1 September 2006
Managing networks in offshore production
Progress in safety, security, affordability, and maintainability permit energy companies to take full advantage of wireless technology
By Stan DeVries, Hesh Kagan, and Dr. Peter Fuhr
The stars now align so wireless video and wireless sensing can monitor and control oil surfacing from the sea floor and passing through oil platforms.
Obstacles are no longer the security of wireless transmissions and the variety of communications protocols.
Indeed, wireless communication promises higher production availability at lower operating costs through improved monitoring. For offshore production, it can accomplish this by combining mobile video and new sensors to reduce costs in the following ways:
- Operating costs drop because fewer offshore personnel are necessary. Most drilling and production personnel would be able to perform their duties onshore, drawing on information from an expanded array of sensors and collaborating with a few platform workers via mobile video cameras.
- Fewer platform workers will mean less transport to and from the platform, minimizing transportation costs and reducing risk.
- Improved one-way visibility will increase production by enabling earlier and better intervention. Specialists can mobilize earlier and can multitask better among many wells, fields, and assets.
- Improved bi-directional visibility increases production by enabling better collaboration with remote, traveling specialists.
Previously, wireless solutions were not viable for offshore monitoring for many reasons. The technology was still emerging, and security was variable at best. Standards were incomplete or were often in conflict with one another, and wireless frequencies and communications protocols clashed as well.
There was also general concern that wireless communications were not yet robust enough for industrial strength communications, and there was no clear migration path. The applications that did exist were tactical and not extensible, and few if any information technology organizations were prepared to provide comprehensive support. Moreover, because so much uncertainty surrounded this newly emerging technology, determining the true cost of operations was all but impossible.
Today, much has changed. Advances in safety, security, affordability, and maintainability within the constraints of frequency allocation now enable energy companies to take full advantage of wireless technology for challenging offshore production environments.
Wireless for the hostile
Wireless equipment used on an offshore platform must have certification for operating in environments in which sparks from electronic equipment could cause harm.
Equipment such as portable video cameras, wireless transceivers, and associated sensors must have EX hazardous environment classification. The VisiWear installation in ConocoPhillips’ giant Ekofisk platform in the Norwegian continental shelf, for example, uses EX-rated wireless video cameras.
The greatest threat to the wireless security is not malicious attack, but interference from overlapping wireless networks. Environmental or accidental RF noise, broken RF equipment, dynamic changes in the characterization of the RF site, and the range on non-compatible RF devices generally available all can interfere with the performance of wireless networks.
Prevention of such problems must engineer into the network from its inception and must be a part of an enterprise-aware security and management model. Adding to the challenge is effective wireless networking on an offshore production platform will require a combination of wireless standards.
One size does not fit all.
Numerous and diverse standards come into play when taking full advantage of wireless to handle the wide range of requirements for throughput, power, and cost. The wireless solutions that might apply on an oil platform are numerous.
The Wireless Industrial Networking Alliance (WINA) has developed guidelines for harmonizing the diverse wireless network standards required and enabling the various networks to keep traffic separate and transfer data between networks only when the architecture requires.
Major players like Invensys and its wireless technology partner Apprion are applying the WINA model in products and engineering services that help offshore producers to design, secure, and manage offshore the life cycle of offshore wireless installations.
The approach is to manage all standards and associated security as a single, harmonized set. These architectures encompass diverse network standards and protocols.
How much is that technology?
Wireless networking is now affordable for offshore production platforms.
The cost of low-power wireless network components, including battery-powered, hazardous environment sensors and RTUs to equip an entire platform, would fit comfortably within the budget of most offshore operations.
Combined with long-range radio modems and gateways, many platforms can afford to add sensors at process points that would not even have been thinkable with wired networks.
Wireless networks for offshore applications are also more maintainable than before. It is now easier to troubleshoot, expand, modify, and upgrade the networks and the components without jeopardizing security and availability.
Such improvement comes from the use of a single systems management approach that treats and manages all wireless network technology in a unified, coherent architecture. Such a framework helps technical professionals to manage the diversity consistently.
Creating unified systems management is not just good practice, but companies that attempt to implement more than a few tactical solutions without a unifying plan are taking a great risk.
Here are some steps that oil and gas producers can take to exploit wireless technology today and in the future:
- Survey the entire company to determine who has need for wireless technologies and how the need plays into the business strategy, examining at every point the strategic trade-offs between improving asset availability and asset utilization.
- Design a technology architecture that will encompass all stakeholders, including operations, safety, security, maintenance, and information technology.
- Create a policy manual that sets clear criteria for implementing a wireless solution.
- Select and purchase hardware and software that is proven, scalable, and capable of understanding diverse protocols.
- Prior to implementation, conduct an RF site survey to identify wireless signal paths and sources of potential interference.
- Build ongoing maintenance, support, and optimization services into the plan.
Few companies have the resources to maintain staff necessary for all of these steps, especially because demand for specialists with relevant skills is very high.
As such, outsourcing to one of the emerging specialist firms may be the most cost effective strategy for companies that want to enjoy the benefits of wireless networking most immediately with the least risk.
Accurately and proactively
No matter how well constructed the systems management architecture, tapping the full potential to increase oil and gas production and reduce costs will require fundamental changes in the way in which oil & gas production teams collaborate.
This includes improved collaboration on normal production and drilling tasks, along with collaboration on entirely new solutions for managing challenges such as flow assurance, equipment behavior, and major weather disturbances enabled by unprecedented visibility into operations.
Instead of just reacting better, the new visibility will enable teams to work smarter. This will influence when teamwork begins, where team members are located, which team members perform which roles, and how they actually interact.
Deploying additional sensors to drive software that forecasts and recognizes conditions and threat levels will change when collaboration begins. Instead of bringing people to the problem, the sensors and software will bring the problem to the people.
The software senses conditions and trends more quickly, enabling collaboration on problems to begin much earlier than before, even at the point of prevention. This is even earlier than real time.
These additional sensors combine with wireless voice and video communications to change where collaboration takes place. Traveling specialists will be able to collaborate effectively with roaming workers on the platform, as well as with others in a centralized operations or collaboration center.
This alters the people collaborating by allowing less-specialized or less-experienced personnel to intervene more often, guided remotely by using advice from experts, without having to call the experts as often or delaying action until the experts are able to become available physically.
Wireless communications will also change how production teams collaborate by enabling more proactive solutions augmented by voice and video. The energy they had previously devoted to overcoming time and distance constraints can now apply to improving production and collaboration tools and methods.
Moreover, as sensor data from additional process points begins incorporation into operations, solutions and training simulators will become even more accurate and more proactive.
Context of business strategy
A new, standards-based approach to wireless network systems management, combined with advances in reducing costs and operating in hazardous environments, makes wireless communications most feasible for offshore production platforms.
Producers will increase production and reduce operating costs by transforming when, where, which, and how people collaborate in meeting production challenges.
In addition, although the unified management framework is essential for the success of wireless communications, it will fail if it becomes merely an exercise in collecting more data for the sake of collecting more data, or collaboration for the sake of collaboration.
Even as affordable as wireless networking has become, it remains overpriced if it does not play in the context of the business strategy.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Stan DeVries (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the director of upstream solutions at Invensys. Hesh Kagan is a member of ISA-SP100 Wireless Systems for Automation and president of the Wireless Industrial Network Alliance (WINA). Dr. Peter Fuhr (email@example.com) is also a member of ISA-SP100 and is chief technology officer at Apprion, Inc.
RF is for radio frequency and any frequency within the electromagnetic spectrum associated with radio wave propagation. When an RF current goes to an antenna, the creation of an electromagnetic field occurs, which then propagates through space.
Modem stems from the two words modulator and demodulator, which is a communications device that converts one form of a signal to another suitable for transmission over communication circuits, typically from digital to analog and then from analog to digital. The common usage of modem relates to a piece of hardware that lets one computer talk to another computer over a phone line.
Gateway is a device that allows for the translation and management of communication between networks that use different protocols or designs. RTU means remote terminal unit. In SCADA systems, an RTU is a device installed at a remote location that collects data, codes the data into a format that is transmittable, and transmits the data back to a central station, or master.
IEEE 802.11 is the Wi-Fi standard and denotes a set of wireless LAN/WLAN standards developed by working group 11 of the IEEE LAN/MAN Standards Committee (IEEE 802). The term 802.11x also denotes this set of standards and is not one of its elements. There is no single 802.11x standard. The term IEEE 802.11 also refers to the original 802.11, which now is 802.11legacy.
IEEE 802.11g is a proposed standard describing wireless WLAN that operates in the 2.4 GHz radio band (ISM—Industrial Scientific Medical frequency band). These WLANs will be able to achieve a maximum speed of 54 Mbps and are backward compatible with the 802.11b standard.
IEEE 802.15 are the low power wireless personal area networks (PANs) such as low-complexity Bluetooth, UWB-based high-rate PANs, and mesh networks.
IEEE 802.15.4 ZigBee is a published specification set of high-level communication protocols designed to use small, low power digital radios based on the IEEE 802.15.4 standard for wireless personal area networks (WPANs). The ZigBee 1.0 specifications started on 14 December 2004 and are available to members of the ZigBee Alliance.
IEEE 802.16 is WiMAX, an acronym that stands for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access, a point-to-multipoint broadband wireless access.
ISA-SP100 Wireless Systems for Automation Standards www.isa.org/isasp100
The Wireless Industrial Networking Alliance (WINA) http://www.wina.org/
Wireless Networks for Industrial Automation, 2nd Edition by Dick Caro www.isa.org/wirelessnetworks
SCADA: Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition, 3rd Edition by Stuart A. Boyer www.isa.org/scada
Wireless SCADA Gains Foothold: Dropping prices, niche applications, and standards efforts fuel interest among manufacturers. www.isa.org/link/SCADAFoothold
Plugging into wireless: ISA survey shows users need to learn technology’s capabilities www.isa.org/link/Plugwireless