Several oil and gas fields globally span across numerous square miles, located in areas with poor infrastructure, harsh and inhospitable outdoor conditions, and unstable geopolitical conditions. In these remote locations, E&P operations are often both difficult, demanding, and dangerous.
However, recent technological advancements promise to solve the most pressing challenges E&P companies face when operating remote oil and gas installations and plants.
The Challenges of Remote E&P Operations
E&P companies may face a range of various threats associated with operating in remote areas. In our experience, however, most challenges can be reduced to two main challenges.
First, the lack of appropriate and suitable infrastructure for efficient data exchange is one of the most significant challenges for E&P companies operating in remote locations today.
A considerable number of global oil fields are located in areas with little or no available infrastructure for efficient data connections. Whether they are in the icy cold north or the south’s desolate deserts, these remote oil and gas fields typically lack cellular coverage and instead rely on satellite communications (VSAT), which generally offers low bandwidth and high latency, significantly restricting the efficiency of upstream operations.
Ideally, E&P companies operating in remote locations should ensure that they have access to efficient data communications based on resilient, reliable, and high-capacity wireless networks. However, as E&P companies often have to rely on existing sub-optimal infrastructure, the need to leverage other alternative technological solutions becomes increasingly pressing.
Low bandwidth and high latency are not the only factors interrupting oil and gas output in remote areas. Geopolitical and armed conflicts also constitute a significant threat to oil and gas companies, local operators, and global oil supplies.
Following the First Libyan Civil War in 2011, for example, the Austrian integrated oil and gas company OMV’s oil output was significantly interrupted, trapping almost a tenth of the company’s daily total oil production. As armed conflict and violent attacks continued to rage across the country, OMV operators located in Vienna, Austria, were increasingly reluctant to travel back to Libya to re-establish and continue operations.
And the threat is increasingly becoming more prominent. Between 2011 and 2016 there were close to 1500 terrorism incidents against oil and gas facilities worldwide, a 387 percent increase from twenty years ago. And as we enter the 2020s, there are few signs to indicate that trend is turning. Geopolitical conflicts continue to threaten oil and gas production worldwide, promises to destabilize regional oil and gas export, and increases the need to leverage technology that enables remote operations.
OMV and The Libyan Connection
To solve the challenges of operating in areas permeated by armed conflict, OMV took advantage of new technology to enable remote operations. With the help of Cegal, OMV now leverages a centralized petrotechnical collaboration platform – GeoCloud – for all their upstream business processes, which collects and integrates all relevant data in three “hubs”, which serve different geographical regions.
Cegal delivered the necessary infrastructure for the platform and helped connect the Libyan offices to the Viennese headquarter data center for improved cross-border collaboration. Instead of relying on on-site servers, storage and back-up, OMV can now easily access all production data remotely and interact safely and efficiently across national borders. All data is safely stored, backed-up and accessible, enabling the Vienna HQ to take over any operation that needs to be discontinued locally.
The platform enables operators to access relevant data from the safety of their own homes. Furthermore, in dangerous situations where local operators are required to abandon their office, OMV can close the network and delete locally stored data remotely while continuing the operation from a remote location.
How to Ensure Safe and Resilient Remote E&P Operations
E&P companies should follow OMV’s example and implement the necessary processes, routines, and infrastructure to ensure safe and reliant operation of remote installations and plants.
To get started, E&P companies should consider the following initiatives:
- Optimize server set-up and back-up routines: Typically, too much data is stored on-site at oil and gas installations and plants. As a high volume of data requires more bandwidth to back-up and transfer, E&P companies should first consider reducing the number of servers installed on-site and optimize the server structure. This will make the workflow more efficient and help to properly manage bandwidth limitations. Furthermore, define what is considered critical data and ensure that these are backed-up on a centralized server, not only on-site. Lastly, you should consider implementing a cloud solution, such as Cegal’s AgileRig, to enable secure delivery of applications and data from any location to any device.
- Ensure optimal data security and admission control: Ensure that you have proper data security and admission control processes for critical IT systems and ICT infrastructure, such as SCADA, in place. Aim for total visibility and access-control by implementing systems that help you record and monitor who accesses your systems at any given time. Also, make sure that access to critical ICT infrastructure is restricted with separate log-in mechanisms. Cloud solutions, like Cegal’s Connect@Plant are particularly suitable, as they ensure secure access to IT systems and ICT infrastructure at offshore and onshore installations and plants.
- Ensure remote access to data: Implement solutions that enable cross-border collaboration and global access to data and applications. These solutions should allow you to access data from any installation and plant remotely and allow for collaborative work on the same dataset regardless of business unit or geographical location. OMV currently use Cegal’s GeoCloud solution for their remote operations, a vendor-agnostic, high-performance platform tailored to meet petrotechnical workload requirements.
Combined, these initiatives may help improve both efficiency of remote E&P operations, reduce costs, and increase on-site personnel and operator safety. By investing in complementary cloud and software solutions, E&P companies will have a full-stack solution for infrastructure and security for any location that are operated remotely.
Improving Remote E&P Operations Through Digitalization
Current technology may reduce – and in some cases even eliminate – the need for E&P operators to be physically present in remote and hazardous areas without compromising operations. For E&P companies, this quickly translates into significant cost reduction opportunities, as travel and infrastructure expenditures are decreased, and – most importantly – vastly increased safety for on-site personnel.
While these benefits are remarkable in and by themselves, leveraging technology for remote operations will also prove to be beneficial for the overall digital transformation for E&P companies. A significant bi-product of using remote operations technology is that the implementation of necessary infrastructure will automatically kick-start a digitalization process. OMV, for example, not only make sure that data are safely stored and accessible from any location but now also has access to a foundational platform for all organizational digitalization processes. Other E&P companies recognizing the benefits of improved remote operations should follow suit.