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How IoT can help prevent catastrophic events in oil and gas

Despite what some may believe about the oil and gas industry, the number one priority of its major players is to mitigate health, safety and environmental-related risks — yes, even over making money. Oil spills and fracking leaks cripple the industry and company’s reputation, which will always negatively affect the bottom line. So, it goes without saying that nobody wants another Deepwater Horizon, much less a smaller disaster.

To achieve their mission of maintaining top-level safety protocols, protecting the environment and enhancing their reputation, remote offshore drilling providers — and the enterprises that rely on their services — will need to begin embracing IoT technologies if they haven’t already. Fueled by advancements in open source data management, IoT will go a long way toward helping energy companies avoid spills and other catastrophes. A few forward-looking companies are already using these advancements.

Even with the current administration’s intent to relax safety regulations implemented in the wake of Deepwater Horizon, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement will still require offshore drillers to monitor safety-critical equipment in real time and archive the data at an onshore facility. In fact, the larger industry has pushed to keep many such laws in place, knowing well what comes of too lax a view on laws that safeguard critical regulations.

An achievable goal: Real-time crisis response in remote locations

That’s where IoT comes in: 1) by harnessing real-time data collection and integrating legacy and new data sources to power advanced analytics that can automatically speed safety measures when danger strikes, and 2) by identifying patterns from older data and using them to influence current and developing workflows and processes.

Remember this: The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was caused when methane gas in the well expanded and rose into the rig where it ignited and exploded, engulfing the platform in flames. A modern IoT system combined with advanced analytics could have helped predict the impending event and provided prescriptive actions to help contain what is considered to be the largest marine oil spill in history.

Offshore rigs are still collecting data today from sensor equipment almost exclusively with local control systems. These had already been deployed to monitor operations and signal alarms only when something goes wrong.

With IoT technologies today, it’s possible to exchange and analyze information in near real time among the rig, ships and onshore facilities — and then automate preventive actions to limit any damage.

IoT is already at work around the globe

In Trinidad and Tobago, where locals depend on the fisheries and the economy depends on the oil and gas industry, the government’s Institute of Marine Affairs has deployed a specialized buoy that monitors water quality in real time. It consists of a digital cellular connection and an IoT platform equipped with underwater sensors that detect instant changes in pollution levels and other water quality standards. The aim is to accelerate communications and proactive and reactive responses when a spill occurs.

Another global leader, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, has developed specialized robots powered by IoT and artificial intelligence to inspect oil and gas production facilities. These explosion-proof robots have cameras and can operate autonomously, which frees up working time and keeps human workers out of harm’s way.

The path to IoT always needs to be open

For mission-critical IoT projects to be successful — not just those in oil and gas — the foundational strategy needs to be based on open source software and open architectures. If you look back, IoT’s popularity occurred before connectivity standards were created. The open source community exists specifically to solve issues like this, by creating common connectors for data to flow through various networks to an infinite collection of disparate devices.

If commonly accepted open source code bases are used to drive IoT technologies, those active in open source communities and organizations, such as the Apache Foundation, will be able to develop analytics tools on scale-out, open hardware architectures quickly and easily. That will lead to better mapping and reduction of IoT’s larger data sets.

Simply put, an open source IoT platform will allow operators to maintain secure control over their data and analytics.

Apache NiFi, incidentally, has been a real game-changer in IoT. NiFi allows you to easily and securely ingest data from a variety of sources and import it into a platform for analytics and business intelligence.

For example, the offshore drilling provider Rowan Companies has installed a complete, global IoT system on 25 rigs that supplies seamless data connectivity for near-real-time monitoring, troubleshooting, diagnostics and performance measurement on 25 rigs. Rowan’s system represents a state-of-the-art template for IoT oil and gas projects using Apache NiFi. It incorporates:

  • An enterprise-ready, open source Apache Hadoop distribution based on YARN, maximizing the value of its data at rest from a range of sources and formats to provide big data analytics;
  • An end-to-end, hybrid data analytics platform integrated with Apache NiFi that collects, curates, analyzes and acts on data at rest; and
  • An IoT gateway that collects and instantly streams real-time data from multiple systems into its analytics platform, which prioritizes, compresses and encrypts the data before storing it locally. This enables personnel to search, monitor, visualize and analyze the data for complete visibility into its operations.

Keywords: Fast, precise and effective

A system like Rowan’s can take a huge burden off other oil and gas enterprises that have cautiously relied on maintaining their traditional data monitoring, collection, processing and reporting systems.

More to the point, with today’s processing power available for IoT, decisions can actually be made in real time, enabling companies to shift from reactive to proactive. Moving forward, the next generation of IoT will require improvements to our data management processes and access controls that will allow even faster, more seamless and more secure communication between devices and platforms.

The goal, as it always should be, is to make sure that catastrophic events like oil spills don’t happen. The industry’s health and continued good will depends on that.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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