The North Sea is irreplaceable for Europe as a supplier of oil and gas; more than half the natural gas and a quarter of the oil consumed today in the EU come from the region.
A host of factors are adding costs, reducing revenues and creating new risk management issues for oil and gas companies in the North Sea. Adding to those concerns is greatly heightened regulatory oversight and public scrutiny of environmental and safety risk. This situation demands an evolved perspective on offshore operating strategies.
Rising costs and increasing safety concerns for offshore facilities present continuing and stubborn challenges for the industry as a whole, its operators and supply chain. Adopting innovative improvement and optimization methodologies becomes mandatory for operators striving to increase their bottom line to increase productivity, improve economics and expand collaboration.
Around the clock workers must ensure offshore production runs smoothly. But the people who staff offshore facilities and handle the equipment and materials must endure the most extreme of environmental conditions and hazards.
Nevertheless, the development of new oil and gas assets requires companies to set up farther offshore into more isolated locations and smaller, more marginal fields. And so it becomes increasingly important to manage those operations efficiently while reducing hazards to workers, plant assets and the environment.
Fluctuating downstream market dynamics are impacting the upstream sector, requiring more flexibility and efficiency in the production of liquids and natural gas. Increased capital project costs and operational costs combined with commodity price instability make it essential to lower opex while improving production levels. In addition, safety can be improved by limiting helicopter flights and boat trips to offshore facilities and by reducing the number of people onboard platforms.
Staffing can be a challenge in today’s environment. With operations situated in remote areas, it is difficult and costly to attract and retain a talented workforce to cover all work disciplines required in a self-contained offshore installation. This leads to a high degree of staff turnover, which reduces the average experience levels offshore, encourages discontinuity and increases the levels and standards required in training and onboarding new staff. Moreover, in many disciplines an aging workforce shrinks the available talent pool even further and makes the need to leverage residual expertise more acute.
There are good reasons for upstream producers to implement a remote operations strategy for offshore platforms, even for the most complex facilities. By moving personnel off the platform and instituting unmanned operations, they expect to achieve significant safety improvements while boosting efficiency by centralizing all control functionality at an integrated onshore location.
Improvements in remote monitoring and data analytics also help in moving from a traditional scheduled maintenance strategy, with frequent routine inspections and high equipment repair and replacement costs, to condition- based maintenance that monitors the actual condition of the asset to decide what service needs to be done.
Experience has shown that a holistic remote operation, control and safety solution provided by a single vendor with all of the required technology building blocks simplifies equipment on the platform topsides and minimizes capex and maintenance complexity. Earlier paradigms of having independent monitoring and automation systems for each topside package were more complex to implement, manage and maintain due to the need for multiple interfaces and supplier contacts.
In addition, an integrated control and safety system enables control room personnel to easily monitor and control a wide range of production processes. This solution provides a full data visualization capability for operators so they can easily assess any issues. For example, with control room projectors acting as a live video feed, operators have full visual contact with team members stationed on the platform. The system captures data from third-party systems and integrates it into the console, and the use of distributed server architecture is key to collating these data on one screen and in a meaningful language.
Importantly, the use of onshore and offshore collaboration stations enables operators to share information visually and in real time so that expert advice from those not on the platform can be sought. Remote collaboration also allows much faster creation and utilization of best practices across a network of operating assets, thereby contributing to better knowledge retention and management as well as greater efficiency.
Engineering, procurement and construction firms are finding that an onshore central control room makes the best use of resources by creating an operations hub where experts from a variety of disciplines can access information, troubleshoot equipment and optimize production, all from a single location. Control system and software upgrades are implemented via remote access technology. Remote maintenance and upgrades where physical devices are involved can be accomplished using both mobile field-deployable cameras and onsite operators.
By employing a fault-tolerant Ethernet-based industrial control network, production companies are able to connect clusters on offshore facilities with a distributed control system (DCS) located onshore. The network can use backup communications paths to continue operations in the scenario of communications interruption. Smart, internet-enabled instrument buses also supply valuable diagnostic information from installed field devices.
Thanks to safety-instrumented systems (SIS) both onshore and offshore, it is possible to collate safety-critical information from all field devices. A safety integrity level (SIL) 3 SIS installed onshore and in parallel with a SIL3 independent shutdown function enables remote emergency shutdown of the platform if necessary. With a critical alarm panel operators can initiate the correct shutdown procedure if any abnormal situations arise.
Finally, ISA 100 wireless technology can be deployed on offshore platforms to enable machine monitoring, leveraging the topsides simplification benefits of a wired vs. wireless architecture. The use of an equipment and process health monitoring solution provides onshore workers with as much data as possible from critical equipment offshore, helping to enable a condition- based maintenance regime.
The global oil and gas industry’s hunt for hydrocarbons in increasingly remote, extreme environments and its focus on safety and efficiency as it faces a shortage of expertise is driving the need for Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) solutions. IIoT is a key enabler of remote monitoring and management for industrial sites. It enables data captured by operational systems to be combined with analytics to help optimize operations, streamline efficiency and increase profitability.
By making effective use of the industrial internet, E&P firms gain new opportunities to lower the cost of operating offshore while improving safety. With the right tools, infrastructure and know-how, they can counteract low oil prices and maintain profitability and return on investment (ROI).
The primary benefits from implementation of IIoT come from the ability to access platform data in one place. These data have been available to operators for some time, but extracting them from disparate sources and making sense of them have proved difficult.
There are three keys to the effective use of IIoT: first, securing access to the data being collected; secondly, the capability to analyze those data; and lastly, the domain knowledge to understand how to deploy information to benefit the operation.
These capabilities hinge on an infrastructure leveraging technologies such as fault-tolerant Ethernet to increase the availability of network solutions as well as cybersecurity solutions to ensure reliable operations and protect crucial data.
Additional technologies to drive improved maintenance and reliability include
- Smart digital communication systems enabling maintenance of device calibrations without the need for trips to the field;
- Equipment health monitoring applications to predict and prevent failures and poor performance in large equipment;
- Closed-circuit television systems serving as the “eyes and ears” of remote operations staff, including the nonvisual spectrum such as thermal, radar and night-vision and video-based analytics;
- Automated device commissioning for instruments and sensors to improve engineering efficiency while keeping automation systems off the critical path; and
- Worker mobility solutions providing on-demand information to make operational decisions on production, maintenance, safety and incident management.
The implementation of IIoT can provide the visibility needed to control and maintain critical human and production assets. This allows companies to better predict when equipment needs maintenance, to track the location of workers and spare parts on rigs and to know how many people to evacuate when an incident occurs.
Experience has shown that integrated remote monitoring and management technologies connecting operating sites to a central facility create a collaborative environment that becomes the driver of production improvement. The result is true business transformation, enabling users to monitor and manage operational activities in real time or near real time. Companies make the best use of resources by creating an operations hub where experts from a variety of disciplines can access information and troubleshoot and optimize production, all from a single location. Control system and software upgrades also can be implemented via remote access technology, and remote maintenance and upgrades where physical devices are involved can be accomplished using both mobile field-deployable cameras and onsite operators.
Any reduction in the number of personnel needed to run an offshore platform quickly adds up to a considerable cost savings and inherently reduces the potential for casualties during emergency incidents.
An IIoT-based remote operations solution can help oil and gas producers manage critical assets regardless of their physical location so that they can securely access all their data, seamlessly deliver information when and where it’s needed, create and monitor enterprise performance indicators for decision support, and enforce consistent operational and business processes. As a result, they are able to act and react faster to reservoir, supply chain and market conditions; increase productivity and reliability; and improve the safety of their employees with less downtime and more production availability.
Putting Advanced Technology To Work
Recently, Honeywell Process Solutions provided advanced automation and safety solutions for Statoil’s first production platform that will be operated from shore. The Valemon gas platform sits in about 135 m (440 ft) of water on the Norwegian Continental Shelf. Control operations for the unmanned facility have been relocated to Bergen, some 160 km (100 miles) away from the platform itself.
Honeywell served as the main automation contractor for the Valemon project, providing integrated technologies such as
• DCS architecture;
• Protective, fire and gas, and emergency shutdown systems;
• Closed-circuit television technology; and
• Intelligent instrument and sensor communications infrastructure as well as instrument maintenance and management solutions.