Be it for exploration, data collection, control and monitoring, or even crew welfare systems, technology has several vital roles to fulfill in the offshore digital oilfield (DOF) environment. In an ideal world all the parts co-exist harmoniously, safely, reliably, and economically upon request (or automatically as dictated by an intelligent machine) for maximum production at minimum cost.
It is expected that progress in production and optimization will dominate the global DOF market over the next few years, exceeding US$17.8 billion by 2022. As it stands today the digital oilfield effect offshore is still rolling out. Currently, North America is the largest consumer of the DOF offshore as activity increases in the Gulf of Mexico.
Technology for Productivity
Alongside the rise of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), projects are underway for automating drilling control, robotics, and autonomous vessels to service the offshore industry. Not only are these advancements making light of some hefty work, they also generate valuable data.
As Luis Gamboa, market development manager, at Rockwell Automation, recently summarized: “By connecting all production equipment, devices, and systems, oil and gas producers can transform data into useful operational intelligence,” going on to highlight ensuing benefits such as higher production rates, reduced operating costs, and improved resource recovery.
Sharing this sentiment, GE has spent millions on developing its analytical software, as well as investing heavily in its Predix cloud-based platform (-as-a-service) for the industrial internet. The company’s oil and gas division has also entered an agreement with Baker Hughes to create a mix of physical and digital technology for productivity. The amalgamation will bring GE’s manufacturing and technology solutions – which span subsea and drilling, rotating equipment, imaging and sensing – to Baker Hughes’ drilling and evaluation, completion and production portfolio. GE also joined with Maersk Drilling for a 12 month project to increase productivity, by way of machine monitoring, on-board a drilling platform.
Another example of drilling progression is Shell’s SCADA drill control system and the AHEAD series from, Drillmec. AHEAD stands for Advanced Hydraulic Electrical Automated Driller and it’s a new concept for rigs that enables the operation of rig mechanics, as well as as keeping an eye on every element of the drilling process remotely – allowing engineers to take over should intervention be necessary.
Elsewhere, Rolls Royce hopes to invest £200 million (US$255 million) to progress land-based control centers and the use of AI (artificial intelligence) for the automation of industrial vessels. And on-board the rigs themselves, ‘snake arm robots’ (so called due to their appearance) trialed in the North Sea by Chevron are part of a project with OC Robotics to see how such assets perform work in dangerous or confined spaces. If successful this could lessen the need for personnel, as well as the associated health and safety risks, for the task in hand.
In May this year (2017), KBR and IBM also pledged to collaborate on the development of digital products and services to help oil and gas and petrochemical customers reduce costs and increase profit, reliability, and safety. KBR’s understanding of the hydrocarbons market, along with IBM’s offerings for cloud computing, advanced analytics, and the IoT could help to decipher historical and real-time data, aid better decision-making, and provide more effective monitoring and maintenance of operations.
Communications for Technology
A future of more machines and less actual manpower in an offshore environment can only exacerbate the need for reliable communications in remote locations. As many of these sites aren’t served by cellular coverage, we have to turn to other methods to manage, control, monitor, and get data to where it needs to be safely and on time.
Looking at transmission and bandwidth requirements, reports say that oilfield communications (encompassing VSAT, fiber, microwave, cellular, and Tetra networks) should grow from $US3.05 billion this year to US$4.46 billion by 2022. M2M (machine to machine) technology is highlighted as the fastest growing market driving oilfield communications, with VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal) networks claiming the largest comms market share due to its high network performance and large data broadcast capabilities.
As automation proliferates, so must a wider understanding and a holistic approach to the requirements of an offshore oilfield’s evolving ecosystem. Offshore DOFs are intricate, encompass many vital assets, and just one outage can cost millions in downtime, so the energy executives are wise to proceed with caution. Thankfully, conversations and knowledge sharing are opening up between customers, suppliers, and solution providers with the common goal to manage offshore assets, streamline operations, and maximize production via technology.
— By Rachael Corry, energy industry technology writer