The Digital Oil field

The Digital Oil field

Devendra Kamtekar, VP, System Engineering, Cisco India and SAARC

According to the World Energy Outlook's findings, by 2035, the global energy demands will increase by one-thirds, with India & China accounting for 50 percent of the growth. Oil companies need to be profitable, achieve productivity gains, ensure plant and operations safety and promote environmental sustainability, all while grappling with challenges such as volatile oil prices, difficulty in accessing oil reserves, industry consolidation and manpower challenges. Therefore, oil and gas majors are looking for new ways to streamline business. This is especially true in the emerging countries, where this industry is just coming of age.

Technology can provide the answer to most of the challenges mentioned above. The concept of 'Digital Oil fields' is appealing as it offers the benefits of an environment where subsurface/surface professionals and field workers have total asset awareness and can monitor and manage all operational activities in real-time or near real-time, regardless of location.

Establishing a single IP infrastructure that connects people and operations helps provide ubiquitous access to information, collaboration tools and business applications. When the IP infrastructure spans across the operations including drilling, production and maintenance in oil fields, it is possible to provide a platform that integrates communications and applications so that oil and gas companies deliver significant improvements in field collaboration; production awareness and achieve operational excellence.

Production awareness

In the oil and gas industry, return on investment depends heavily on asset availability. If the overall facility or sub-systems fail, production will cease but costs will continue. Assets may include offshore drilling rigs and production platforms, land-based fields, pipelines and storage facilities. Technologies for remote monitoring & measurement, operational video and mobile work management help provide operator visibility or sensing to respond to downtime and increase oil flow.

Remote monitoring helps to provide a platform for contextual awareness solutions and enhance field efficiency by operating from offsite locations. This reduces the dependency on 24x7 field monitoring and minimizes human errors. The applications available for remote monitoring and measurement also help to support the acquisition of previously unavailable or isolated data and transmit that data (to a central location or multiple sites) for analysis and decision-making. It can also communicate a response back to the assets.

Monitoring over video helps in disaster response and helps develop analytics that can be used to gauge the level of failure. IP video monitoring solutions running over a converged network are being used increasingly for field operations and to monitor platforms, refineries, pipelines, marine vessels, machinery and other assets.

With the wide availability of mobile devices such as Smartphones, PDAs and Tablet PCs, oil companies can leverage mobile work management solutions designed to improve workflow management, productivity and process compliance. Applications for work management permit management, mobile maintenance and testing help to support rapid staff and contractor intake programmes such as shutdowns and turnarounds, where instant access to information and enforcement of process compliance is essential.

Field Collaboration

Professionals in the oil and gas sector spend a lifetime honing skills, accumulating experience, acquiring tacit understanding of specific basins and reservoirs and developing functional skills, such as directional drilling. Oil and gas companies need to exploit deposits in remote areas, often far away from where this expertise resides. This requires a huge shift from organizational demarcation lines and old siloed ways of working.

Through the integration of unified communications and presence technology, employees can use any combination of voice, video, data, mobility applications and devices for communicating with each other regardless of whether they are working on-shore or offshore. Unified Communications brings the problem to the experts, rather than the other way round. It provides them with complete situational awareness and the ability to collaborate and share information in real time, with those who need the expertise. Thus the staff on the ground becomes the eyes and hands of the remotely-based expert, helping to solve a problem as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.

Operational excellence

Operational excellence – cost management, efficiency and safety – remains a constant business imperative for oil and gas companies. Companies are also looking to consolidate facilities to increase availability, reduce costs and improve data security. At the same time, health, safety and environment concerns are top priority within the industry.

By its very nature, the production area is a hazardous space in which movement and activity of all personnel needs to be closely tracked and controlled. Workforce safety can be significantly improved by optimising the availability and delivery of applications so that employees receive the right information they need to safely go about their work.

By leveraging the wireless network investment to introduce new capabilities for the real-time tracking of people and assets it is possible to increase the safety limit. Through asset tracking, any Wi-Fi device or Wi-Fi (RFID-enabled) tag that connects to the wireless network can have its associated contextual information captured. In addition to improving visibility of assets, this information can be used to rapidly account for personnel working in hazardous zones or when there is an evacuation order.

The future

The energy sector needs a facelift to cater to the increasing demands in highly populated and fast growing nations like India and China. Given that the average age of workers in the oil industry has risen considerably, attraction and retention of talent is a key concern. The sector should therefore consider automating processes to reduce operational time.

A piecemeal approach to IT must be avoided because it becomes cost prohibitive to implement the technology. Against the backdrop of a massive industry consolidation, oil and gas companies should look at other technology projects in the industry and internally across their organisation to see if they are leveraging the full potential of IT. To increase the success rate, this review should seek to identify and leverage industry best practices.

Industry collaborations must be built to roll-out effective solutions; technologies such as unified communications, integrated access and location management systems must take front seat in investment; business process transformation must be led by smart technology. This will enable the energy sector go a long way in terms of growth and prosperity.

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