As offshore oil and gas operations strive to boost productivity and increase revenue while ensuring the safety and security of workers, the industry, like many others, is turning to data capture and analytics to increase visibility and drive efficiency.
According to a recent report released by the Deloitte Center for Energy Solutions (DCES), "Connected Barrels: Transforming Oil & Gas Strategies with the Internet of Things," "... the falling costs and increasing functionality of sensors, the availability of advanced wireless networks, and more powerful and ubiquitous computer power... have collectively opened the floodgates for the amount of data that the industry can swiftly collect and analyze."
This focus on data has given rise to a new term: the digital oilfield, comprising technologies, services and related business models to enhance data management in oil and gas activities. Data collection and analysis can help address key operator concerns on an offshore oilfield, where business challenges are myriad. Regulatory and environmental compliance; safety; response time to problems; productivity and efficiency; and asset protection all need to be managed in a remote, hard-to-access location.
A new challenge is a decline in global oil prices, which has created an even greater push to reduce operational costs, increase uptime and improve processes. According to the DCES report, "[The] new normal of lower oil prices not only will lay bare inefficient oil and gas (O&G) companies but will push even the efficient ones to find ways to preserve their top and bottom lines."
This means turning to technologies that can solve oil and gas industry challenges by allowing the oilfield to access and analyze continuous data streams.
Real-Time Data Solving Offshore Challenges
The more real-time data that can be gathered, the better decisions can be made, and the more efficiently the oilfield will run.
If full data is available in real time or near real time, users can look at actual production information and failures in much more granular detail, boosting productivity. Engineers don't need to examine snapshots of certain time frames or windows to determine mean time to failures or average flow rates; the data is all right there, at their fingertips.
Equipment can be fitted with sensors that send data continuously to a central collection point via the network, allowing operators to see patterns and prevent problems.
Semi-autonomous or autonomous equipment can be controlled remotely via the wireless radios appended to sensors, meaning power can be killed before or at the time of an issue without waiting for a workboat to reach the equipment and an operator to turn off a valve or pump.
Remote data gathering can lower operating costs and increase safety; employees can perform duties from onshore and collaborate with a few platform workers via camera. Fewer platform workers mean less transport to and from the platform, which minimizes transportation costs and reduces risk.
Data like engine run time allow for proactive maintenance, and can help engineers catch problems with equipment and change their processes, saving money on cost of repair or replacement, and reducing downtime.
On the safety and compliance side, proper environmental sensor packages can show gas leaks that technicians cannot smell, and control equipment can keep technicians in a safe zone if there is an issue. Sensors can detect leaks or changes in pressure and shut off a pipeline automatically.
Some offshore vessels are stationed in places where piracy is a concern, and surveillance footage streamed over a strong network can keep infrastructure, people and assets more secure. Equipment and vessels also can be outfitted with GPS tracking devices to prevent and/or detect theft or piracy.
Near-real-time evaluation of data also can help save on production costs. According to the DCES report, "Increased data capture and analysis can likely save millions of dollars by eliminating as many as half of a company's unplanned well outages and boosting crude output by as much as 10 percent over a two-year period."
To capture this data, a digital oilfield needs sensors and devices on the rig itself, as well as on flotels and other vessels that surround the platform, that proactively and constantly communicate in real time via a wireless communications network.