How Better Environmental Monitoring Can Boost Efficiency For Oil And Gas Producers

Throughout the world, oil and gas companies are under growing pressure to boost the efficiency of their operations. Taking an eye off the ball for even a short period can make a once profitable project unviable.

The challenge stems from fluctuating customer demand and shifting commodity prices. Large capital investments made years ago need to turn a profit in today’s economic climate.

To achieve this goal, attention must be given to all facets of the operation. Site operation, extraction fugitive emissions, and transportation links all need to be as efficient as possible and work together as a cohesive whole.

The importance of monitoring

Increasingly, oil and gas companies are coming to realise that better monitoring of the environment in which they are operating can have a significant, positive impact on the bottom line. By truly understanding what is happening across a facility, more informed decisions can be made about its operation.

Monitoring becomes even more powerful when external data sources such as weather forecasts are also utilised. This can help prepare for events or scheduling works to ensure that the most appropriate activities are carried out at the best possible time.

Effectively monitoring an oil or gas extraction site requires the installation of a network of sensors. Each gathers data and feeds it in real-time back to a centralised control system. Sensors that could be deployed include:

  • Rigs: Attached to the structure of the oil or gas rig, these sensors can monitor movement and vibration that could be caused by an equipment malfunction.
  • Pipelines: Attached at critical points along the oil or gas pipelines running from the rigs, these sensors can gather data on flows, pressure and any problems that might occur and cause loss of operation efficiency or releases into the surrounding water or air.
  • Weather: Positioned at strategic spots on or near extraction sites, these sensors can provide real-time data and forecasting for all meteorological data – wind speed and direction to temperature and rainfall levels.

 The power of forecasting

Data gathered from these sensor networks can then be stored and analysed by sophisticated software tools. When additional data from external sources is added, such as weather forecasts, the potential insights that can be gained are significant.

The tools can provide graphical details on what any changes in conditions could mean for operations. Modelling of potential events can clearly show the impact decisions will have both on the extraction rig itself and the surrounding areas.

Some of the typical scenarios that could be covered include:

  • Strong winds: There have been strong winds forecast for the area around an off-shore oil rig in the next 48 hours. Modelling shows that this could cause large swells, dangerous conditions and the potential for spills.
  • Heavy rainfall: Predicted rainfall during the coming week is likely to interfere with production equipment at a gas extraction site. The rainfall could also prevent access to the area making it difficult for staff to reach the location.
  • High temperatures: Forecast high temperatures could affect the operational efficiency of extraction equipment. They could also cause bushfires in nearby areas that could put the safety of staff at risk.

In each of these scenarios, the network of sensors across the site will provide a real-time picture of exactly what is happening and the impact of any decisions to make changes to operations.

Better informed decisions

Armed with accurate and timely data, site management is in a much better position to take corrective action before problems arise. Rather than relying on gut instinct or assumptions based on previous events, they can work from the perspective of having an accurate picture of current conditions.

Examples of the types of decisions monitoring will aid include:

  • Schedule changes: Pumping was due to begin from a new oil rig in 24 hours’ time, however modelling shows forecast wind direction and speeds will mean large waves are likely. A decision is taken to delay the production start by another 24 hours until winds subside. Local wind sensors will confirm that conditions have improved at the new start time.
  • Production shifts: Work was planned to begin on a new pipeline connection to a nearby shipping port. Models show that the significant rain forecast during the next five days could cause landslides in the area being developed. Managers opt to instead focus equipment and staff on a different location until the weather improves. Local sensors will constantly report back on the amount of rain that has fallen and runoff levels at critical places.
  • Staff allocation: Forecast modelling shows that production on a major off-shore rig is unlikely to be possible for at least a seven-day period due to an approaching cyclone. A decision can be taken to shift workers to another rig or stand them down until conditions return to normal.

Improved efficiencies and outcomes

By undertaking such real-time monitoring and analysing the collected data, oil and gas operators are in a much stronger position to make decisions that will have a positive impact on their operations.

For example, if forecast high winds are going to require a cessation of activity for a 24-hour period, critical equipment can be scheduled for maintenance during that time. This means the equipment is not lying idle during downtime and does not have to be taken out of service at times of peak production.

At the same time staff schedules can be altered ahead of time to avoid a situation where shift workers or contract resources are on location but have no activity to undertake, such as drilling operations. Alternatively, they can take part in training or refresher courses so that time (and money) is not wasted during the pause in production.

Real-time monitoring and data analysis can also help to ensure a facility avoids any potential environmental incidents. By stopping or slowing production, the chance of spillages can be reduced.

Depending on the software tools used for the data analysis, operators can also potentially receive automated recommendations on actions to take. If the software determines that a certain combination of factors could cause problems, a plan of action could be generated for consideration.

A more profitable operation

By following the approach of real-time monitoring and predictive forecasting, resource companies can be confident they are gaining as much output as possible from their infrastructure investments, regardless of the prevailing conditions.

Rather than constantly being in a reactive mode, operators can make proactive decisions that ensure both equipment and staff can be as productive as possible at all times.

Sensor networks and the data they provide allow the impact of all decisions to be monitored at a very granular level. Should conditions change unexpectedly, plans can be altered to ensure the best possible outcome for the facility.

Instead of being an onerous overhead that adds only cost to an operation, environmental monitoring can actually deliver significant and sustained value to every oil and gas mining operation.

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