How the oil and gas industry exploits IoT

The energy industry has embraced IoT technology in its operations, from monitoring well production to predicting when its gear will need maintenance.

Like many traditional industries that have long-standing, tried-and-true methods of operation, the oil-and-gas sector hasn’t been the quickest to embrace IoT technology – despite having had instrumentation on drilling rigs, pipelines and refining facilities for decades, the extraction industry has only recently begun to work with modern IoT.

Part of the issue has been interoperability, according to Mark Carrier, oil-and-gas development director for RTI, which produces connectivity software for industrial companies. Energy companies are most comfortable working with the same vendors they’ve worked with before, but that tendency means there isn’t a strong impetus toward sharing data across platforms.

“On a very low level, things are pretty well-connected, at the connectivity to the back-end they’re well-connected, but there’s a huge expense in understanding what that data is,” he said.

Christine Boles, a vice president in Intel’s IoT group, said that the older systems still being used by the industry have been tough to displace.

“The biggest challenge they’re facing is aging infrastructrure, and how they get to a more standardized, interoperable version,” she said.

Changes are coming, however, in part because energy prices have taken a hit in recent years. Oil companies have been looking to cut costs, and one of the easiest places to do that is in integration and automation. On a typical oil well, said Carrier, a driller will have up to 70 different companies’ products working – sensors covering everything from flow rates to temperature and pressure to azimuth and incline, different components of the drill itself – but until fairly recently, these all had to be independently monitored.

An IoT solution that can tie all these various threads of data together, of late, has become an attractive option for companies looking to minimize human error and glean real-time insights from the wide range of instrumentation present on the average oil rig.

Those threads are numerous, with a lot of vertically unique sensor and endpoint types. Mud pulse telemetry uses a module in a drill head to create slight fluctuations in the pressure of drilling fluid to pulse information to a receiver on the surface. Temperature and pressure sensors operating in the extreme environmental conditions of an active borehole might use heavily ruggedized serial cable to push data back aboveground.

Andre Kindness, a principal analyst at Forrester Research, said that the wide range of technologies, manufacturers and standards in use at any given oil-and-gas facility is the product of cutthroat competition

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