By Benjamin Fuentes, Senior Key Account
Manager, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Inc.
The oil and gas industry has been historically slow
to adopt new technologies and truly take advantage of the digital tools that
are widely available and extensively used in other sectors. This is partially due
to the expansive operations that often span many thousands of kilometers, and
the seemingly great expense it would take to update a network.
However, a mass overhaul isn’t always needed, and
some devices already in place – such as flow computers, which are ubiquitous in
the industry – could potentially be employed to generate and access even more
Indeed, data could help to transform the industry
to better monitor product flow and create algorithms for predictive
maintenance, leading to preemptive leak detection and heightened safety.
This will be particularly important at a time when
the industry has set clear goals to improve environmental credentials, with a
particular focus on better carbon management and reduction of greenhouse gas
emissions, two areas that typically rely on careful monitoring.
This article focuses on some innovative solutions
that promise to truly bring the oil and gas industry into the digital age and
help to achieve more sustainable operations.
Making Data Flow
The sheer scale of the oil and gas industry makes
effectively overseeing entire operations a challenging proposition. Companies
are inundated with terabytes of data every day, generated by a multitude of
sensors, devices and machines spread across vast geographical locations.
However, despite significant investment in physical
infrastructure, many companies are not making the most of real-time operating
data to improve their functional and business capabilities. Missed faults and
inadequate maintenance can result in unplanned downtime costing millions of
In addition, product lost and unaccounted for
(LAUF) – due to leakage or inaccurate pipeline control – can cause delivery
delays or environmental issues, with further financial implications. Other
industries have been quick to adopt digital tools to help prevent these types
of failings, but uptake has been much slower in the oil and gas world, despite
them offering opportunities to eliminate variables, maximize flow throughout,
increase profitability, and improve sustainability.
Unleashing the Power
The abundance of data currently squandered could
easily be harnessed with the infrastructure already in place, offering a way to
simplify the digitalization process. The flow computer, for example, is a
stalwart of the industry, whose ongoing evolution is increasing both its impact
It was originally used to calculate product volumes
going through particular sites but, owing to the ever-increasing quantity of
operational data being generated, these instruments are now able to capture and
share more precious information.
The addition of access and control measures has also
repositioned the flow computer to the center of operations, giving it the
ability to regulate pressures and alter valves. Not only is there now more
control, but the quality of the data produced has also improved, including
information on ‘health status’ that can affect the system’s capacity.
Furthermore, remote access to this data allows technicians
to either adjust the system to compensate or assess what the issue might be
before traveling to the site, improving efficiency and maximizing the speed at
which problems are resolved.
This proactive approach can identify and prevent
some forms of pipe failure before they occur. Harnessing data from existing
equipment is just the beginning, and there are many more opportunities available
to drive digitalization even further.
Oil and gas pipelines can traverse thousands of
kilometers, making access to data a challenge. Attempts to centralize data
analysis through cloud computing or hybrid storage are often hampered by the
ability to transmit it – particularly by satellite – owing to the significant volumes
being produced and the speed of the connections.
Edge computing, however, offers a way to eliminate
geographical limitations by processing and acting on data in the field, through
small, on-site data centers or, increasingly, in devices themselves. Managing data
where it is generated provides real-time insights into operations, and is not inhibited
by distance, the different environments found across operations, or the intense
temperatures of liquefied natural gas, making it a promising tool for
now and the future.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is no longer just a
buzzword, and is becoming increasingly accepted in many industries, from
manufacturing and healthcare to education and transport.
AI in the oil and gas industry has been predominantly adopted
in the upstream sector, where it has been used to analyze reservoir data to
identify reserves and inform drilling decisions. However, it has not yet made
inroads in the mid and downstream sectors, despite the clear opportunities.
Using AI would allow routine tasks to shift from humans to digital
systems, freeing up the capacity to pursue new, transformative business models.
Putting AI at the digital core – by using information collected from pipeline
sensors and Internet of Things (IoT) hardware – could help to optimize systems
and processes, manage suppliers, respond to real-time product demand, mobilize the
workforce effectively, and enhance the customer experience.
digital platforms improves the ability to reduce costs and improve safety
through condition monitoring and predictive
maintenance. Unusual activity can usually be detected instantly – via flow
computers, valves, and sensors – and the data is analyzed immediately to
identify the cause of any issues.
actions can subsequently be taken to resolve any issues before significant
damage occurs. Furthermore, analyzing historical data with up-to-data information –
such as external air and internal gas temperatures – can enable technicians to
anticipate valve malfunctions at a particular location.
In many cases,
implementing these solutions at the field level will require upgrades to both
the communication infrastructure – IoT devices, Bluetooth, ethernet, etc. – and
the flow computers, to ensure they have the processing capacity to manage the
huge swathes of data generated.
costs should be offset against the benefits of predictive analytics, which
provide technicians with an opportunity to take corrective action where and
when it is needed, before it becomes a critical issue that could impact the
from reactive to proactive maintenance has the potential to unlock previously
unachievable levels of safety and reliability, as well as greatly increase
The oil and gas industry currently has ambitious
targets for improving its environmental profile. Companies are looking at
strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the carbon intensity of their
Digitalization offers many essential tools to
better monitor operations, leading to better visibility on emissions, and
allowing leaks to be detected and resolved more efficiently – or even prevented
in the first place. Gaining deep insights into carbon use and emissions
throughout the entire value chain will be critical to meeting sustainability targets.
More broadly, harnessing the vast amounts of data produced
offers oil and gas companies the opportunity to improve efficiency, reduce
downtime, manage costs, and remain competitive. P&GJ
Benjamin Fuentes has been with Thermo Fisher Scientific for 14 of his 24 years in the
oil and gas industry, working in various positions across manufacturing
operations, marketing and account management. He has also been a participant in
various API petroleum measurement committees, as well as an instructor and
speaker at the ISHM and ASGMT measurement schools.