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LTE Technology: Facilitating Oil Field Operations

| By Sampson Hou, Energy Industry Marketing Manager, Huawei Enterprise Business Group

To ensure secure, visualized, and efficient production, oil companies are eager to adopt the latest ICT technologies for smart operations in their oil fields. LTE, the next-generation wireless broadband communications technology, is now revolutionizing the way oil companies conduct oil field operations.

Three Major ICT Requirements for Oil Field Production

Oil production requires a high level of efficiency, security, and process visualization. To that end, oil companies need ICT solutions to improve production control and data collection, enhance security monitoring, and strengthen scheduling capabilities.

  • Visualization of Production Processes

Major data collected during oil production includes voltage, current, load, offset, pump status, and oil and water level readings at oil wells, injection wells, and metering stations. Real-time data collected from oil wells and auxiliary facilities is requisite to performing such tasks as monitoring oil wells, detecting anomalies, making timely decisions, and optimizing production. In emergencies, remote control of equipment in the oil field is essential. For example, it is imperative that monitoring personnel have the ability to remotely stop an oil well or turn off and adjust valves when an oil leak occurs or pipe-fittings become loose.

Deployment of SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) and communications systems for oil fields, make it possible to add enhanced data collection and remote control capabilities. The current bottleneck in oil field data collection lies in the communications network performance over wide areas. Oil wells, injection wells, oil and gas gathering and transportation stations, metering and processing stations are often dispersed over hundreds of kilometers of pipelines or oil fields. Deploying a wired communications network for production data collection is costly and inefficient in terms of networking and Operation and Maintenance (O&M). A wireless communications network is the preferred option, but the network must provide coverage over the entire span of the oil field or pipeline in question. Compared to previous-generation networks, an LTE network requires fewer base stations while supplying greater coverage over hundreds of square kilometers.

  • Security Monitoring

Most oil fields are located in remote areas with rugged terrain, which is why inspections by security management personnel can neither effectively ensure production security and stability, quickly mitigate sabotage attempts, nor prevent human-induced risks. Surveillance cameras are usually installed at critical locations, such as oil wells, pipelines, crossroads, and factories in order to monitor surroundings and quickly deliver early warnings against intrusion or equipment sabotage, thereby avoiding economic losses.

Video surveillance and big data services have bandwidth demands beyond the capacity of any older generation wireless network. An LTE network is the solution: with the ability to deliver peak downlink rates of 100 Mbit/s and peak uplink rates of 50 Mbit/s, they are able to transmit high payload data between important sites, in addition to providing Internet access to support basic services like voice, trunking, and production data collection. Additionally, the uplink and downlink bandwidth of an LTE network can be adjusted dynamically if and when more bandwidth is needed in either direction. In short, LTE makes work easier through differentiated services such as high-definition video, image streaming, and real-time voice communications.

  • Efficient Collaboration

Complex oil field operations, including routine checks on oil wells and pipelines, equipment maintenance and repair, troubleshooting, production, and emergency response usually require the collaboration of multiple team members. A trunking communications system, which provides various utilities (including point-to-point call, group call, broadcast call, dispatching, call control, and floor control), is required to ensure reliable and efficient communications that can easily address service needs and improve collaboration. Furthermore, the trunking communications system is highly sensitive to delay. An LTE wireless network that uses a flattened single-layer structure can reduce delay to less than 20 milliseconds, well within the allowable range for an industrial-level trunking communications system.

LTE: A Future Mainstream Communications Technology for Oil Fields

LTE offers long-distance, low-latency wireless coverage as well as high bandwidth, and is the ideal technology for providing oil field communications services. Several leading oil services companies have deployed LTE networks for their production operations, including coverage for North Dakota oil fields in the United States.

In the Norwegian part of the North Sea, the first LTE network for offshore drilling platforms has been built to cover an area dozens of kilometers wide. It provides high-bandwidth data services for premises equipment users, and supports voice, video, and high-speed data transmission among drilling platforms, floating oil storage and offloading facilities, oil tankers, and the mainland control center. It also replaces legacy microwave, short-wave, WLAN, and some wired access networks. Overall, the simple network structure is achieving centralized network management, improving O&M efficiency, and decreasing cost. The LTE network significantly enhances offshore operations and serves as a model that will facilitate strategic expansion initiatives by customers in the ocean energy sector. In the future, the LTE network can be expanded to provide voice and Internet access services for all ships and passengers in an area, creating another additional revenue stream.

LTE technology simplifies network O&M by providing a wide range of distributed services under centralized control, promising to transform the way enterprises operate. Using mobile phones or tablets, employees are able to query production data, make voice calls, participate in video conferences, monitor remote operations, and respond to emergencies anywhere, anytime. These conveniences are helping optimize oil production processes and improve oil recovery efficiency.

Given the vastness of oil fields and the importance of secure production for oil companies, LTE has become the reference mainstream wireless communications technology in oil fields, now and for the foreseeable future.