The oil and gas industry plays a major role in the global economy, and has in recent years come under increasing pressure to meet sustainability targets, while still maintaining high levels of operations and lowering the end-to-end lifecycle costs of its assets. This is a tall order and it has seen owners, operators and engineers looking at strategies that will realise the above. Fortunately, thanks to advances in connectivity and digital analytics, companies can move towards a position that allows them to enter the next phase of advanced organisational and process management, in tandem with sustainability goals.
Traditionally, oil and gas processes were designed and operated independently across a plant’s lifecycle. However, in recent years it has become apparent that managing processes holistically can offer dramatic resiliency and efficiency that greatly enhances operations and decision making. Processes, for example, have been operating in silos due to technical hurdles that separate various engineering domains. Digitalisation can remove these barriers, ensuring that processes work in an integrated and optimised manner.
To realise the above advantages, it is important that we take one step back. The oil and gas industry manages large sets of data, both structured and unstructured, which is generated from well production, refining, commodity transport, scheduling and logistics. Technology allows organisations to collect, process and distribute this data. It can then be used for simulation of reservoir models and visualisation of results, input on drilling locations and well operations, and information on how to optimise refinery settings.
But to reap the above benefits, oil and gas companies must link operations to IT control centres and other facilities, which may be located across the globe. In these environments, the connected systems and IT control centres must be available and resilient to ensure the consistent and continuous flow of data.
This brings us to the next challenge. Oil and gas facilities are often located in inhospitable and remote settings with limited connectivity, such as deserts or offshore platforms. Moreover, these offshore operations produce huge amounts of data. An offshore platform, for instance, can produce more than a terabyte of data a day, and may not be linked by cabling to IT facilities on land. This means a terabyte of information would have to be relayed via a remote processing centre or satellite; this is a costly exercise and can result in delays that directly impact vital decision making.
Oil and gas on the edge
The solution is to place data centres as close as possible to the edge of the network. This will yield predictable, future-proof performance. Edge computing needs to be always on and available. This requires power backup plans,
especially in situations where power is generated on site, as is the case for offshore platforms. As mentioned, IT systems also need to be harmonised. An integrated IT architecture can enable information and control loops between system edge applications and centralised analytics and services.
In addition, field devices such as circuit breakers, meters, variable speed drives and process instrumentation embedded with sensors gather data and link to central repositories, where analytics engines can enable higher level control and more accurate and timely decision making.
Technology support for critical applications begins by ensuring that the required IT capability is available and resilient. Edge computing and reliable power can be critical to accomplishing these goals. Improved IT performance allows the optimisation of the data generated by oil and gas facility infrastructure, which can then be leveraged to improve production and asset performance.
Lastly, there is no doubt that streamlining oil and gas processes to allow for visible, reliable and accessible operations does have a number of obstacles to overcome. However, by using vendor-neutral solutions to consolidate the data that comes from the equipment, half the battle might already be won. Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure Plant Advisor is a cloud-based IIoT environment that supports organisations’ digitalisation. It provides access to data across complex,
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