IoT in Oil & Gas

IoT in Oil & Gas

As one may expect from traditional industries that rely on streamlined, tried-and-true operational strategies, the oil & gas sector has been a little slow (compared to industries such as health care or construction) at embracing IoT-based solutions into their day-to-day operations.

However, in a supply chain that simply allows no room for error due to potentially catastrophic environmental, economic and reputational consequences, incorporating IoT-solutions to craft data-driven decisions is visibly the next step in the right direction.

Even though sensory devices on oil rigs, pipelines, oil tankers, and refiners are already being used, the industry has only recently seen the light when it comes to the potential benefits of modern IoT solutions.

Monitoring of Refineries

IoT-enabled sensors can be used to gather vital data in oil and gas refineries. Data such as pipe thickness, flow rate, pipe pressure, etc. can be used to predict or troubleshoot malfunctions and even predict demand for maintenance before the breakdown occurs.

Since a lot of these areas are safely accessible by humans, the measurements are typically still conducted by hand. However, while collecting this data manually can be considered safe, it is rather costly as this becomes a very time-consuming task at a certain scale.

Additionally, some of these areas need to be monitored in real-time because specific valves need to be adjusted based on the current flow rate of specific pipe networks. Since radio or LPWAN networks are wireless methods of communication methods, they are subject to delays. Thus, it cannot be guaranteed that truly real-time data is being transmitted 100% of the time. Consequently, refineries mostly rely on wired network systems for connecting most of their IoT devices.

IoT allows refineries to set-up more data points, which may boost the productivity of the refinery, as many processes in a refinery operate with uncertainty due to certain immeasurable variables.

Thus some operations at a refinery are conducted well-below the maximum speed in order to “play it safe.” IoT devices can provide greater insight, which would allow refineries to operate at optimal capacity.

Monitoring Oil Rigs

A significant portion of oil and gas is produced offshore, in rather extreme environments subject to unpredictable weather. An oil rig, damaged by catastrophic weather could not only inhibit productivity but also have severe environmental consequences in case of an oil spill.

Typically offshore oil and gas production sites are located in a rather remote, open seascape, where communication networks are scarce. This makes the monitoring of pressure values, temperatures, flow rates, salinity (used to test for water-to-fuel leaks), and other parameters rather tricky and expensive.

Most of these production sites are not within the coverage of a cellular network, and while installing a WiFi network is technically possible, it is often not practical. Thus, the vital data is typically transmitted via satellite communication or wired networks; both of these solutions are extremely expensive to set-up and maintain.

This is one of the rare scenarios where incorporating LPWAN (low-power wide-area network) technology seems feasible. LPWAN technology has three key features:

  • Extended operating range (several kilometers)
  • Low Power: Transceivers can operate on small batteries for up to 20 years.
  • Low cost: LPWANs are cheap. Their hardware is relatively simple as they use lightweight protocols for data transmission.

By utilizing LPWANs various sensors can become IoT-enabled at a low price. Each of these sensors sends information back to a central network, which then either processes the data on-site or relays it to a satellite that can broadcast the data to on-shore project managers (depending on the company’s preferences)

Predictive Maintenance of Pipelines

When it comes to oil & gas pipelines, leakage is a serious concern. While leakages often go unnoticed for lengthy periods, the environmental, financial, and reputational harm potential is enormous. Leakages of incredibly harmful, potent gasses, such as methane, can have catastrophic effects on the global environment. Since the leaked gas is exposed to atmospheric pressure, there is a severe explosion risk.

Satellite internet is used to monitor critical points in the pipeline and analyze datasets to measure the total performance of the system. However, through the use of IoT and M2M (machine to machine) technology, more data points can be set up, which enables operators to detect leaks and pinpoint their location much quicker.

Of course, IoT sensors can also be installed on crucial pipeline components, such as pumps and filters. Previously, operation managers had to send a maintenance worker to the location of a specific component to perform routine maintenance every so often.

However, thanks to the additional data gathered by IoT devices, the company can wait and only perform maintenance and replacements tasks when they are truly deemed necessary.

Tanker Fleet Management & Surveillance

Oil and gas cargo ships face similar problems as offshore oil rigs. Cargo ships play a crucial role in the oil and gas supply chain. The lack of network connectivity on remote international waters is a serious issue. The options are very limited here.

Just like with oil rigs, IoT-enabled devices locally connected via LPWANs allow operators to remotely monitor vital areas of the cargo ship (many areas, that would simply be impossible to access by human workforce). This improves the safety and convenience of the crew, while also severely reducing the potential risk of human error.

Managing a Complex Supply Chain

IoT has severely simplified the previously complicated procedure of extracting and distributing oil and gas. However, when it comes to managing a global supply chain, IoT also offers unique solutions.

Insightful information provided by IoT sensors notifies refineries about the different types and amounts of oils that have been or are currently being delivered, which helps make more important decisions in production, operational, and inventory management.

In the downstream sector of O&G, IoT sensors can notify distributors in real-time, when clients are starting to run out of oil and gas. TankClarity is an IoT vendor that has created a device alerting distributor companies and clients about low oil levels in one’s house, which then get instantly refilled by the supply chain.

The same IoT device also allows distributors to gain insights into consumption patterns, which can be used to plan demand weeks in advance.