The resources sector is facing unprecedented challenges. Operating in a volatile market, revenues and EBITDA are extremely sensitive to commodity prices. As resources in some areas become scarce or depleted, oil and gas operators are forced to push new frontiers of E&P. To remain competitive, operators must reduce cost, optimize production and increase efficiency. And often working in remote and challenging environments, they also have to work hard to meet stringent sustainability requirements, while complying with worker safety regulations.

Digital technologies related to information (IT), operation (OT) and communication (CT) will play a key role in addressing these challenges and transforming the industry. This transformation, also known as the fourth industrial revolution, is enabled by the interconnection and interdependence of new systems and technologies. Advances in private LTE and 5G cellular technology and the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented/virtual reality will help oil and gas companies to optimize decision making, automate manual processes, and eventually replace all operations with fully autonomous systems. 

New site exploration and prospecting

Exploration and prospecting are nomadic and isolated exercises placing teams and equipment in remote areas under-served by communications networks. Exploration teams used to communicate using expensive and bandwidth limited satellite phones. Devices may have had individual connectivity but not the means to communicate together locally. Workers were also faced with the challenges of configuring each device and trying to achieve some harmony between them. Prospectors and field engineers were forced to carry laptops, hard disk drives and USB dongles to collect, transport and deliver the data manually. The exploration teams had to wait days to weeks until they returned to base to upload and analyze data, leading to delays, inefficiency and missed opportunities.

Using a portable LTE configuration with a small cell on wheels (COW), a private wireless network serving up to 400 users can be set up in minutes, even in the most extreme conditions where there is no existing coverage or coverage has been lost. Paired with a satellite or microwave link at the field base camp, this solution can provide high bandwidth mobile connectivity in even the most remote locales for sensors, field workers and drones, both for collecting data, as well as providing field workers with access to remote data and remote processing capacity. Enhanced with edge computing capabilities and a local analytics platform, the system enables oil and gas companies to reduce exploration analysis cycles from weeks to hours by connecting the exploration team directly to the head office. The temporary network can easily be scaled as the field operation grows, literally taking the site from its earliest beginnings to full-scale operations.

Worker safety and mission-critical communications

The oil and gas industry considers safety as first top priority and are committed to developing the technologies, standards and best practices, and programs needed to help ensure that workplace safety is at the forefront of their activities.

Some of the principal hazards that workers face include being struck by objects, getting caught in between or inside something, fires and explosions, falls, getting trapped in confined spaces, and chemical exposure. Safety incidents can delay or shut down operations, sometimes for days, while investigations are made, resulting in considerable loss of productivity and efficiency. Personal protection equipment (PPE) is the last line of defense for workers. Smart technologies are now being integrated into PPE creating Smart PPE. This new class of equipment includes integrated communications in earmuffs and helmets, heads-up displays, and embedded environmental sensors to monitor heat, sound, chemicals and gas as well as impact. In some environments, these devices can use Bluetooth.

Smart PPE wearables can also be used in conjunction with LTE geo-fencing applications to alert workers to no-go zones. Drilling and blasting software that sets up safe zones for automated drills and blast trucks can also monitor workers in the area and warn them not to enter the blasting area. For gas and oil workers, similar solutions provide a much-needed lifeline in confined spaces and other situations where the risk of accident is high. If a worker accidentally wanders into an unsafe area on an oil rig or in a refinery plant, the geofencing capability alerts both, the worker and their supervisors.

A combination LTE and MEC enables tracking of personnel location, and enhanced with wearable technology to detect worker biometrics, environmental hazards and man-down situations, it can be used to warn workers of any kind of hazards, from chemicals and explosives to falling rocks and autonomous truck routes. Furthermore, TETRA and P25 communication networks, which are widely used for critical person-to-person and group communications, can also be fully replaced by LTE/4G, offering mission-critical Push to Talk and Push to Video services. A panic button can save the life of a worker who’s become trapped or confined in an area where they can’t get out, or alert other personnel immediately in case of a fire or chemical spill. 

Situational awareness

Situational awareness through video coverage and massive sensing is key to the safety, sustainability and security of future operations. To achieve 360-degree situational awareness, the wireless network must be able to meet the excessive bandwidth demands of video cameras across an entire coverage area spanning mine sites, rail and ports, or onshore and offshore oil rigs, pipelines and processing plants. Many of these cameras may be mounted on mobile vehicles or drones. It must also be able to manage and link thousands of IoT sensors providing machine health and diagnostics, position reporting, process monitoring and control, and environmental monitoring.

The Nokia industrial wireless solution also includes video analytics capabilities. The Scene Analytics solution analyzes video data in order to learn what constitutes normal behavior patterns and, thus, identify anomalous behavior. Human operators are then alerted and can judge whether the anomaly warrants attention.

Predictive maintenance using IoT and analytics

The maintenance and repair of vehicles and machines poses challenges in planning the use of repair equipment and teams. Breakdowns and unscheduled maintenance of aging assets can wreak havoc with even the best maintenance and repair planning. Predictive maintenance applications leverage pervasive LTE coverage to collect data from IoT sensors throughout the mine to feed asset management and advanced data analytics.

Predictive, condition-based maintenance solutions improve on today’s preventive and calendar-based maintenance. Many assets fail during operations when using calendar-based maintenance schedules from the equipment vendor. Yet too-frequent maintenance leads to waste by refurbishing or replacing assets that are actually in serviceable condition.

The Nokia asset lifecycle optimization solution uses condition-based asset assessment to predict failure times and optimize maintenance options. It reduces costs, increases utilization, enhances safety, and minimizes delays and revenue loss. Having all the critical operations using the same private LTE network, helps enormously to join isolated data lakes and derive the maximum benefit from the analytics engines.

Advanced analytics can correlate data from IoT sensors, environmental information and historical trends to provide operations intelligence, solve specific operational and maintenance pain points, and optimize asset lifecycles.

About the Author:

Marc Jadoul is strategic marketing director at Nokia Corp. A computer scientist by education, and technology evangelist, storyteller, speaker and blogger by vocation.