Enterprise IoT Transforming Upstream Oil & Gas: Unlocking Visibility, Insights, and Automation

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The petrochemical industry is capital intensive, highly regulated, and global. 

While this is true of other industries — including transportation, manufacturing, health sciences, utilities, and fleet logistics, just to name a few — most oil & gas (O&G) companies have to overcome the added difficulty of operating in remote locations where access to resources can be challenging. In this article however, we focus on oilfield services companies and their technology service partners who are collectively responsible for providing critical equipment and technology.

O&G operations are logistically complex, spanning multiple phases requiring coordinated input from multiple stakeholders including majors, international oil companies (IOC), and independents.

The equipment and skills required during an exploratory wildcat drilling operation, for example, are quite different from those used in the extraction, processing, storage, or distribution phases of the operation. This is especially true in the upstream exploration & production (E&P) segment where a dizzying range of motorized and non-motorized equipment assets and materials are put to work. For example, asset classes used for conventional drilling or fracking operations might include high-pressure pumps, storage tanks, electrical generators, off-gassing flame arrestors, vapor recovery units connected by a network of pipelines, valves, and pumps. Mobile assets include water haulers, chemical tankers, sand trucks, and even the occasional crude oil tanker.

While O&G operators face a number of operational challenges, when it comes to assets, most of their time is spent making sure equipment is available, working properly, and fully utilized. Ensuring the right equipment needs to arrive on-site intact and at precisely the right time results in smooth progression between each phase of the operation at the lowest TCO possible. This requires a sophisticated logistics planning solution spanning multiple vendors, transportation firms, and oilfield services providers. Second, operators need to ensure equipment assets are proactively maintained so that they function efficiently and to spec. Enterprise asset management (EAM) solutions provide operators the tools, technologies, and systems to ensure equipment assets are properly maintained throughout each asset’s life-cycle, from procurement to decommissioning or replacement. The goal is to improve productivity while reducing unplanned downtime that can result from poor or reactive maintenance practices.

O&G assets are complex, pricey, and tend to have proprietary data interfaces. Not surprisingly, most IoT providers fall short of providing the edge-intelligence, ubiquitous wireless connectivity, or industry-centric features operators need to properly monitor the full range of O&G field equipment. Complicating matters is the co-dependent relationship between O&G assets themselves. Keeping redundant equipment on hand, for “just in case” scenarios, is neither practical nor economically sustainable. This means that, over time, equipment failures gradually erode overall productivity and profitability. Upstream operations are also highly susceptible to supply-chain disruptions. Transporting equipment, components, and materials to an oilfield on time remains problematic. Drilling operations are remote or offshore which requires equipment and resources such as water, fuel, and chemicals, to be trucked in over large distances. Operators have to factor in the added logistics complexity and costs, but also manage the risks which result from unforeseen delays. A truck convoy held up at a border crossing or a missing trailer hauling a critical component can significantly impact productivity, brand reputation, and may even put the organization at risk for legal action.

The distributed computing capabilities and data-driven approach of the IoT provides operators the visibility and means to remotely monitor the health and performance of high-value equipment assets, take preemptive steps to avoid mechanical problems, and implement predictive maintenance practices to improve uptime and reliability. Real-time access to edge-intelligence unlocks deep insights O&G operators need to transition to a proactive operating model focused on improving safety, productivity, and asset utilization.

IoT devices also provide native GPS based track & trace functionality. Equipping fleet assets with low-cost IoT devices enable upstream and midstream operators to precisely track the location of critical equipment en route. The unique spatial-processing capabilities of these devices work in tandem with purpose-built cloud applications enabling logistics managers to easily define geofences, configure exception alerts, and build next-gen vehicle-to-anything (V2X) applications. While geofences help to keep assets within a circumscribed area, IoT intrusion detection sensors are able to alert managers of attempted break-ins. Automated V2X technologies — which include vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) processing — are quietly revolutionizing the global transportation and logistics sector.

Lastly, the IoT offers diversified connectivity options designed to provide operation and logistics managers high-availability data access over an ever expanding range of communication protocols which span cellular, satellite, LPWAN, and near-earth orbit WAN options. Goal-optimized connectivity routines can be configured to improve data communication reliability and reduce transmission costs. Unrestricted access to edge data and cloud analytics help operators understand how, where, when, and why industrial equipment assets perform as they do resulting in better decisions and outcomes.

FieldIntell, a Network Innovations company, has IoT solutions to provide the edge-intelligence and insights that oil and gas operators need to preemptively address the safety, performance, and productivity challenges common in the highly distributed and complex O&G sector.

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