Adopting smart technologies

Networking and communication essential to the oil and gas sector

By Claire Marchand

With the steady increase in energy demand from developing, emerging and developed countries, the recent drop in oil prices as well as national or regional regulations to drastically reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the oil and gas sector needs to explore new avenues to expand productivity and at the same time cut down costs. One way to achieve this is to embrace smart technologies.

Oilrig in arctic climate Networking the whole workflow and communications process between wells, pipes and refineries provides simulation models that in turn lead to risk mitigation and safer operations

Tackling 21st century challenges

Traditionally the oil and gas sector, while modernizing and upgrading its operations and installations, has often kept away from the smart trend of the last decade. Different units within a same company tend to work in silo, rarely communicating with one another. However, despite this apparent lack of communication, the sector has thrived and been profitable for many years. But to face the energy challenges of the 21st century, the oil and gas sector has to become smart(er). 

How to make oil and gas smart?

By installing sensors and controllers in pipes and wellheads, companies will be able to capture, classify and filter data in the field as well as control processes and perform quality checks. Transmitting this data to onshore and offshore facilities in real time will allow companies to monitor the wells’ conditions and operations, detect problems when they arise and make real-time decisions to schedule interventions. This will prevent damage occurring in equipment and reduce the risks of failure and potential accidents. 

Of course the systems that need to be put in place are more complex than is implied by the simple installation of a number of sensors and controllers to connect data and people. The entire workflow and communications process between the wells and pipes on one side and the facilities on the other has to be fully automated and optimized so as to set up simulation models that will in turn lead to risk mitigation and safer operations. 

Safe and secure

Smart oil and gas operations provide better security and safety, help prevent disaster and minimize shutdown risks, maximize production, and increase profitability while reducing operating costs. 

A well-designed smart oil/gas field network should also take into account potential cyber threats and build the necessary protections to ensure that the network is as secure as it is smart. 

Designed and built for Ex areas...

As is the case with larger pieces of equipment used in explosive (Ex) atmospheres, any device that is part of a smart operation – from the tiniest of sensors to controllers, central processing units (CPUs) and remote terminal units (RTUs) – has to be designed and built in compliance with the very strict requirements set out in standards and specifications, most notably in IEC International Standards developed by IEC Technical Committee (TC) 31: Equipment for explosive atmospheres. 

Designing and building these devices in compliance with IEC International Standards is not enough on its own. To ensure that any piece of equipment meets the required criteria, it has also to be tested and certified. Products associated with a certificate of conformity satisfy the criteria for safe usage in hazardous environments. 

…tested and certified by IECEx

IECEx, the IEC System for Certification to Standards Relating to Equipment for Use in Explosive Atmospheres, is the only truly international Conformity Assessment (CA) System to provide testing and certification for all items of Ex equipment and installations as well as certifying the skills and competence of individuals working in hazardous areas. 

The System addresses the inspection (location and other), installation, maintenance and repair of equipment and systems and assesses the competence of personnel working in this highly specialized area. 

IECEx has been endorsed by the United Nations (UN) through the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) as THE certification system for the assessment of conformity in Ex areas. 

IECEx operates the following Schemes: 

  • IECEx Certified Equipment Scheme
  • IECEx Certified Service Facilities Scheme
  • IECEx Scheme for Certification of Personnel Competence (for Explosive Atmospheres) 

The System also has the IECEx Conformity Mark Licensing System which provides on-the-spot evidence that products bearing the Conformity Mark are covered by an IECEx Certificate of Conformity. 

For more information:

Oilrig in arctic climate Networking the whole workflow and communications process between wells, pipes and refineries...
pipeline through Alaska ...provides simulation models that in turn lead to risk mitigation and safer operations
Explosion-proof pressure transmitters (Photo: American Sensor Technologies) Explosion-proof pressure transmitters (Photo: American Sensor Technologies)