Communication is key to any successful project, and that applies just as much - if not more so - to the harsh and challenging environments encountered in the oil and gas industry. Josh Parker, director of business development for oil and gas markets at private wireless network provider and mobile networking pioneer Rajant, explains how high-quality and reliable comms can drive efficiency in the sector and help to mitigate the impact of low oil prices.
If you've searched the internet lately, it's a challenge to find a positive headline about the oil and gas sector. Headlines like "Drilling group says oil and gas industry in for another rough year in 2016" and "Oil demand growing, but US production to slow in 2016" have taken over search results.
While slow production and sagging oil prices seem to be at the forefront of oil and gas news, a lack of production efficiency and network reliability may be the underlying issue for profitability in the industry. Ironically, improving production efficiency with reliable technology may offer a way to combat declining oil prices. A 2014 report from McKinsey and Company stated: "In the low-volume regimes of current unconventional mature assets - oil sands, for example - carefully targeted automation steps can cut costs and, more importantly, can also improve the reliability of production equipment, leading to higher revenues that can extend an asset's economic life."
The report concludes that improving production efficiency by 10% can yield a $220-260-million bottom-line impact on a single brownfield asset. So, if automation can drive production efficiency, why is the industry lagging behind? Well, there are challenges associated with improving production efficiency in oil and gas, regardless of location.
Historically, the industry has struggled to keep pace with certain advanced technologies, such as automation, that deliver reliability. Given the drop in oil prices, it can no longer afford to fall behind. For oil and gas in particular, getting it right is critical no matter the location.
Multifrequency brings reliability
There are more than 65,000 oilfields in the world - mostly located in deserts in the Middle East, and spanning large geographic areas that experience changes in elevation, landscape and weather conditions. Operators must manage and gather data from remote wellheads across rugged terrain. Extreme heat, which these areas are prone to experiencing, can cause overheating of equipment, including the radios used for communication. If there is only one frequency on which to transfer information and that frequency has interference, the line of communication is broken, causing loss of production for extended periods of time, which can have devastating consequences on worker safety.
One of the most effective ways to overcome interference is to use multitransceiver, multiband radios rather than single-transceiver, single-band ones. Both types of radios are capable of sending and receiving voice, video and data - however, when interference threatens application and data access, multitransceiver radios can improve connectivity transmissions significantly.
Multitransceiver radios can operate with multiple transceivers, and each transceiver can support a specific RF band. Rather than having one direction to a destination, there are several. If one or more frequencies experience interference, information can be transmitted over other bands.
Mesh technology supports multifrequency
Gartner says mesh - a dynamic network linking multiple end points - will be a strategic technology in 2016. That's important considering the analyst firm forecasts 4.9 billion connected devices will be in use this year, up 30% from 2014. That number will reach 25.0 billion by 2020.
Kinetic mesh networks - a type of wireless network battle-tested in military, mining and disaster-recovery operations - now help various other industry sectors, like oil and gas, address growing safety, regulatory and economic hurdles. A kinetic mesh network enables the nodes, or wireless computers, on that network to manage interference and reduce network-capacity constraints - important considerations for organisations seeking timely and informed decision-making.
Kinetic mesh wireless networks also help the oil and gas industry improve communication between and among personnel and networked devices. The increased reliability of the network improves communications results, and directly impacts productivity and resourcefulness.
Unlike other networking technologies, kinetic mesh networks mitigate communication downtime because the nodes in the networks use multiple radios to perform multiple functions concurrently. Each node is independent, with full routing capabilities. If one node is incapacitated, then communication between other nodes is still able to continue. The more nodes added to the network, the stronger the network becomes.
Despite the headlines, the sector is steadily inching towards adopting reliable technologies that will allow companies to improve jobsite efficiency and reduce costs, ultimately making the industry more profitable across the board.