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Bringing the internet of things to the oil and gas industry

Published by
Oilfield Technology,

Chuck Moseley, Director, Internet of Everywhere, Inmarsat, defines the top challenges facing the oil and gas industry today, and discusses how reliable satellite connectivity can enable industry leaders to turn their challenges into successes.

The decline in the Oil Gas market is news to no one. With oil prices falling to under US$40/bbl and natural gas prices declining in a similar manner, the only thing that does not seem to be plummeting is demand. The market’s appetite for oil and gas products is ever increasing, and with margins squeezed, the industry must do what it has always done: keep pace with demand through the efficient use of resources. In other words, do more, with less.

Again, this is nothing new. The industry has long been aware that commercial success comes from efficiency, and oil and gas businesses around the world have led the Machine-to-Machine (M2M) revolution, enjoying the time, money and resource gains from relying on connected technology to remotely monitor, manage and control their fixed and mobile assets.

Having conquered the challenge of embedding the concept of connectivity within their business model, there is a key question facing the companies as the industry moves firmly into the digital age: How do they choose the right connectivity model to get the most out of their connected assets?

The criteria that most oil and gas companies use to evaluate the success and value of their chosen connectivity method arise out of the struggles that the industry faces when trying to optimise its processes, especially when assets are geographically dispersed and often located in remote, harsh environments:

Reliability and availability

The oil and gas industry is global, with companies often having assets deployed in many countries. The industry needs to ensure that any implemented solution can operate successfully without constant oversight or maintenance. Hardware needs to be robust enough to withstand the impact of weather and other environmental factors, and data connectivity needs to be absolute – stable and always available.

Cellular and terrestrial networks suffer when compared to satellite networks in this instance, relying as they do on ground-based infrastructure, which is vulnerable to disruption through environmental disasters and other disruptions. Cellular coverage depends directly on ‘cells’ or areas where towers provide connectivity. Network operators are focused more on providing service to densely populated areas, and remote areas are left as lower priority.

Terrestrial networks again suffer from their dependence on infrastructure, in this case through fixed copper wires or fibre optic cables. These services are primarily found in urban areas and are not often available throughout the breadth of territory pipeline operators need to cover. Radio networks were a popular choice for older automation implementations, however, they have become increasingly susceptible to interference issues and the construction, maintenance and liability issues posed by erecting the necessary towers have caused operators to look elsewhere for remote automation connectivity. 

Ease of use

Traditionally, satellite connectivity has been seen as difficult to install and operate, requiring trained technicians and dedicated technical resource. The industry must do more with less without sacrificing efficiency and certainly safety, so some have shied away from considering satellite connectivity for their remote automation needs. Whilst there are satellite services that do require this level of technical expertise, L-band services are designed specifically for this purpose – to be easily installed in remote areas where conditions are harsh, power is sometime scarce and low maintenance is an absolute. 


When much of your operation is dependent on real-time connectivity between your assets, and then back to HQ, keeping data secure increasingly becomes a priority

Satellite connectivity is less vulnerable to disruption than other connectivity methods thanks to its ubiquitous network presence and employment of end-to-end 3GPP encryption. This security of connection means pipeline operators in remote or hostile environments can rely on the data they receive through their remote monitoring and automated control services, and have the peace of mind that they will be alerted in a timely fashion to any pipeline breaches or other activities which could affect their operation.

With margins tighter than ever, oil and gas companies need Internet of Things solutions more than ever to drive additional cost from their operations. Satellite can deliver a global, unified and secure connectivity solution to support the industry.

Adapted by David Bizley

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