Home >> October 2008 Edition >> EVENT PROFILE - The Digital Oilfield
EVENT PROFILE - The Digital Oilfield
by Martin Jarrold
Chief of International Program Development

In April 2007, Schlumberger Information Solutions and BT launched the world’s first public wireless broadband service for offshore and remote oil and gas drilling rigs and production platforms. The Wi-Fi-based service allowed offshore workers to communicate with their homes and friends more easily via wireless-enabled laptop computers and PDAs for e-mail, instant messaging, and video/webcam. They use the same type of satellite links that comprise the backbone of the digital communications infrastructure of oil and gas rigs around the world. Initially, this service was deployed in the North Sea. Increasingly, such services are being rolled-out throughout the E&P (Exploration and Production) patch.

Such services are being introduced for the welfare of rig and production platform crews who often work in harsh, extreme, and remote locations, particularly offshore. This is only one of many examples of the use of broadband satellite communications in the search for, and production of, hydrocarbon energy resources. Indeed, the subject of digital oilfield applications and satellite communications commands a far larger canvass.

Even so, this greater canvass is but a subset of the wider panorama of the Broadband Maritime market, which has assumed a significantly heightened customer and end-user profile for the satellite communications sector. The Broadband Maritime user environment may be defined in terms of four principal market segments — there are others, but of lesser significance:

This segment includes tankers for crude oil, its refined derivatives, as well as LNG (liquefied natural gas); container vessels; bulk carriers; oil and gas field maintenance & supply vessels; and cable/fibre/pipeline laying vessels. High demand communications applications in this segment include: remote Internet & corporate intranet access; email and web mail, large file transfers; SMS (short message service) text and instant messaging; video conferencing; store & forward video; real-time navigation & weather updates; Global Maritime Distress Safety System (GMDSS); crew welfare communications; corporate secure communications; vessel and engine telemetry; cargo monitoring and telemetry; and, telemedicine.

This segment principally refers to point-to-point vehicle and passenger ferries and shares many of the above listed applications, plus that of cellular/mobile backhaul and trunking.

Ocean Resource
This segment includes inshore fishing trawlers and their offshore and deepwater equivalents and factory ships, as well as deepwater floating and semi-submersible oil and gas platforms and rigs — typically features applications such as telephony; email & Internet access; crew welfare communications; telemedicine; real-time navigation, position reporting and weather updates; GMDSS; sea/ocean floor depth mapping; market information (e.g. fish market price downloads and selling catch online); tracking applications (ˆ fish finding); updating electronic logs.

This segment covers ocean-going cruise liners, ocean-going private leisure craft, and inshore leisure craft — communications requirement includes key applications such as: maintenance of 24/7 business communications via telephony, email, fax, Internet, cellular backhaul and trunking, and video conferencing, as well as credit card verification and ATM support, plus real-time weather and navigation updates, GMDSS, and ship-to-shore advance repairs booking and supplies orders.

As these segments inevitably and progressively occupy the satellite broadband space, their collective migration to a broadband satellite requirement may be understood as falling under the following headings:

Key hardware technology developments in the design and deployment of state-of-the-art stabilized satellite antennas, which enable effective satellite tracking and maintenance of signal integrity as vessels pitch and roll, all the while maintaining constant reliability through robustness and rugged design against challenging weather conditions.

New service provisioning, delivering “always on” broadband applications with QoS guarantees that go beyond basic “pay-by-the-minute” service types, which facilitate greater predictability in mission critical delivery, as well as accuracy in the calculation of the cost of communications and, therefore, improved corporate overheads budgeting.

Access to applications and networks: meeting today’s imperative for constant, seamless and cost-effective connectivity to ensure optimised exploitation of physical maritime assets, maximised passenger satisfaction, maximised crew welfare, and optimised navigational safety.

In particular, mission critical operational success in the oil and gas exploration and production environment is heavily dependent on access to the most efficient information and communications technologies (ICTs), and to a vast array of sophisticated applications these technologies bring to the use of geologists, geophysicists, drilling engineers, seismic data analysts, and a wealth of other subject-matter experts. Be it, for example, production data management, remote surveillance, or modelling solutions, etc., all integrated into an inclusive web-based visualisation framework, these various constituent elements of the digital oilfield (and gas field) depend on the satellite, and satellite-hybrid, communications environment to provide the necessary connectivity, the required bandwidth, the imperative reliability, and essential cost-effectiveness.

Today, the growing global thirst for new supplies of hydrocarbon-based energy is driving oil (and gas) exploration investment into ever more extreme environments. Such is not occurring only offshore, but in increasingly deepwater locations. Nowhere is this more true than in South, East, and South East Asia. Indeed, India’s recent discovery of US$100 billion dollars-worth of subsea natural gas is indicative of the fact regional powers (China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and others) now account for an increasing percentage of overall deepwater capital expenditures. This proportion is forecast to reach almost 10 per cent of the global total over the next four years.

In this context, it is vital to pose key questions such as:
  • How can satellite, and satellite-hybrid, communications solutions help enable the digital oilfield?
  • How does the solutions vendor community compete to satisfy the efficiency and data risk-management needs of the buyers of digital oilfield ICT solutions in the E&P environment?
  • How do we define the applications and communications dynamics of a unique regional oil & gas marketplace, whilst considering precisely how the use of different communications platforms is helped, hindered, and determined by geographically determined supply factors?
  • What are the key regulatory and licensing issues in the region? What is the potential for spectrum allocation conflicts between terrestrial wireless and satellite solutions?
Since 2006, GVF (in partnership with UK-EMP) has produced three widely acclaimed ‘Oil & Gas Communications: Middle East & North Africa’ conferences held in Cairo and a highly successful Oil & Gas Connectivity: Digital Applications & Communications Dynamics conference in Aberdeen in 2008. The regional expansion into the European oil & gas patch earlier in 2008 will be followed-up in November this year by Oil & Gas Communications South East Asia: Digital Applications & Communications Dynamics Onshore, Offshore & Deepwater (O&GCSEA).

This further expansion into South East Asia is a direct reflection of a complex and highly dynamic interplay of regional supply and demand factors that have created a particularly vibrant regional energy environment characterised by an accelerated exploration for, and production of, new reserves of oil & gas. In addition, the conference has been recognised as an opportunity to tackle the aforementioned questions by private and public sectors. For example, while the details are yet to be finalized, both Petronas and the ITU will be involved in the two-day program over the 18th and 19th November.

To be included in the conference program are such key topics as:
  • digital oilfield resilience and security
  • investment in advanced communications infrastructures
  • satellite links for floating production platforms and semi-submersible rigs
  • SCADA and broadband satellite
  • commercial applications evolved for the satellite environment
  • data management remote collaboration and Operational Support Centres
  • technology hybrids
  • stabilized and ruggedized antenna technologies
  • satellite communications in disaster recovery
  • new training dynamics in oil & gas communications
  • out-of-band control and monitoring solutions
  • the regional regulatory environment – will be an examination of the difficulties associated with the sensitivity of certain types of exploration data which, in the case of a number of countries in the region, cannot be sent outside of the certain national jurisdictions. One example of this relates to subsoil data analytics, the procedures and process of which must be accommodated to some countries having banned data “exports” — presumably for reasons of national security.

Another topic listed in the above agenda for Kuala Lumpur has already entered into the general dialogue surrounding the Oil & Gas Communications conference series, that of the inter-relationship of oil and gas industry levels and flows of investment in advanced communications infrastructures and the price of a barrel of oil.

Over the last five or sixth months, oil has significantly dropped from near the US$150 per barrel level, but nevertheless, oil companies have, as a result of the high-price period, accumulated significant additional revenues. I had intuitively supposed this meant significantly greater availability of resources for just such increased investment in satellite communications infrastructure. However, intuition can, and does, lead to error. It has been clearly emphasised to me, in my capacity as Chairman of the Oil & Gas Communications conference series, that this is not so, and just as much as ever the oil and gas sector demands efficiency and cost-effectiveness as core features of its expanding satellite communications imperative.

About the author
Martin Jarrold joined the GVF in June lf 2001 and was appointed to the position of Chief of International Programme Development. His particular responsibilities include outreach to the member organizations of the GVF and to further develop the profile of the Forum within the satellite communications industry, as well as across the global telecommunications policy and regulatory community.

Prior to joining the GVF, Mr. Jarrold was Commissioning Editor and Head of Research for Space Business International magazine. Mr. Jarrold holds an honors degree in History and Politics from the University of Keele in the United Kingdom.

To learn more about the upcoming Oil & Gas Communications Conference, please select the graphic below.