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Wireless broadband networks for oil and gas

Hydrocarbon Engineering,


Oil and gas formations and remote locations go hand-in-hand. Wellheads and pipelines are often found in isolated and inaccessible areas – such as the desert, high plains, on or under arctic tundra, or offshore. It can be difficult (or impossible) to find road access for many of these places, which sets up a unique challenge for maintenance teams and production operations centres. While today’s technology enables production in these remote locations without the need for people in the field, there are going to be instances where the wellheads or pipelines require repairs due to buckling, leakage or other broken parts. This adds another interesting challenge to oil and gas environment because unless an organisation is aware of the problems in the field, issues cannot be mitigated.

When technologies are not operating at the highest capacity due to broken parts, production suffers. This is why wireless communications have become such a critical component of the oil and gas industry. A wireless solution is one of the only options that can satisfy the monitoring needs of dispersed and remote assets in a cost effective manner. However, industry needs have evolved over time. Monitoring remote areas is not the only challenge the oil and gas industry faces. Today there are multiple sites across an oil field, storage tanks that require monitoring, and 24-hour production demands. Without onsite personnel, it can be expensive and time-consuming to visit a site. In order to ensure these challenges are overcome while continuing to meet high production demands, there needs to be a more comprehensive communication solution. What’s needed is high bandwidth, two-way connectivity that:

  • Enables remote monitoring and control of wellheads and pipelines and fast SCADA updates.
  • Securely connects them to the operations centre – VLAN and Radius Servers.
  • Empowers maintenance team members to connect with voice and data communications in real time – WiFi in the field for Service tech’s and Pumpers.

With two-way communications, dispatchers can monitor video feeds to see what’s happening at the wellhead or pipeline site, and teams can be sent with the right tools and parts the first time around to minimise disruption to production and reduce costs. Perhaps oil and gas operators can find the right solution to these needs in a wireless machine-to-machine (M2M) broadband solution.

Wireless broadband

Mobile broadband, remote broadband, security over wireless, and the mix of M2M and human machine interface (HMI) have all played significant roles in the evolution of broadband networking solutions into their current state. The ability to securely extend high-speed wireless networks into remote locations while maintaining mobility and end-user device choices is an attractive option for oil and gas operators. Increasing bandwidth in broadband communication technologies is driven by the demand for video and other bandwidth-intensive applications to devices in remote locations. For example, video on the wellpad and local Wi-Fi access for field service personnel on-site are growing oil and gas needs. With wireless broadband, these companies can leverage resources, mitigate and respond to issues, analyse data, increase security, ensure safety and compliance, and improve product quality – all while increasing production.

As wireless broadband has grown in popularity, the M2M industry has also evolved. In its early days of implementation, an M2M network was likely limited to a singular location – such as a plant with production lines where devices or machinery needed to communicate in one location. But over time, organisations began to realise the value of the data that the communications technology provided and their needs began to shift. Speeds and throughputs began to increase, and the M2M networks became much more versatile. Oil and gas companies now have the choice to select a network topology or combination of networks that best suit their applications with a mix of high-speed Ethernet and Serial data ports for easily interconnecting with existing system technologies. The latest wireless broadband networking solutions can meet these requirements, integrate with existing technologies, preserve existing investments, and replace obsolete communications technologies.

The next generation of wireless broadband

Today, there are wireless M2M communications options that will deliver intelligent wellhead monitoring and control solutions to support optimal production, accurate telemetry, and fault-tolerant communications. With a versatile wireless M2M communications architecture that delivers secure, end-to-end, high-speed wired and wireless communications for SCADA networks, new broadband networks will seamlessly connect to remote sites, such as wellheads and pipelines.

Wireless broadband solutions with the ability to support multiple frequency bands and several industrial internet protocols can meet a vast range of networking and communication demands. Oil and gas operators can leverage mesh technology to establish a path from the field site to the control centre with industry standard routing protocols to maximise network efficiency. When equipment breaks, the network can reorganise itself to flow traffic around the breakage. Use of UAVs for unmanned video and gas leak detection will be commonplace and is offered in countries outside the USA.

Some wireless broadband providers offer the ability to leverage multiple radio modules per unit with high over the air data rates, high bandwidth and secure communications. There are vendors who also offer the ability to leverage a wide variety of proven Ethernet and internet protocols and management services to make it easy to install, operate, and manage in both standalone and enterprise networks. There are wireless broadband solutions that allow for connectivity of a variety of different antennas, allowing the organisation to best utilise their network. Some vendors offer platforms built to support any network infrastructure, provide remove video access and power multiple Serial and Ethernet devices simultaneously with an easy integration into existing LAN and Wide Area Networks (WAN). There also are broadband communications technologies that offer rugged design and versatile IP and network configuration options that make it easy to deliver advanced wireless networking and communications. For example, an oil and gas operator can deploy telemetry that enables remote monitoring of pump jack status, wellhead pressure, storage tank capacity, fuel levels and more; video surveillance for site security and fault response; and onsite “go team” support and connectivity for voice and data. What’s even more impressive is that there are solutions available today that offer every single one of these options on a single platform.

Meet all networking needs while staying secure

In addition to providing comprehensive communication solutions, some wireless broadband network platforms deliver end-to-end security. These networks are equipped for defence against unauthorised access with WPA and WPA2 protocols based on the 802.11i standard requiring the use of private, unshared keys with Counter Mode Cipher Block, Chaining Message Authentication Code Protocol (CCMP) and Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). The U.S. Government considers AES-128 to be sufficient for securing information rated as “Secret,” and AES-256 for “Top Secret.” With broadband networking solutions for M2M communications that meet these requirements, oil and gas companies can leverage and incorporate several essential network elements including wired network access, cellular network access, local area communications, high speed backbone communications, Wi-Fi Hotspot access and mobile mesh networking through a single platform. This not only provides the ability to enable data intensive applications, but oil and gas companies can extend their enterprise IT network into remote locations, empower field assets and personnel through wireless access to back office systems, streamline the integration of new devices and sensors into existing infrastructures and simplify overall networking integration and deployment – all while maintaining network privacy and security. For example, with wireless broadband networking technology, an oil or gas well pad in an extremely remote location could easily be connected to the corporate network as securely as if the two locations were connected via CAT5 Ethernet cable.

The power of broadband

It is entirely possible for oil and gas operators to implement a comprehensive network that will enable data-intensive applications (such as video) and two-way communications, reduce operating expenses, and utilise advanced security. This technology will prevent issues in the field from being overlooked and maximise production. With a well-executed technology selection process and deployment, not only will operators know what is happening in the field at all times, but they will reduce both downtime and repair expenses. Prior to making any decisions, it is essential to properly research all of the options on the market, choose reputable vendors who support path studies and network design, and select a technology that can support all communications needs – with future considerations in mind. With the right broadband network, operators will be able to handle all of today’s communication demands no matter how varied or challenging the applications may be.


Written by Dan Steele, Director of OEM, Utility and Energy Markets at FreeWave Technologies. Edited for web by Cecilia Rehn.

Read the article online at: https://www.hydrocarbonengineering.com/special-reports/30062014/wireless_broadband_networks_for_oil_and_gas/


 

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