Tracking the Latest Automation Trends in Oil & Gas Industry
Kiran Vyas, Business Leader - Process Automation Schneider Electric India

While today's O& G operations are being more complex day by day due to the weak energy demand, stricter environmental and safety regulations - paucity of global resources, rising challenges of raw materials & energy cost, and deficit of skilled manpower further impact the profitability and overall performances of the industry. But the recent lows in oil prices give opportunity for the industry to embrace towards full automation that can reduce overall expenses and improving margins. The article details on multi -stream automation solutions that can enhance operations to the entire value chain of oil & gas upstream, midstream and downstream.

Depressed energy demand as well as complex environmental and safety regulations are presently making energy-efficient Oil & Gas (O & G) operations even more critical to the world’s energy mix. Moreover, global resource shortages, mounting challenges in raw material prices, rising energy costs and a decrease in skilled employees are further impacting the profitability and overall performances.

But with oil prices plunging to less than one-third the all-time high, there can be no better time to test the importance of automation in reducing overall expenses and improving margins. The difference automation can make is best illustrated by an ARC Advisory Group report’s example of how an offshore company saved USD 7.5 million in unplanned downtime by the timely replacement of a suspect seal on a water injection pump before it failed.1

Challenges and Benefits
Although this example seems easy to follow, the issue isn't as simplistic. There are many challenges in successfully using automation and the data generated from smart systems. To begin with, many systems may be from different vendors, making assimilation and decoding of data difficult since system compatibility is a big barrier. Additionally, some of the equipment may be outdated, further impacting efficiency.

Using the latest automated technology from one-stop vendors offers better benefits and avoids software integration issues that arise with multi-vendor systems. The advantage of this approach - it allows O & G companies to swiftly utilise information that can anticipate and pre-empt problems, curb costs and coordinate resources in one efficient process. Such integrated solutions raise efficiency and minimise electrical network disruption. For instance, subsea power distribution and control systems can be cost -effective, highly reliable modular solutions designed to power up to 60 MVA in deep water down to 3,048 metres and long tie-backs of more than 100 km. An Integrated Automation System shall provide Seamless Control, History and Overview of complete asset with availability, safety and integrity of operational data. Maintenance and operational costs reduce by this approach while you can concentrate on managing business not asset only. It also provides platform where business and operational applications can be easily adapted as per business needs. Hence makes more in control of investment.

Today, every O & G installation has common needs that include optimising capital expenses, minimising downtime and reducing maintenance costs. In an energy-intensive industry, energy management only grows more important with each passing year. One-stop O & G services along with extensive portfolio of Process Safety Validation, Cyber Security, Asset Management (Remote and Local) Operational Efficiencies studies and Modernisation of process automation Services and Full electrical Services including energy management expertise can achieve all efficiency goals, while reducing CO2 emissions, ensuring regulatory compliances, Safety Validations, Cyber security, and increasing the operational and maintainance team's performances and business profits.

We can utilise Process Simulator Software for enhancing performance of aged asset by simulating different conditions for process improvements or plant modifications before implementing the same in the actual asset. This protects the investment and provides tool to check before actual investment done while avoids process disturbances and safety hazards. This Process Simulator with automation system simulator also can be used as operator training simulator enhances the operator efficiencies by training them for best and safe practices while capturing experienced operator's skills.

Similarly, complete integrated pipeline management solutions boost safety, enhance reliability and increase operational and business performance and profitability. Integrated Automated response centre also reduces response time while providing recorded evidences of overall response for future analysisimprovements and regulatory compliances. In the O & G industry, while safe and reliable operations are paramount, the additional challenge is to have the highest power availability under varying process conditions, which can impact local power generation. The challenge can be more complex when connected to a weak grid.

Exclusive high-performance solutions from an experienced service provider could reduce both power outages and downtime. With embedded analytics and asset manager support, such tools ensure maximum operational efficiency and productivity. Due to online simulations, there is streamlined decision -making. The enhanced energy quality then ensures longer equipment life, while maximised power improves profitability.

For cost-effective, secured power across large sites in any environment, a compact, modular electrical house is the fastest way to promote uptime and safety. For offshore and onshore installations, electrical houses are imperative because an unplanned shutdown due to power loss or equipment failure could bring production to a dead stop and also compromise personnel safety, while causing significant losses. Customisable, prefabricated, and pretested, these complete and modular solutions save up to 20 per cent space and up to 15 percent in delivery time.

Multi-stream Solutions
Besides, the integrated security systems with customised solutions for O & G infrastructures enhance operations upstream, midstream and downstream. O & G operations now face numerous security challenges vis-à-vis public, employee and environment safety, fire and gas protection and process risk containment . Additionally, operational safety and security needs are escalating with higher cyber and physical threats. While vulnerability varies by geography and segment, critical infrastructure needs attention 24x7x365 days a year. In such cases, best-in-class technology backed by powerful analytics can continually optimise security and efficiency.

There is the question of fuel supply chain automation solutions too, given today's volatile, highly-competitive petroleum fuels market, whereby businesses deal with increasingly complex processes needing faster, more frequent pricing, distribution, trading and credit decisions. This is where industry-best data management and automation solutions help successfully meet such challenges through highly reliable, real-time information. These include more efficient and integrated terminal operations via centralised control; smarter buying and selling decisions through price optimisation; real-time, automated credit, price and back-office functions; faster billing by improved reporting; and maximised return on investment from proven, integrated solutions, among other benefits.

In a nutshell, automated smart O & G field solutions can benefit the industry in all three segments - upstream, midstream and downstream. In upstream operations, optimised power management for oilfields has immense benefits. In midstream, there are reliable and efficient pipeline management solutions. In downstream, energy management and control solutions can help reduce power outages and downtime. The innovative, integrated and automated approach to monitoring, security and other O & G operations ensures continuity of service; improves process and performance; optimises power quality and operational costs as well as increases equipment life.

Smart Integrated O & G Field Solutions also Help:
  • Maximise field oper ations and minimise defer red production
  • Reduce risks to public and en vironmental safety
  • Optimise production energy efficiency (steam, CO2, gas, and electricity) andwater management
  • Reliably measure and manage data, contract allocations, and enterprise data integration (product accounting and reservoir optimisation)
  • Ensure regulatory and fisc al compliance
  • Reduce total cost of o wnership with highly integrated solutions .
Though recent lows in oil prices are posing one of the biggest challenges for the industry's wellbeing, it has also thrown up unexpected opportunities for the industry to innovate and promote automation in all segments, thereby increasing efficiencies and fostering better margins even in tough times. If the industry can embrace automation in all its operations, improved profitability may once again be around the corner of the barrel.

1. How Big Data Can Benefit Upstream Oil and Gas, Automation, 15 May 2015