high-bandwidth voice and data transfer, alongside connection of few high-value, critical data points only.
Given the absence of a cost-effective and scalable communication solution, O&G companies used to heavily rely on manual data reading and visual inspection to monitor large parts of their operations, equipment and facilities. Needless to say, this is highly inefficient and error-prone, while exposing workers to significant field dangers and hazards.
The Rise of IoT and Next-Gen Connectivity
Emerging IoT connectivity solutions like Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN) are redefining the possibilities for O&G offshore monitoring. Providing an inexpensive, low-bandwidth wireless link for small, low-computing devices, LPWAN is set to be the backbone of large-scale sensor networks to aggregate granular telemetry data from innumerable endpoints. Simple star topology coupled with the extensive range makes LPWAN versatile for IoT deployments in large, structurally complex facilities like an O&G platform. Private LPWAN, in particular, allows companies to flexibly adapt network coverage to the unique requirement of isolated offshore sites.
An LPWAN-satellite hybrid architecture offers O&G organizations a highly robust and cost-effective approach to proactively monitor and manage offshore infrastructures from hundreds of miles afar. Data from distributed field sensors are aggregated at a local IoT base station through the LPWAN radio link, before being forwarded to an onshore centralized command center using the satellite connection. With this architecture, companies can tap into a new host of asset, environmental and process data for a comprehensive picture of their running production.
Enhanced visibility and oversight bring compelling benefits in terms of:
1. Asset Maintenance
Smart sensors retrofitted on hundreds of disparate assets report critical operational variables that help unveil abnormal conditions preceding failures. This allows operators to timely dispatch staff for inspection and maintenance before severe breakdowns occur, to minimize production downtime and optimize asset uses.
2. Hazard Management and Worker Safety
Distributed environmental sensors continuously check for the slightest presence of flammable gases and toxic vapors in the atmosphere. Concurrently, 24/7 asset monitoring helps predict disastrous asset failures conducive to explosions or marine oil spills. In the event of emergencies, on-premises alerts can be timely triggered for immediate counteraction to safeguard workers and prevent serious, irreversible catastrophes.
3. Facility Management
Constant collection and analysis of diverse data on rig structures (e.g. strain, vibration, crack sounds, etc.) and external weather conditions allow for reliable assessment of the rig integrity to early diagnose any structural damages. Likewise, critical infrastructure like watertight doors and ballast tanks can be monitored round-the-clock.
4. Regulatory Compliance
Having holistic production data at hand, O&G managers can effectively monitor and document regulatory adherence to ensure a transparent and up-to-standard operation.
5. Security and Access Control
Wireless sensors can identify suspicious movements at restricted areas and open doors across the rig to reinforce site security.
Due to its asset-intensive and complex nature, the Oil and Gas sector is deemed to tremendously benefit from IoT and Big Data. The ability to connect vast equipment and processes renders companies with unprecedented visibility and control over their operations. Particularly at offshore platforms, next-gen IoT connectivity is elevating remote monitoring and digitalization to the next level to improve efficiency and safety while minimizing human intervention.