IoT for Oil and Gas: 4 Significant Applications You Should Know
Oil and gas is widely known as a highly competitive and difficult business. Growing environmental tensions, a paradigm shift towards renewables and volatile commodity prices have long been industry-wide challenges facing companies. Now, these issues are further deepened by plummeting demand amidst energy market turmoil. Increasingly, the sector is embracing the Internet of Things (IoT) to make headway in operational efficiencies, safety management and cost savings.
Operating an asset-intensive industry, oil and gas companies are constantly striving to maximize equipment performance and output. As such, it’s no surprise that around 65% of businesses cite optimization and predictive maintenance as the top focus on their IoT radar. Advanced wireless connectivity and low-cost sensors are helping to digitize and enhance assets and processes that used to be disconnected, creating positive impacts on the bottom line.
What IoT Brings to the Table
Instrumentation on drilling rigs and other oil and gas fields isn’t necessarily new. Yet, traditional communication mediums are largely limited to wires and satellite connectivity, making instrumentation expensive and cumbersome. For this reason, networking often serves automation tasks where the high price tag can be justified. This leaves many operational aspects largely under-monitored and heavily dependent on manual inspections.
IoT can help to make big wins in this regard by extending remote monitoring ability to all asset classes. Wireless technology like Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN) introduces affordable “last-mile” connectivity to allow for a much greater number of connected data points – previously unavailable. This translates into broader oversight which helps to uncover bottlenecks and improvement opportunities that used to be hidden. Below we delve into IoT for oil and gas with 4 essential applications.
1. Condition Monitoring and Predictive Maintenance
Most precarious oil and gas extraction and production activities take place at far-flung and, unsurprisingly, offshore locations. A malfunction of any given asset threatens to take a heavy toll on not only production output but also the environment. With the help of wireless IoT sensors, companies can keep tabs on their field equipment miles afar. Any off-spec conditions can be immediately spotted, so they can make informed decisions on when and how maintenance should be executed.
For example, ultrasonic, magnetic and vibration sensors can check for abnormal signs in the pipeline structure that indicate corrosion, ruptures and leakages, at an early stage. Likewise, changes in casing/tubing pressure, temperature and flow rates can point to a potential failure of the wellbore. By tackling issues way before serious damage is visible, companies can cut down on a great deal of troubleshooting and maintenance time, prevent disastrous leak events and maximize asset health and useful life.
2. Process Optimization
Increasing equipment uptime is just one way IoT for oil and gas can contribute to higher production output. Many processes that used to be laborious to the point of inefficiency can also benefit from the deployment of wireless IoT sensors.
Specifically, level monitoring of many reservoirs that contain oil, wastewater and other liquids during production still largely depends on regular manual checks. Fill level sensors can make this a much easier task, enabling more effective coordination of emptying logistics to avoid catastrophic spills and wasted manpower. As another example, continuous monitoring of pump pressure can help assess the current extraction capacity and detect if water rather than oil is being pumped out, so relevant process changes can be applied to optimize throughput.
3. Workers’ Health and Safety
Oil and gas has been notorious for being one of the most dangerous work sectors where there’s no lack of potential hazards – from contact injuries, fires and explosions to fatal falls and harmful chemical substances and environment. Even with extensive safety training and robust PPE in place, there’s still a worrying number of ongoing incidents that result in astronomical losses for both firms and the affected workers.
By automating on-site supervision and asset monitoring using IoT, companies can go a long way in enhancing workers’ health and safety. As fewer field trips are required, employees are less exposed to potential dangers. And even when they need to be onsite, risk can be mitigated as useful insights from IoT sensors allow technicians to better prepare themselves in advance.
Technologies like wearables and environmental sensors additionally step in to help oversee lone workers’ vital signs and activities and their surroundings. Excessive exposure to hazardous substances or other treacherous conditions like a spike in explosive gases can be quickly identified for evacuation and effective countermeasures.
4. Security and Container Tracking
Vandalism and sabotage attacks are among the biggest threats for an oil and gas facility with serious financial, ecological and logistical ramifications that come along. Yet, the vast area of a drilling field or a refinery structure often makes physical security a challenging mission, particularly at high-risk locations. In this context, distributed wireless sensors can complement surveillance cameras to give an extra safety boost by helping track movements at restricted areas and fence door status across the premise – 24/7.
Massive, multi-tenant oil and gas cargo ships are another area that can reap just the same benefits from connected solutions. Besides onboard physical security, wireless tracking solutions now provide a low-cost alternative to GPS tracking, to ensure safe and accurate pallet transport and delivery.
IoT for oil and gas is destined for a significant uptake as the market continues to exponentially grow. While the sector has been adopting communication technology for some time, new wireless connectivity like LPWAN is helping to bring vastly more data points online at a much lower price tag. Amidst compounding industry challenges, IoT implementation can be a turning point to take operational efficiency, sustainability and safety to the next level and stay on top of the competition.