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Sharing satellite solutions

Oilfield Technology,

Chuck Moseley, Inmarsat, USA, explains why oil and gas companies are turning to satellite-based internet of things (IoT) solutions to enable digital oilfield capabilities.

Oil and gas companies need to monitor conditions and exchange data from the field to headquarters and other field offices throughout all of the various phases of the project lifecycle. Regardless of whether an oilfield is in the middle of a desert or the middle of an ocean, or whether a project is in exploration stage, mature, or near end of life, oil and gas companies need reliable access to real time data to understand conditions, monitor productivity, safety and security. Real time data sharing back and forth between the field and headquarters enables real time decision-making.

A digital oilfield is enabled by collaboration between various processes in the oil and gas sector. This, in turn, enables better monitoring, surveillance and control over the entire workflow and processes in oil exploration and production. The concept of the digital oilfield has been around for a few decades, with supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), telemetry and basic machine-to-machine (M2M) networks designed to automate some of the processes that the oil and gas industry need to keep production moving. These technologies now are linked together and collectively called the ‘Industrial IoT’. IoT solutions can be found throughout the oil and gas value chain, including in applications such as pipeline monitoring, drill and well head monitoring, and fiscal metering.Over the last several years, however, as oil prices have plummeted, the true need for digital oilfield capabilities has come to light – and the industry has responded. According to a recent report from MarketsandMarkets, the global digital oilfield market will be worth US$30.78 billion by 2020, growing at a CAGR of 4.31% from 2015 to 2020. According to the report, the Middle East market is expected to have the highest growth from 2015 to 2020, at a CAGR of 5.37%. The drivers for this growth are increased focus on optimising the rate of recovery. Meanwhile, Europe is expected to have the largest market share. According to the report, these regions are boosting their production levels and are key markets for the digital oilfield service providers.

A worker using an Inmarsat BGAN terminal. This terminal enables voice and broadband data communications from small and lightweight satellite terminals.

While much attention is given to the equipment, sensors and applications that monitor the networks and platforms that analyse the data collected, connectivity is a significant piece of the IoT puzzle as well. Oil and gas, more than any other industry, is characterised by remote and inaccessible facilities, hostile terrain, and often disruptive weather conditions. Yet companies with assets in these locations need access to real time data consistently and reliably. As resource efficiency becomes increasingly critical, IoT solutions are helping oil and gas players control their assets through automation. Oil and gas companies are evaluating and implementing different connectivity options such as cellular, low-power wide-area (LPWA) and satellite.

Of these myriad choices, satellite is the only high-availability and high-reliability connectivity option that can connect exploration, production and distribution sites anywhere the world, even in remote locations and in rugged terrain. Satellite has become an increasingly important part of oil and gas companies’ connectivity plans because it works – wherever they need it. It is no longer being used as just a back-up to cellular or other connectivity choice, but also as a primary connectivity option for many oil and gas companies as they build out digital oilfield capabilities.

Assessing the need

A recent report from Berg Insight predicts that monitoring of pipelines and tanks will be the top M2M applications in the oil and gas industry over the next several years, with the main drivers for adoption being safety and environmental concerns, regulatory compliance and demand for improved operational efficiency. As oil prices have dropped around the world, now more than ever oil and gas companies are focused on cost savings and efficiency, automating processes as much as possible to reduce labour costs. Technologies and solutions that can demonstrate a high return on investment (ROI) are being prioritised, “especially when combined with Solution-as-a-Service business models which minimise the initial investment,” the Berg report says.

Industrial IoT solutions are being deployed across a wide variety of processes in the oil and gas sector. Real time data from devices such as sensors and smart drills is now being used by rigs, along with new oil recovery methods, to increase the efficiency of oil production. Using this data, which includes 3D imaging, oil and gas companies can analyse oil reservoirs and fluid movement anywhere in the world – either near or on-site, or from thousands of miles away. This long-distance remote site asset monitoring, which includes monitoring of field equipment, gas wells, drills, and of pipelines transporting crude oil and natural gas, is also seeing high adoption. Remote monitoring also helps create safer working and better environmental conditions by helping to detect issues such as gas leaks or deteriorating conditions, allowing companies to alert employees quickly and shut down operations remotely, as needed.

This article will now take a look at several ways oil and gas companies are making the industrial IoT to work for them:


Geophysicists and geologists appraising prospective sites and looking for reserves in remote, hard-to-reach locations can spend weeks or even months prospecting in areas. Drilling teams that are sinking wells to confirm the presence of oil or gas deposits, and sites with the greatest commercial potential, are using the IoT to extract large volumes of data 24/7 from areas where even basic communications do not exist. Historically that data has been delivered to the lab by road or air.

In these areas, oil and gas companies rely on connectivity to help improve decision making by on-site teams, reduce exploration time frames and costs, limit time spent renting expensive equipment and provide a personal lifeline for workers who are in the field for extended time.

Remote diagnostics

Nothing ever goes as planned, so oil and gas companies are using the IoT capabilities to be their eyes and ears in the field, consistently monitoring and analysing key data points, regardless of whether there is a human team present in the area. With IoT technologies in place, control room technicians have access to real time SCADA data on the entire production and distribution network, providing complete visibility into conditions and issues. Many oil and gas sites can be hundreds of miles from the nearest crew, so by using real time data from the digital oilfield, headquarters or remote offices can detect faults and respond quickly by resolving the issue remotely or deploying maintenance teams. At remote sites, engineers can send pipeline and oil well data for immediate diagnostics, and stay in constant contact with the control room and industry experts. They can send or receive video or images of damage, as well as speak with technicians in the control room for quick decision-making, helping to minimise production downtime.

Infrastructure monitoring

Oil and gas companies are deploying IoT technologies along their distribution network to continuously monitor remote pipelines and oil wellheads for pressure, flow rates and other metrics in real time. Industrial IoT solutions allow the monitoring of every aspect of drilling, casing the well and completion. This data is automatically backhauled to headquarters or a remote office to give oil and gas companies full visibility and remote control of operations, helping to increase productivity and reduce downtime.

Asset management

Oil is a valuable commodity, and with industrial IoT solutions in place, oil and gas companies can keep track of their fleet of road tankers regardless of location. Logistics managers can monitor the fleet and be in contact continuously with drivers, warehouses and customers awaiting delivery. This helps companies enhance their business efficiency and provides a greater level of security for the precious cargo as well as drivers.

In addition, oil and gas companies can monitor drivers’ behaviour, such as speed, breaking patterns, and more; vehicle conditions, such as tire pressure and fuel consumption; and condition of cargo, such as temperature and vapour levels. These data points help ensure drivers are complying with traffic laws, preventing them from being stopped and fined or having their vehicles impounded. If a tanker is stolen, it can easily be tracked in real time, significantly increasing the chances of its recovery.

The growing role for satellite

From looking at how the industrial IoT technologies are used above to create a digital oilfield, it is not hard to see how satellite makes a strong technology – and business – case as a key connectivity option. According to the Berg Insight report, shipments of oil and gas M2M devices featuring cellular or satellite communication capabilities reached 120 000 units worldwide in 2014. Growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 21%, shipments are expected to reach 300 000 million units in 2019. CAGR for cellular- and satellite-based devices will be 21.1% and 20.6%, respectively, during the same period.While cellular definitely has a foothold, there are certain areas where satellite connectivity stands out:

It is not impacted by extreme weather

Satellite networks are not impacted by weather to the same extent cellular networks are. A storm at sea or a dust storm on the ground – or any other weather phenomenon – can wreak havoc on connectivity. Satellite services are impervious to most terrestrial weather conditions and can deliver highly reliable coverage 24/7/365. For example, oil and gas companies could continue drilling operations during extreme weather and still be assured their data is making its way back to headquarters in real time.

Cellular networks can also be impacted in natural disasters because of their reliance on terrestrial infrastructure. Even some satellite solutions that operate in low earth (LEO) orbit are subject to disruptions from weather. However, satellite connectivity from a constellation in geosynchronous (GEO) orbit offers the best solution for the oil and gas industry, free from weather disruptions and terrestrial constraints.

It is literally available everywhere

Oil and gas operations are generally located in some of the most remote areas of the world, far out of the reach of terrestrial-based cellular networks. When assets need highly reliable, highly available connectivity, regardless of where they are in the world, satellite is the only connectivity option that can guarantee coverage.

It works with cellular as a multi-mode solution

Oil and gas companies do not need to rely solely on satellite to connect their IoT solutions. Devices that have both cellular and satellite connectivity capabilities are enabling oil and gas companies to achieve always-on communications between the digital oilfield and headquarters. The transition between cellular and satellite is automatic via least-cost routing; if the cellular signal is weak or drops, the device transfers automatically to its satellite connection, and back to cellular when signal strength resumes. These types of capabilities are important for crews on the move – they can focus on their jobs instead of worrying about which communications method to use at any given time.


As the oil and gas industry continues to feel the pinch of low oil prices, Industrial IoT technologies will continue to gain steam as companies look to create digital oilfields to boost productivity, while automating processes to squeeze as much cost out of the end-to-end process as possible. Safety of workers and concern for the environment in terms of avoiding a disaster are also strong drivers for IoT adoption in the industry. Satellite communications is playing a pivotal role, providing a robust, high-availability connectivity option across an oil and gas company’s business, regardless of where in the world it is.

Edited from an article written by Chuck Moseley, Inmarsat, USA

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