Placing communications infrastructure at the heart of oil and gas production

/ / Utilities

With news that the USA is ‘forging ahead with a plans to boost oil and gas exports’, the country is set to become the world’s biggest oil producer this year.

The sudden jump in production has been largely driven by the process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, whereby pressured liquids are used to extract oil and gas from shale rocks.

While there has been a large amount of media attention devoted to this industrial shift, there is a critical part of the story that is often overlooked.

A successful rise in any oil and gas output also requires investment in complex infrastructure to deliver, especially when it comes to the communications systems required to manage complex processes.

Harsh environments, long distances

Organisations that extract, process or transport oil and gas tend to work in some of the most unforgiving and inaccessible places on the planet. Whether oil rigs miles from shore in stormy seas, or extraction plants in desert conditions, the oil and gas sector puts humans and technology up against the worst the planet has to offer in terms of climate and environment. This not only makes reliable, audible communications paramount, both for day to day operations, and as a strict matter of personal safety; it can also have a dramatic impact on the effectiveness of communications hardware. Putting equipment under extremes of temperature or increasing the likelihood of dust or water infiltrating hardware can decrease its functionality and lifespan.

Indeed, health and safety is a particular challenge in the oil and gas sector. Intrinsically safe or ATEX approved devices are essential, for example, in areas where flammable products are in operation.

It is also important to consider the huge distances covered by the average organisation in this sector. The same oil company might extract and process its oil at sites hundreds of miles from each other, and getting the refined product to industries and consumers means creating pipelines that stretch for thousands of miles. Cellular coverage might be intermittent across these distances, while installing wired networks is cost-prohibitive.

The smart grid era

In spite of those distances it is increasingly important for organisations in the oil and gas industry to have clear visibility and control over their entire infrastructure simultaneously. This is part of the gradual evolution to smart grid environments, whereby organisations generate two-way communications across their grids between themselves, their suppliers and customers.  For oil and gas companies this means being able to collect data from across pipelines, identify problems, such as leaks, and react quickly. It might even extend to the control of critical elements, such as flow rate, if data can be effectively managed between disparate sites and centralised offices. For this to happen it’s essential an organisation has a robust communications infrastructure that can handle data as well as voice.

The Simoco Wireless Solutions approach

Simoco Wireless Solutions has widespread specialist experience in the oil and gas sector, creating secure unified communications networks that cover thousands of miles. By collecting real-time information through resilient network we help organisations to optimise their processes and improve the useful lifespan of their physical assets – something which is especially important in an industry where essential equipment comes at a premium.