Technologies like Emerson’s Rosemount 928 Wireless Gas Monitor can reliably gather data in remote locations with sub-zero temperatures and harsh environments like the Arctic.


Technologies like Emerson’s Rosemount 928 Wireless Gas Monitor can reliably gather data in remote locations with sub-zero temperatures and harsh environments like the Arctic.


New Methods of Tackling Old Problems
Removing profitability barriers with automation technology
By Isaac Stone Simonelli

ollowing the crash of oil prices in 2014, companies industry-wide started looking for ways to increase their performance through digital transformation—if they weren’t doing so already. Many companies have found the answer in automation technology.

“New small- to mid-cap operators are more proactive in their usage of new technology and their desire to try new ways of tackling the [Arctic] region’s challenges,” explains Chris Amstutz, vice president of oil and gas industry programs for Emerson Automation Solutions. “The more entrenched players are also adopting new technologies, but they’re forced to deal with aging facilities and infrastructure and the cost structures associated with older assets.”

These barriers to the profitability of adopting newer technology are further increased for those operating in the Arctic due to harsh conditions and the remoteness of the fields.

IoT in Oil & Gas
“According to US Geological Survey estimates, the Arctic may hold 90 billion barrels of undiscovered oil reserves,” Amstutz says. “As production in the easier-to-access areas declines, companies are exploring new, more challenging sites for E&P [exploration and production] activity. To reduce operating risks, many of them are turning to the industrial Internet of Things [IoT] and digitization to deal with the demands of operating in difficult environments like the Arctic.”

IoT is the connection of “things” with an on/off switch to the internet and each other. This includes everything from wearable tech and smart devices to coffee pots, refrigerators, or door bells, as well as devices and technology being used in oilfields. Analyst firm Gartner predicts that there will be more than 26 billion IoT devices by 2020.

In the oil and gas industry, IoT platforms are designed to connect remotely, eliminating the need for workers to be onsite for standard monitoring purposes. This technology marks an evolution in the automation sector, as it moves from a dialed-in focus on supplying hardware and aftermarket services to providing software tools to wrangle with vast amounts of data to help make important decisions about what’s happening in processing plants and on rigs.

“Cloud-based remote asset monitoring gets resources where it’s safer and easier to work,” Amstutz says. “For example, monitoring of inner and outer annulus pressure on wells with wireless pressure gauges is being used to eliminate manual readings and keep personnel out of harsh environments and out of danger from potential energy release.”

Other examples of such technology at work are remote testing facilities installed on trailers for onsite testing of systems and machinery, as well as remote surveillance of well and field performance, which proponents of the technology say leads to greater certainty of the producing assets and the ability to quickly detect and mitigate issues.

When such cloud-based analytics are coupled with mobile predictive maintenance tools, it’s possible to identify and remedy issues with drill rigs, control valves, artificial lift pumps, pipelines, compressors, and other key assets, eliminating unnecessary trips to the field and deploying resources to work on only necessary maintenance items, Amstutz explains.

Improving Workflow
There is opportunity to use automation technology in the oil and gas industry to create efficiencies throughout the full oil and gas lifecycle. At Emerson, this includes developing technology for subsurface, workflow, and topside work.

“On the subsurface side, Emerson has been a pioneer in using fit-for-purpose artificial intelligence engines to identify subsurface features from terabytes of seismic data, classify facies using seismic waveforms, predict geologic facies from well log and core data, fill in missing well data, predict key performance indicators from a diversity of subsurface data, and incorporate measured subsurface uncertainties into production forecasting and optimization workflows,” Amstutz says. “These new AI engines can accelerate the time to higher quality results critical to exploration and drilling activities in the Arctic.”

At the workflow level, Emerson has rolled out its trademarked Big Loop automated workflow system. The system starts at depth conversion to flow simulations, providing up-to-date information about a reservoir.

“Emerson’s Big Loop architecture bridges exploration and production objectives by synchronizing the static and dynamic reservoir models. This workflow incorporates subsurface uncertainties from many different sources, propagating many possible subsurface models [scenarios] constrained by the production history,” Amstutz says. “Other automated workflows include synchronizing geophysical velocity model updates with subsurface geologic model updates, ensuring their consistency. Both automated workflows can have huge implications for project work in the [Arctic] region.”

In terms of topside automation technology, operators are using IoT data management, analytics, and mobility platforms for enhancing safety, improving efficiency, reducing environmental risk, and leveraging the potential opportunities in the Arctic region, Amstutz explains.

“The key pillars of this approach are the IoT, pervasive sensing, secure cloud computing, data analytics, AI, and machine learning,” Amstutz says. “Emerson’s Plantweb digital ecosystem integrates a broad portfolio of these technologies to provide insight into asset health and processes to facilitate better decision-making across the entire enterprise.”

New Tech, New Security
According to global research and consulting group Frost & Sullivan, the primary challenge to IoT development is data security—any tampering with data is potentially harmful to a company’s short-term and long-term strategy or operations.

However, companies are developing security measures and protocols to protect client assets.

According to a press release from Rockwell Automation, which provides technology solutions for the oil and gas industry (among others), communications between industrial control devices, in general, have minimal protection. Such shortcomings leave them vulnerable to threats such as malicious tampering and incidental system changes that can stop production or injure workers.

To combat this, Rockwell Automation recently developed built-in security based on globally accepted security standards to protect control-level communications and overall system integrity.

“As the world’s leading company focused on combining industrial automation with digital technology, we’re uniquely positioned to help close security gaps in connected operations,” says Megan Samford, director of product security at Rockwell Automation. “Our new offerings with built-in security deliver the industry’s best available protection of control-level traffic. This can give users confidence that the integrity of their systems and their device-to-device communications are protected from day one.”

Earlier this year, the company won the “Overall IoT Company of the Year” award at the global 2019 IoT Breakthrough Awards, an event that recognizes the top companies, technologies, and products in the global IoT arena.

Rockwell Automation says it set the standard for remote operation and sustainability with its integrated automation and control solution at the Pohokura natural gas fields in New Zealand. The production station is operated by Shell Exploration NZ, which uses the services of Shell Todd Oil Services.

“There have been no problems with the PACs from Rockwell Automation in the five years of Pohokura operation—our objectives have been fully satisfied in terms of budget, timing, personnel safety, and environmental sustainability,” Paul Brown, operations readiness and assurance engineer for Shell and former Pohokura operations engineer, says in a case study of the project.

The case study explains that the site is undergoing an expansion to create another plant using the solution provided by the Rockwell Automation Integrated Architecture system.

“Rockwell Automation is firmly committed to helping our customers realize unprecedented levels of productivity and sustainability by combining the best of industrial automation with the latest in digital technology, bringing the connected enterprise to life,” says Blake Moret, chairman and CEO of Rockwell Automation. “We are proud to be recognized by IoT Breakthrough for our ongoing work to bring people, processes, and technologies together and deliver smarter, more connected industrial IoT solutions to the world around us.”

‘Industry 4.0’
In early May Emerson received a Hart Energy Meritorious Award for Engineering Innovation for its rock type classification with machine learning technology that combines the latest innovations in geoscience, algorithms, and statistical models to help oil and gas operators better understand reservoir behavior. Automated machine learning produces results in minutes or hours, rather than months or years, and is well suited for cloud implementation.

Emerson was also honored at the IoT Breakthrough Awards, taking the title “Industrial IoT Company of the Year” for the second consecutive year.

“As industrial IoT technologies continue to evolve, customers are relying on us more and more to help them evaluate and implement digital technologies to show business performance and value,” Lal Karsanbhai, executive president of Emerson’s Automation Solutions business, said in a news release following the awards.

“It is abundantly clear that digitization is radically changing the face of entire markets, and the level of IoT innovation continues to deliver impressive results in particular for manufacturing, enterprise, and industrial customers worldwide.”
—James Johnson, Managing Director, IoT Breakthrough
According to the release, a recent Emerson study of industry leaders responsible for digital transformation initiatives showed that merely 20 percent of respondents had both a vision for digital transformation and a clear, actionable roadmap to implement. Absence of this practical roadmap was cited as the number one barrier for digital transformation projects.

“It is abundantly clear that digitization is radically changing the face of entire markets, and the level of IoT innovation continues to deliver impressive results in particular for manufacturing, enterprise, and industrial customers worldwide,” says James Johnson, managing director at IoT Breakthrough. “In this new world of Industry 4.0, it becomes increasingly difficult for industrial IoT suppliers to stand out in the crowded market, and Emerson has successfully demonstrated a level of innovation and success in the industrial IoT market for a second consecutive year to bring home our Industrial IoT Company of the Year designation.”

Like Rockwell and Emerson, numerous other companies, including Honeywell Oil and Gas and ABB Oil, have also developed IoT platforms targeting different market niches.

This year, ABB launched ABB Ability Wellhead Manager, a cloud-based system designed to scale easily and provide insights about production assets throughout the world. The new system is ideal for a company looking to acquire 100 to 1,000 wells and that wants to put a monitoring system in place, according to the company.

According to Amstutz, the future for automation technology within the oil and gas industry is bright. AI algorithms and workflow not only make it possible to see results more quickly but they also generate decision-enabling deliverables that are not achievable with conventional methods.

“These methods will continue to evolve and improve as the convergence of extreme usability, open-data, acceptance of AI methods, and increased availability of elasticized high-performance computing resources become more accessible,” Amstutz says. “Thanks to advances in digital oilfield technology, operators are able to connect remote assets to cloud-based platforms to rationalize data and securely generate actionable information, helping them optimize existing equipment and facilities while lowering project costs and removing employees from harm’s way. Solutions like digital twins for reservoirs and control systems allow accurate process control modeling, remote training, and the incorporation of other systems that drive a more safe, profitable process.”

Arctic Automation
The harsh, remote nature of the Arctic is not the biggest limitation to the integration of digital technology into oil and gas systems in the region: it’s making a business case that justifies a specific need, which can vary widely depending on the age of equipment and location of facilities. The industry also faces barriers with regard to workforce training.

“With the new digital technologies there will be new ways of working that require upskilling of the workforce,” Amstutz says. “Often it is not about the technology but about the people and the ability of the operators to have a robust and flexible change management process. Digital has the potential to disrupt business models and organization.”

Nonetheless, the potential to cut costs, which are especially high when they involve employees, monitoring, and surveying remote sites, continues to drive the market for automation technology.

“This includes faster projects with better capital returns, analytics giving them actionable information from top to bottom, remote monitoring utilizing remote expertise, and access to shared information across the operator’s enterprise,” Amstutz says. “Overall the greater information provided by IoT and digitalization provides greater operational certainty and will help operators reach Top Quartile performance over the lifetime of the asset.”

Going forward, it is expected that operators will be able to optimize operations with real-time information from a pervasive sensing layer, securely feed that data to robust analytics software, and arm experts with the insight to respond quickly and confidently to changing conditions, no matter where they are.

“This provides oil and gas operators the diagnostic capabilities and data insight to make better decisions, become more proactive, and reduce risks—even in challenging and high-stakes operating environments like the Arctic,” Amstutz says.