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The Five Key Elements of a Successful Digital Oil Field

The demand for hydrocarbons continues to rapidly increase, even as the supply of the skilled labor needed to produce them is leveling off. As early as 2008, management consultant Booz & Co. was projecting that labor shortages for the oil and gas industries would, by 2015, be as high as one million workers. Consequently, the oil industry has developed an approach that increases output without raising labor requirements: the Digital Oil Field (DOF).

In an industrial environment as complex and varied as a hydrocarbon extraction field, on-site expert presence is still often required. The goal of the DOF is, therefore, to bring the field to the expert using remote monitoring and control by saturating an extraction site with thousands of sensors, video cameras, and control computers. This means that reliable, rugged IA communications above and below the ground, on site and en route, is a fundamental requirement. Consequently, the digital oil field is a perfect example of what is known today as “big data analytics,” and a prime example of how cloud computing and the Internet of Things are already changing the world we live in. Below we will discuss the critical factors of building the digital oil field.

System Requirements of the Digital Oil Field

Devices for the oil and gas industries must be built for strict compliance with UL/cUL C1D2, ATEX Zone 2, IECEx, DNV, and ABS hazardous and environmental standards. Industrial enhancements like wide temperature tolerance, IP ratings from 30 to 68, sturdy metal cases, and conformal coating are also necessary. Yet these physical guarantees are only where the design work begins. Software and communications optimizations are also needed, to make field networks reliable, efficient, robust, secure, and more manageable, whether in terms of deployment or maintenance, hardware or throughput.

There are two basic considerations that must be kept in mind, when designing the digital oil field: the imperative of real-time, remote communications, and the challenges of big data communications and processing. A few key requirements become clear:

  • Field site visualization and surveillance
  • Comprehensive 4D site monitoring, that delivers a clear understanding of the physical conditions, processes, and planned output
  • Activity management systems to provide localized awareness and alarms for all of machinery, processes, and environmental conditions
  • Big data management capabilities, to efficiently collate and evaluate all of these features in real time
  • Remote communications over fiber and wireless, including both cellular and 802.11 links


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• Highly Available Redundant Networks over Fiber and Wireless

To guarantee full network availability at all times, network redundancy on a local drilling site is imperative. For wired networks, redundant ring technologies like Turbo Ring and Turbo Chain are an economical and efficient means of guaranteeing highly available networks. For wireless networks, things are not quite so simple: software utilities which guarantee failovers in the event of interference or broken connections must be included with all wireless stations. Towards this end, a connectivity watchdog for cellular gateways is important, allowing the gateways to re-associate with a cellular access point whenever data transmissions on a connection are interrupted. Similarly, concurrent dual radio technology, which allows simultaneous broadcast of all data across two independent channels, is required for 802.11 networks, so that should one channel fail (whether from interference or other causes), data may still be received on the other channel, giving immediate, active failover across all wireless links.

Generally, cellular links will connect remote networks that can span a continent, while 802.11 links will connect the drill site to a more local (but perhaps still distant) monitoring and control center, or to mobile machinery across the field site. For the local control system or for offshore networks, hardwired links will likely be used, which will often include optical fiber as well as twisted pair. This network will connect sensors across the drill site, both above and below the ground, to keep track of a wide variety of mission-critical information that may include the monitoring of microseismic activity at the borehole, horizontal tanks, the status and condition of drilling equipment, well pressure, flow controls, centrifuge performance, and more. One more key addition will be video surveillance for process monitoring and remote troubleshooting. To manage the myriad IA protocols and interfaces from which local sites may be constructed, a variety of Ethernet gateways will be required.

• Big Data Management Capabilities

“Big data management” is a catch-all term that can be broken down into many discrete approaches. As mentioned above, at an oil and gas field site, sensor arrays will be everywhere, on both machinery and across (and beneath) the entire site, making them numerous, diverse, and of the utmost importance. To effectively serve high-throughput, real time sensor and event data, RTUs and remote I/O modules will require tailored software and hardware designs.

One key advance is the use of an active OPC server, that can allow SCADA communications to be actively pushed from the edge device, rather than polled from the core system. This allows event-driven notifications and sensor data to be forwarded only as needed, both cutting bandwidth and eliminating much of the nuisance of configuring remote devices for data economy. In addition to the communications architecture data must be processed, stored, and analyzed as rapidly as possible, whether in the driller’s cabin or at the central corporate control offices. Database optimizations like Moxa’s DA-Center allow the use of tagging technology to automate and streamline the collation, storage, analysis and presentation of received data.

Of course, these monitoring and control optimizations are beside the point, unless the network backbone is capable of communicating the data as it is generated. For this, 10 gigabit switches carry enough bandwidth to future-proof your network against obsolescence due to Moore’s Law, while embedded computers are an effective means of distributing computational resources across the entire site. Wherever a control cabinet is set up, small, powerful RISC computers may be put in place to serve as the front line in data collection, processing, and management. By distributing computational power across the field, communications throughput back to remote control and monitoring centers is economized, and response times further cut to more closely approximate true real-time presence.

• Macro-Visualization and the 4D Virtual Field

These two elements are closely related, but they nevertheless remain distinct subsystems in an overall digital oil field. Site visualization, on the one hand, can take many forms, and while this is most often associated with surveillance, that is only a small part of the total system. Practically, network engineers should be able to call upon network visualizations that allow them to immediately and certainly evaluate the current status of each communications device. MXview is an NMS package that delivers a fully featured SNMP solution for network management. MXview comes with a built-in OPC server, and uses IGMP to automatically build a virtual LAN topological visualization that includes each node on the network. Additionally, MXview, in combination with active OPC communications, allows for automated data recording of a specified event window, so that whenever a configured alarm or other event is triggered on a networking device (MXview) or remote I/O logger (Active OPC), not only are the event and its immediate aftermath recorded, but also the conditions that led to triggering it.

The second key subsystem here is the collection of localized, automated alarming and first-line response stations that manage disruptions, notifications, and failsafes at the machinery level. For these processes, the utilities bundled with MXview and Active OPC provide extremely powerful enhancements to any networking- or process-analysis toolkit, and allow experts and distant enterprise control centers to receive these critical notices and edge-condition updates in real time, for every device and sensor in the network. Yet in addition to getting sensor information and alarms from the edge back to the core core enterprise control in real time, these software packages also provide advanced data preservation features that return more reliable event logs with broader scope and detail, allowing for improved forensic analysis back at the core control center. Finally, as fully compatible NMS and OPC software packages, when used with Moxa gateways the MXview and Active OPC packages are each capable of integrating any standard PROFIBUS, EtherNET/IP, and Modbus TCP device with any standard HMI/SCADA system.

• Optimized Surveillance Solutions

Yet field visualization does not end with virtual mapping and real-time monitoring; for distantly remote engineers and technical experts, a clear understanding of the physical conditions and processes at the site will often require a visual presence that can only be delivered by video surveillance. VPort industrial surveillance cameras are engineered with enclosures that meet a variety of IP ratings, are fully OnVIF compliant, and also come with DynaStream bandwidth optimization, to allow efficient streaming of video feeds without eating up network resources. Perhaps just as importantly, however, is the Soft NVR-IA application development kit, that allows the rapid integration of event-triggered video feeds into SCADA applications.

Using Soft NVR-IA, it is a simple thing to set up a video camera that is integrated into the SCADA system to deliver an automatic feed that is associated with a specific I/O event. Soft NVR-IA gives system engineers powerful tools that allow them to quickly set up a camera so that when an alarm is triggered it will automatically activate, train itself on the associated region, deliver its feed to the specified SCADA console(s), and automatically display its feed across one or multiple consoles, according to the requirements of the local engineers. Using the same tool with Moxa’s HMI solutions, it is also possible to set up a local HMI control screen with automated video alerts, so that whenever an alarm or event is triggered the relevant video feed immediately pops up on the HMI, giving the operator immediate situational awareness and significantly cutting response times.

With more than 20 years of experience in industrial automation, Moxa is familiar with the harsh, rugged requirements of hazardous environments like oil fields, and drilling rigs. Our engineers are experts in delivering hardware and software optimized to fit your requirements. For details on Moxa’s Oil & Gas solutions, download the latest Oil & Gas Brochure here.

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