The Internet Of (Oil) Things Is Here

Online Editor

The combination of IoT devices and satellite communications is transforming data collection in the oilfield, says Tom Krikke. How can it help operators improve efficiency and sustainability?

Well, monitoring has been around for decades. It’s a vital, difficult and expensive part of every operator’s budget. And as the world’s oil and gas fields age and regulations become stricter, its importance increases. With good reason. An oil or gas well leak can be a disaster – for people’s safety, the environment and commercially for production and reputation.

For high-producing, easily accessible onshore wells in places where there’s infrastructure and reliable connectivity, monitoring generally isn’t a huge problem. Engineers can drive out to conduct tests manually, or wells can be monitored via a cellular network or through wired technologies that provide accurate and up-to-date data. But with a downside. 

Traditional Technologies Aren’t Always Fit For Purpose

The challenge is that many wells are not in easily accessible locations – they’re often remote and off-grid. And, let’s face it, cellular and wired solutions are expensive. They require local power infrastructure that is not always available and communications infrastructure that does not always exist.

For remote wells beyond the reach of cellular networks, there’s been no easy monitoring solution other than sending out engineers to check them every few days or weeks. If the wells are old, low producing or if they are owned by smaller operators, neither manual monitoring nor wired technologies are a cost-effective solution.

There are around four million oil wells in the world, and 90% of them are still monitored manually. This means well visit costs, concerns about the safety of crews and inadequate and often patchy data on well integrity and performance. Poor performance and production data means that companies cannot closely monitor the safety of their operations, nor can they optimise their operations.

A Breakthrough In Remote Well Monitoring

Hiber’s solution to this challenge is HiberHilo. It’s a satellite-enabled well-monitoring solution that enables producers to digitally monitor remote, low-producing, late-life or old wells with zero CAPEX. Instead, it’s an easy-to-install solution for an affordable, comprehensive monthly subscription.

For producers of all sizes, HiberHilo offers four major benefits. First, it aims to be ‘cheaper than a trip’ (the system cost is pure OPEX, so it does not require upfront investment). It’s simple to use, with installation taking only a few hours. And, because it’s battery- and solar-powered, it doesn’t require a local power source. Lastly, it can gather data pretty much anywhere due to a combination of long-range wireless and satellite connectivity.

As for connectivity, the system connects sensors on wellheads via a wireless, solar-powered gateway to satellites and then on to an API or secure online mobile or desktop dashboard that can be monitored from anywhere in the world. Multiple wellheads with different sensors can be connected to the same gateway within a five-mile radius. These sensors regularly relay data back to the dashboard, providing a 24/7 view of the status of any well.

The Internet Of Oil Works Just Like The Internet Of Things

Hiber has recently expanded its data-gathering capabilities by adding new devices that can convert wired external sensors to wireless devices, providing access to a wider range of in-field sensors. These latest sensors, when paired with the firm’s wired-to-wireless (W2W) hardware, can transmit signals to its satellite network.

This considerably expands the range of operating parameters that can now be monitored remotely. In addition to pressure and temperature monitoring, engineers can now monitor oil or gas flow, methane detection, variable speed drive (VSD) readings, torque, and voltage (for example, to ensure cathodic protection is intact). HiberHilo W2W hardware can be connected to any existing or new sensor installed in the field without the need to purchase additional devices.

Data And Insights Drive Efficiencies

The new monitoring capabilities delivered by this solution provide operators with distinct advantages over traditional approaches in key use cases. For well integrity monitoring, installing sensors on annuli to check for dangerous increases in pressure that could indicate well integrity issues means engineers can be immediately directed to wells that need attention when they need it. This unlocks significant improvements in well intervention costs, reduces downtime, and enhances overall safety.

Improved plug and abandonment execution is a second use case. By equipping annuli with sensors to monitor pressure over a wireless gateway, the system makes it easy to collect well data so that producers can continually monitor well integrity and implement more accurate plug and abandonment strategies that prevent remedial work. Eliminating trips to oil wells during decommissioning lowers operating costs, improves crew safety, and reduces the environmental footprint.

Another advantage is improved production and reduced downtime for artificial and natural lift wells. By installing the appropriate sensors on production tubing, for example, operators can monitor pressure and flow data to optimise production rates and reduce downtime. Near-real-time alerts provide downtime detection in minutes rather than hours or days.

Optimised production of injection wells is also a key use case. Remote monitoring of injection wells gives oil producers insights into injection rates and production output. This facilitates precision injection rate delivery, reduces downtime, and provides the means to balance marginal costs against marginal revenue.

HiberHilo has been rolled out across the world - from the North Sea to Papua New Guinea to Oklahoma – by some of the world’s largest and most established energy companies, as well as some of the newest.

Shell was one of the first major oil companies to use the system, testing it on a well-abandonment project that was still connected to a pressure monitoring system. With the test a success, Shell and Hiber have a global framework agreement that lets Shell subsidiary companies and entities transition to satellite IoT and use HiberHilo.

Santos is using the solution to ensure the safety and environmental security of remote gas wells in the interior of Papua New Guinea, gathering performance and safety data from 100 of its most remote wells. The technology has enabled Santos to reduce travel costs, better manage risk and boost overall operational efficiency by catching issues at an early stage so interventions can be planned.

In Eastern Europe, Dacian Petroleum is using HiberHilo to remotely monitor tubing pressure and other parameters at wells located in southern Romania, helping it to reduce downtime and boost the productivity of marginal gas wells.

Affordable Remote Monitoring Is The Future

Well-monitoring technology has traditionally been unreliable in remote areas without cellular connectivity or local power infrastructure and too expensive or too complex for all but the highest-producing wells in other locations.

Connecting wells using today’s low-cost, low-power satellite connectivity means you can gather data at almost every wellhead. This approach makes well monitoring affordable, with the key benefits of reduced downtime, optimised production, and improved safety and sustainability through reduced trips and access to better data.

Tom Krikke is commercial director at Hiber