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Digital Oil Fields: How One Company Pumps Up Efficiency

There’s a digital disruption coming to the oil and gas industry. By connecting far-flung equipment to the Internet of Things (IoT), producers have new opportunities to improve efficiency, increase production, and lower costs.

The technological shift couldn’t come at a better time. Ongoing market volatilities—from prices to politics—are compelling operators to optimize their equipment, pipelines, and staffing. Yet, despite these pressures, only 25% of operators feel adequately prepared for the era of digitized energy. Instead, many companies continue to rely on outdated technology.

“Once the flow of the oil and gas is established, companies tend to revert back to what is effectively an old-fashioned way of ensuring production targets are met. They schedule operators to go on-site, inspect equipment and possibly make adjustments,” said Steve Fleischmann, Business Development Lead for Pixel Velocity.

The result? Operators may not be at the right site, with the right tools, at the right time. And avoidable equipment failures eat into producers’ margins. One recent study revealed that a mere 1% increase in unplanned downtime can cost $5.4 million each year.

Compounding the problem, the lack of visibility into field operations means technicians spend too much windshield time to maintain equipment, solve problems, and keep the pipes flowing.

The Digital Oil Field

Take, for example, an oil and gas company in Texas with an oil field of more than 700 well sites and 100 field operators. The company’s current procedures have their operators scheduled to conduct daily inspections of every well site. The actual inspection can usually be completed in 5 to 10 minutes while the drive time to each site ranges from minutes to hours. Clearly this inefficient approach is not sustainable or scalable.

By deploying a remote-asset monitoring solution from Pixel Velocity powered by Dell, the operations team is able to quickly identify and validate mechanical and operations process anomalies. This provides field operators valuable field-based insight prior to going on-site. With these improved operations, field operators can focus on condition-based, higher-value tasks.

The company is reducing site inspection costs ranging from $50 to $75 per day, per site. With these new optimized operating procedures in place, the company plans to expand to 3,000+ well sites in the future, with the goal of not having to increase their field operator workforce.

Visualizing Better Operational Efficiency

This is just one way that IoT solutions are making the digital oil field possible. Smart oil fields and well sites can integrate data from sensors and video systems to enable “virtual tours” where remote technicians can inspect operations without leaving their desks.

These virtual inspections not only greatly reduce the need for daily on-site visits, they reduce errors and increase personnel safety. Plus, highly skilled, remote operators have instant access to current and historical conditions.

By deploying these new technologies, companies can better manage production, optimize operator productivity, enhance worker safety, and improve overall security. This means greater operational performance at a large scale, delivering real bottom-line impact.

Consider Pixel’s Event Velocity platform. The end-to-end solution integrates data from visual and infrared cameras, microphones, industrial control systems, and other sensors into a single environment to enable visualization of remote operating assets and real-time, condition-based driven alerts.

The backbone of Event Velocity is a tool set that enables operators to digitize their operations. These tools make it easy for operators to not only stay off-site, but also capture sharable, high-quality data associated with what they observe.

In combination, virtual tours, event-driven monitoring, and smart workflows, along with integrated data resources and edge analytics, enable dynamic route optimization. All of this provides more efficient management of complex operations across the entire asset, as depicted in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Event Velocity comprises virtual tours, dynamic route optimization, and smart workflow tools.

Virtual Tours integrate multiple media streams, analytics, and operator actions to provide on-demand and event-driven visuals on field assets. They minimize windshield time and focus operators on higher-level tasks, reducing the cost of physical site visits by more than 80%.

“Virtual tours support the transition from routine to condition-based visits. Central operators get continuously accessible data instead of what’s acquired from routine site visits, without the safety risk, travel time, and opportunity cost,” said Fleischmann. “We believe this is a great way to transition operations to a much more efficient format, with better data and better business results.”

Dynamic Route Optimization begins with a route-planning tool that processes field asset conditions and locations, so field operators go first where they are needed most. It enables managers to chart routes, increase safety, optimize resources, and cut costs.

System operators can take actions based on contextual site data. For example, SCADA data might indicate anomalous equipment activity such as rising pressure or a decrease in temperature. This signals that someone needs to look more closely at the situation.

“Driven by a condition-based anomaly or event, the central operator can focus attention on a specific piece of equipment, field area, or well site. The Event Velocity system can be used to review video and integrated real-time data to ascertain that a bearing may be getting hot,” said Chris Lenzsch, Solutions Manager for Connected Digital Operations at Dell EMC. “They click on the audio and, sure enough, the bearings are making abnormal noise. Okay, now that they know what the issues are, the right personnel, armed with the right information and equipment, can go on-site to quickly address the problem.”

Smart Workflows interconnect field operations and enterprise systems data, facilitating predictive analytics and better business intelligence. They help on-site and off-site teams bring context to the field site, with a full range of operator experience and expertise on an asset. Connecting operations to business intelligence saves time and resources.

Digital Operations Software—Industrial-Grade Hardware

Pixel Velocity is a member of the Dell IoT Solutions Partner Program. Industrial-grade, rugged Dell Edge Gateways along with Dell EMC Data Center and Cloud Solutions—all based on Intel® processors—comprise the high-performance hardware platform that Event Velocity software relies on, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Event Velocity runs on Dell hardware powered by Intel®.

The platform provides capacity to perform local data capture and analytics, minimizing expensive bandwidth and reducing overall solution latency.

“We partnered with Dell and Intel® because together we’re an edge computational platform, which can process that data without burdening the backhaul networks,”said Fleischmann. “Most remote areas have network constraints. And if you don’t have an edge data capture solution, you're not going to get the continuity and the advantages.”

It’s going to take solutions like Event Velocity to support rapid expansion happening in shale-rich regions such as one of the world’s largest—the Permian Basin in West Texas. Output from the basin is expected to more than double between 2017 and 2023. This translates to approximately 41,000 new wells on land covering 75,000 square miles. Digital oil field solutions from companies like Pixel Velocity and Dell are an essential part of making this vision a reality.

About the Author

Georganne Benesch is an Associate Editorial Director for Before this she was an independent writer, authoring blogs, web content, solution guides, white papers and more. Prior to her freelance career Georganne held product management and marketing positions at companies such as Cisco, Proxim and Netopia. She earned a B.A. at University of California at Santa Cruz.

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