A drop in demand due to COVID-19 lockdown measures has struck natural gas markets which are already suffering from low commodity prices. Even though it is expected demand will return once lockdown restricted are eased, the impact on the global economy may result in continued low gas prices. As a result, gas companies need, more than ever, to improve their production systems and reduce costs.
Digitalisation is a powerful tool for mitigating inefficiencies related to Coal Seam Gas (CSG) production environments and field locations. Being dependent on human labour for data collection, maintenance and operations, the Oil and Gas industry can obtain immediate benefit from digitalisation through the use of wireless sensors, video monitoring and broadband wireless connections. These are some of the technologies enabling use cases such as remote monitoring and connected workers.
Although digitalisation is not new in the Gas industry, the analysis of upstream production processes reveals areas for improvement in daily maintenance and operation. The key benefits being:
Reduction of kilometres driven
On a daily basis, lone workers can drive hundreds of kilometres of back roads to inspect wells for operation, maintenance and manual data collection. Video analytics can reduce the frequency of inspections by detecting water leaks, presence of wildlife, signs of erosion and theft. Remote monitoring through wireless sensors can reduce or completely replace manual data collection.
Optimisation of operability and plant maintenance
Pervasive wireless access for workers allows full digital traceability of operations and provides easy access to historical data, procedures and safety applications. Additionally, faster sharing of information between technicians and engineers sharpens decision-making processes, which can help to shorten maintenance shutdowns.
Increased well site reliability
An improved supervision system combined with cloud-based computing and machine learning turns real-time data into information that can predict failures and change maintenance activities from reactive to proactive.
Wireless sensors and video analytics can monitor important environmental data for reclamation surveillance and early detection of hazards, such as gas leaks. A high-quality monitoring system can also help to build trust among local stakeholders and communities.
Assistance to lone workers and a reduced dependency on high-skilled workers in fields
High-quality video calls allow workers to share the operational conditions with enough accuracy to be assisted remotely. Therefore, a remote centre of experts can be created for ad hoc consultation.
The pathway towards digitalisation
Digitalisation relies on a mix of telecom services with very different technical requirements: high throughput for video and office applications, periodic low data transmissions for sensors and high reliability for existing Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) services. Furthermore, consistent service coverage must be guaranteed through CSG fields which can stretch over thousands of kilometres.
This diversity of requirements and the vast areas to be covered make LTE the best candidate technology to fulfil gas industry needs. LTE is a mature technology that has been deployed worldwide for more than ten years. Supporting service prioritisation, LTE guarantees that operational critical services are given higher priority, and are therefore put ahead of other network traffic in case of congestion. LTE was initially designed to cope with the increasing demand for high-speed services in public networks. However, in recent years, the standards have evolved to also address industrial needs for machine-to-machine and mission-critical communications.
LTE is able to provide the required network connectivity between assets and workers, therefore enabling the implementation of a digitalisation strategy and paving the way for the fourth industrial revolution.