Going wireless

Wireless technology will have a major impact on the oil and gas industry, eventually.

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By  Stuart Matthews Published  July 4, 2007

Wireless technology has had widespread acceptance for many years in major industries, but its use by the oil and gas sector has been limited.

Applications have of course been used in office environments and at refineries. But the technology lends itself well to several functions within oil and gas production, such as well head automation; protection monitoring and control; energy management; remote surveillance; and micro-seismic sensing.

Now energy companies are waking up to the fact that wireless communication has the potential to create higher production and can also help reduce costs. For example, in offshore production, the use of mobile video and new sensors reduces the need for personnel who can carry out their duties onshore, meaning less transport to and from the site reducing costs and risk. Also, enhanced monitoring systems mean problems can be quickly identified and addressed more speedily.

These applications are slowly being adapted but it's still likely to be some time before they become an 'industry standard'.

"It's 12 to 18 months away," said Hesh Kagan, director, Technology Services, Applications, and Solutions for Invensys Process Systems. "They are happing now in many areas. Condition monitoring, for example, is gated by the release of compellingly priced wireless sensors but they are not far away."

Wireless' use offshore has been hindered in the past because of unreliable technology and conflicting standards and protocols. But these inconsistencies are now being ironed out - such as harmonisation work being carried out by the Fieldbus Foundation. There have also been safety concerns about the use of wireless equipment offshore due to the fact that sparks from electronic equipment can cause damage. The main threat offshore arises from interference from overlapping wireless networks: environmental or accidental radio frequency (RF) noise; broken RF equipment; dynamic changes in the characterisation of the RF site; and the fact that the range on non-compatible RF devices can interfere with performance.

Wireless solution providers are aware of the increased interest from oil and gas companies and are launching products specifically designed for the sector. In May, Cisco unveiled Cisco First Mile Wireless, which supports the augmentation of corporate networked data used by wellhead workers at remote fields and offshore. It claims the product will help "increase drilling uptime performance, improve in-field decision making processes and reduce operation costs by transforming isolated drilling sites to connected arms of the headquarter corporate network." Cisco admits there are challenges to oilfield wireless deployment due to "harsh physical environments, limited infrastructure, scarce IT resources and an abundance of exposed, densely packed metal structures, which compounds wireless RF interference."

A feature on wireless technology in the energy industry will appear in the August edition of Oil & Gas Middle East.

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