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Data flows in from the oil field 24/7, and sorting it all out has become a full-time focus for many managers. New instrumentation and 4-D visualization technology allow reservoir engineers to see changes in the reservoir and provide immediate feedback for new wells being drilled and mature ones being stimulated. Real-time information is gathered from advanced automation and, coupled with innovative data handling technology, will help optimize the reservoir’s life cycle for years to come. A new generation of communication network is needed to take full advantage of the digital oil field.
The digitally networked oil field must be capable of securely capturing and streaming data, voice, and even video from the field back to the office, providing a heads-up display of knowledge to senior managers, consultants, and partners. New software and instrumentation breakthroughs generate increased amounts of data aimed at providing a better view of the well and insight to the reservoir’s changing characteristics. Fortunately for the reservoir engineers, this movement in technology will continue and greater volumes of data will flow in from the field.
Broadband in the oil field
New communication systems must be capable of providing real-time feedback necessary to optimize every stage of each well’s development and proper management of the entire field throughout its lifespan.
Broadband networks have such characteristics and are being used routinely for bandwidth intensive and latency sensitive applications. For example, over the past year the ERF Wireless network has been enabling such activities as the realtime processing and interpretation of microseismic data and collaboration between on-site and remote consultants located in corporate offices. Seismic datasets usually in excess of 5 GB typically choke traditional satellite networks, but the ERF Wireless broadband network has shown no degradation in performance with latencies reported to be less than 20 ms.
Today’s managers are being asked to provide up-to-the-minute production figures, field expenses, and reservoir characteristics, while improving safety and minimizing environmental impact. Communication with the field has never been more important for conforming to new regulatory changes and meeting increased public scrutiny. This means being connected and staying connected to the rig site, completions teams, and production automation systems on a full-time basis.
For the past two years, ERF Wireless’ network has proven to be effective at maintaining this connectivity by extending operators’ corporate office applications such as:
• Well operations management and reporting systems;
• Seismic and simulation software;
• 3-D visualization and collaboration software;
• SCADA - automation control software;
• Enterprise resource planning software – ERP; and
• VoIP call managers (IP PBX systems).
Since 2008, the ERF Wireless network has been successfully used by operators’ drilling departments during initial phases of the well, followed by the completions team for fracturing operations and microseismic monitoring of wellsites. The minimum network bandwidth to a drilling or completion site is set at 1.5 Mbps and usually can accommodate two or three times that. In addition, multiple contractors, such as horizontal well consultants and mud contractors, have been given their own connectivity via the same network connection, thus minimizing additional costs and satellite systems on the site.
As the well comes online for production, field crews are using the wireless network to monitor and report initial flows. SCADA automation teams have used the network for gathering and backhauling data for the long-term production monitoring phase of the well. Typical SCADA requirements on the network are of lower bandwidth and are more tolerable of higher latency. However, once a video camera or advanced distributed pressure or temperature instrumentation device is added to the production infrastructure, the network traffic instantly increases. One high-resolution video stream can easily exceed 1 to 2 Mbps continuously. On traditional satellite networks, this would be an issue, but ERF Wireless’ network is designed and configured to allow for rapid changes in bandwidth that can accommodate video streams for production anomalies or security concerns.
The network has been built using a natively IP optimized wireless microwave radio that takes advantage of the latest WiMax technology and backbones equivalent to an OC3 (155 Mbps). It can support even the most advanced digital oilfield instrumentation and sophisticated software tools. Corporate VPN’s or secure Layer 2 tunnels can be extended safely to the field via the ERF Wireless IP broadband network as if the rig site or automation controller were just down the hallway.
Intercom systems used on the rig floor or completion site can become just a 4- digit extension using VoIP gateways and corporate IP based PBX call managers. Due to the low latency and high bandwidth nature of the wireless network, voice calls and video conferencing to the rig site can be achieved for remote collaboration teams. Class I Div II intercom systems using SIP-based technology are being integrated into ERF Wireless’ IP broadband network. This technology will provide drillers and company men the ability to collaborate with a remote consultant directly on the rig floor. By being connected any time, all of the time, operational expenditures are reduced, while crew optimization, productivity, and safety are enhanced.
A rugged and portable delivery mechanism known as the Mobile Broadband Tower (MBT) was developed to accommodate the nomadic nature of drilling and production sites. The MBT delivers high-speed wireless Internet to the site via a WiMax link that ties back into ERF Wireless’ main network. They are typically brought in when the rig and/or completion team moves in and then follows them on to the next well. As the well is brought online, a permanent radio mounting is configured and linked back into the same network. By its very nature, the wireless network supports changes and growth, bandwidth is scalable, and the coverage is flexible and dynamic with the use of nomadic MBTs.
Attempting to truly integrate data, knowledge, and technology for the digital oil field poses a significant challenge for most corporate IT teams and traditional communication infrastructure. Many times field communication efforts are compartmentalized by departments within the same operating company. The drilling and completion departments have their traditional methods, and the production automation teams develop their own.
Often, three independent communications systems and technologies are implemented and sometimes deployed simultaneously. In the end, the operating company pays directly or indirectly for each communication system used. Each group may seem to actually have a set of different technical requirements, but the bottom lines remain the same – improve safety and minimize environmental impact while increasing production.
The technical requirements debate will continue among the various operating departments. Whatever the current technical requirements, it is safe to say the next few years of technological advancements and escalating regulatory requirements will increase the need for more bandwidth and the demand for real-time data, voice, and video. Undoubtedly, a much larger pipeline for data will be needed.
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