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Modern oilfield communication networks from ABB Wireless

Welcome to the ABB Wireless webinar on how to modernize your upstream oil and gas field communications network.

Upstream Field Communications Challenges

Some of the challenges ABB Wireless solutions address includes bringing modern connectivity to well pads enabling more frequent polling of devices and device control, as well as collection and transmission of more data over the network.  In addition, ABB enables extending use of office applications and data out to mobile field workers so they can keep in touch, access information as well as their location and assets monitored centrally.  Mesh networking technology from ABB offers a foundation for high reliability, broadband capacity for oilfield communications.

Today I’ll be talking about some of the stories and experiences in field area communications as well some of the new products developed within the last six months. We are excited about these products that expand our portfolio for upstream oil and gas field applications. In talking about field modernization, the first step is to discuss the challenges. Onshore fields cover large geographic areas that often have long distances between sites. Building a wireless network can introduce some challenges when it comes to terrain, tree coverage, structures that get in the way and interference of other radio networks in the same area.

Wireless networks enable producers to monitor field assets remotely rather than driving out to each location to manually inspect every well and every storage facility, which can be cost prohibitive and time consuming. With a wireless network instead of plugging in and downloading data from a flow computer on site, producers can view the computer remotely over a network using a wireless connection – any time. In addition, the wireless connection can be shared for multiple field applications. Recognizing the challenges and building an architecture that works well in oil and gas fields is key to getting the best ROI. To get the best performance out of the field network you need to understand the network building blocks.

Broadband technology can cover most of the upstream fields communication needs that we have seen, but is not the only possible solution. For reaching outlying facilities, those that are long distances out from the main lease operating areas or from the main clusters of well sites, narrowband frequencies can provide a reliable alternative that is cost effective. The challenges for connecting remote field assets to the network are distance, terrain, isolation and power. Off-grid power often isn’t available or it may take a long time to get a secondary power line out to a particular well pad, not to mention it can be costly. Without power from the grid, operators generate their own power using solar, wind turbines, and geothermal generators that create natural gas. There are probably even more ways that power is generated locally. When grid power is not easily accessible the need to be mindful of the power budget and conserve energy is important. If grid power is available it’s virtually unlimited and there is plenty of voltage for all the systems that are in place on the pad. When you have to generate it locally you need to keep this in mind as the communications infrastructure also consumes a part of the power budget.

You must determine if a solar setup on a pad has been sized for simply an RTU and a narrowband radio, or if it's a pump-off controller with a solar charged controller and battery pack that is meant to drive the equipment for a narrowband radio, or is wired-in. You must consider what the consumption rate is and if you need to upgrade the power capabilities inside the cabinet in order to introduce a more high performance radio. A chatty radio or more Ethernet focused type of technology may be needed. When planning for that power autonomy you want to make sure the products and solutions you are choosing are built with lower power consumption in-mind. Understanding the limitation is important as well as the trade-offs when you introduce broadband.

Broadband is a technology that enables multi-application scenarios. It opens-up the viable option of aggregating communications for applications such as mobile workforce, video, digital work order management, remote access to HMI screens and process control. In order to do this we must realize these devices are going to be using radio communications more frequently and exercising the duty cycle on the transmitter. A narrowband radio on the other hand, goes to sleep when it's not being polled. Operators are used to narrowband radios that wake up when they are polled and consume power during the time they are awake. These radios in a down cycle become very quiet again and use a minimal amount of power (a Watt or less) when in sleep mode. With a broadband network it is hard to achieve that same conservative level of power consumption. However within ABB products we specifically have designed our products to make them less chatty; more efficient. Hardware changes can be made to lower the overall consumption rate. However, in some instances, a higher level of power is necessary and can requires upgrading the power source.

Other Challenges
Other challenges in the field include security, interference, performance and availability. Producers that ABB Wireless interacts with face a mix of these challenges. Some producers face all four challenges while others are fixed on a single issue that is driving their interest in a new and upgraded modern network.

Security
In Bakersfield, California ABB Wireless ran into a producer that has thousands of wells in a very traditional conventional setup. Pump jacks are littered all over the landscape. The problem is the SCADA system was a legacy system that was built upon serial radios that were transmitting over the air. When IT did an audit of the system, they discovered serial transmissions were being sent over the air as plain text messages, without encryption.  This introduced a vulnerability in the SCADA system with which IT was uncomfortable. IT at minimum wanted encryption over the wireless links. In order to do this the producer had to consider a technology upgrade or refresh of some sort. They could have bolted on a solution which could have put encryption over the air but why not consider a redesign of the architecture? This is how ABB Wireless came into an engagement with the customer. The same issue is probably happening for other producers around North America in the shale plays where SCADA has been in place for years.

As IT is starting to come into the operations world and a lot of the systems require IT support, they naturally want a say in making sure the field network is secure and safe from vulnerabilities. Security is a huge factor and I think it is going to become an even more important factor as the United States government puts a bigger focus on upstream production because we are a more prominent producer in the world. I believe just like our electric utilities I’ve seen on the grid we will see a focus on securing our energy production in North America and especially the US.

Interference
Interference is another big challenge. I have many stories to tell about interference. If you’ve been operating a SCADA system and have experienced the rise in producers and competition that happened during the shale boom within the last decade, then you probably have experienced an interference event with your SCADA system. If you are using unlicensed spectrum and radio frequencies that are commonly available to other producers and those producers are operating in the same geographical area, then there is a high change interference can occur since the systems are trying to transmit on the same channel at the same time. Interference means the possibility of increased missed polls from the SCADA devices, which result in the loss of data.  The loss of data means there is an incomplete picture and is something that producers are becoming less and less tolerant of when they realize there are systems that can be built to resolve interference issues much more quickly and intelligently than ever before.

Performance
Performance is simply a bandwidth problem. They simply don't have enough bandwidth to poll as fast or frequently as desired by the SCADA team that is monitoring the data so they can ensure there is a high enough granularity to make decisions that improve operations. So is performance hindering the implementation of some new application? For example, a video analytics solution with cameras pointed at the well pad that also includes software that enable actionable intelligence. These cameras kick-off a workflow and take action automatically. They increase safety, awareness, and speed up the day by day workflow by increasing operators identify things. These systems are so intelligent they are naturally going to be hungry for data over a network. Bandwidth in the field is necessary to handle and support traffic. Systems are often taxed and were only used for SCADA. Now, we need this network to do much more or consider a migration and pathway to a more modern system that can support multiple applications.

Availability
Availability is access to the network - where does that exist? Does it mean that operators have to go drive up to the wellsite and plug into a device to see the data? Do they need to drive to the top of a hillside to get cellular signal to send email, text or notify another operator about a particular issue? How is the daily workflow being handled in the field? Is it really efficient or are we causing operators to drive unnecessary distances to gain access to basic connectivity? Can that be solved with a private network? Yes, it can!

There is a new approach to the field communications network that is increasingly being adopted. It leverages a network investment across the entire lifecycle of a well, well pad and facility. Specifically, one of our customers is installing the network infrastructure as the field grows. First, when a pad is cleared and prepared for drilling, the network communications infrastructure is installed. The infrastructure is very simple and consists of a pole, a solar and battery pack with a charge controller and a TropOS wireless mesh router. The concept can be applied to other technologies although mesh is the most appropriate for the ease of deployment and ease of expansion.

When the TropOS wireless router is powered up, it immediately broadcasts in 360 degrees and automatically finds all the mesh router neighbors. All of the well pad sites on the network can be at different stages of production but the network can be leveraged at any stage as the well pad sites are built and put into production. The network allows the drilling team to avoid the expense of VSAT for data services which can add up to thousands of dollars over the two weeks to a month during drilling. The VSAT charge doesn’t go away even if the operator doesn’t see the cost since the drilling company will pass that fee onto the producer as part of the billing. If the producer has an infrastructure and requires the drilling contractor to use their own infrastructure that doesn’t use VSAT, a significant savings can be realized. The same savings can be applied to the fracking crew as they can use the same network provided by the producer. Contractors have a separate communication pipe to the network that is secure. Critical data such as drilling data or pressure can be segmented and prioritized from an IT perspective as well as modified as the network grows and construction progresses. The system is a flexible solution and works well with an expanding and changing field. The completions crew can also use the same network when they are on the pad. When the facility is finished and production begins, the wireless mesh network is utilized for SCADA data, pump-off controller access flow computer, and HMI access connected to PLC’s. All of these applications are used in everyday production and the communications network is there to support these features as well. A huge savings can be made by simply changing the philosophy of how you build out a field and leverage the network as a piece of the critical infrastructure. The network is a benefit to all teams using it at all phases of the pad’s lifecycle.

We have seen in the economic downturn a lot of wells that were drilled and not completed which results in a field that could contain high amounts of DUC wells. One of ABB Wireless' customers created a well inventory monitoring project using TropOS mesh. The customer utilized the network to monitor the basic tubing and casing pressure on an uncompleted well. The customer build a cabinet with a tripod, rebar, zip ties, antennas and a solar panel to create a portable kit. The unit can be placed into a well while it’s waiting to be completed or in a drilled but incomplete status. The unit can be monitored using a single band mesh router that goes inside a cabinet that mounts on the DIN rail and pulls power from a DC source like a solar controller or a PC board with axillary power. The unit has GPS capability and can move around the field. The unit is seen by the network management system so operators can monitor inventor and move the monitoring kit from DUC to DUC as needed.

Bakken Customer Story
In the Bakken is a major national oil company that has significant operations in the US. They acquired a greenfield asset that had 270 well facilities. The ABB Wireless mission was to get a broadband network in place for the customer in under five months. We had to select a product, create a design and get a deployment team in place that could be mobilized quickly. Timing was critical since we knew we couldn’t put poles in the ground after October since the ground freezes during the winter in North Dakota. We had a very tight project timeline and the idea was to provide a full mesh network that would be self-healing and provide a platform for expansion to aggregate services like video, Wi-Fi access for mobile workers, and secure, real-time SCADA polling with secure. This customer didn’t want to use point-to-point or broadband directional radio infrastructures because they didn’t want to build towers to get capacity out to the field. Instead, they wanted to extend fiber connectivity from a local telecom company. A Native American reservation owns quite a bit of fiber and if you can get the telephone company to extend a fiber drop to specific facilities then you can build mesh from those facilities. Instead of having to have capacity injection or a tier one layer, we were able to tap directly into fiber at a percentage of the locations. Around 25 locations had fiber and the rest of them were purely wireless in part of the mesh. It was a fast deployment; one that we didn’t have to worry about tower construction. The mesh network was able to be built out very quickly and as new fiber facilities came online, the clusters started to mix-up and distribute themselves and the performance evolved into the realm of how we designed it and agreed upon. It was a great project for introducing a mesh technology into a green field. This is a good example of how we can come in and get things done quickly for a producer.

Not only do we have good stories from green field environments as it’s easy to justify a broadband system in a green field environment. What about a brown field? Or a field that is mature and already outfitted with a SCADA system and we are trying to figure out a justification for going to broadband. Is it really going to save money and reduce costs in an operating environment?

Eagle Ford Case Study
The next case study is an example of a brown field deployment in Eagle Ford where they had an existing legacy SCADA system with 900 PTMP radio. It was operating a 900 MHz unlicensed band communications network supporting just a single application to poll devices at a very low bandwidth and low frequency. The radios were firmware based so they weren’t upgradeable over the air. If there was any functionality to be added, or software upgrades, enhancements, or bug fixes, they all had to be performed by directly plugging in to each unit and reflashing them. It was an old school mindset about how to build and operate a radio network. There was no security over the system in terms of encryption so they were exposed over the air. There was no way to segment the different types of traffic. Process monitoring with SCADA and communications with PLC’s was riding across the same logical segment as the SCADA system. If there was any interference on the network, polls could be lost and communication to PLC’s dropped. This would require a truck roll and that translates to money. A modern communications system implementation can save the expense of many truck rolls.

This customer early-on understood the advantages of a modern communication system. They were able to build out a backbone that had a point-to-multipoint and point-to-point ring. They installed a backbone with point-to-point and used point-to-multipoint to extend. That was perfect for introducing mesh routers, which can form clusters around those gateways points. Applications on the network included SCADA and drill rigging, communications and diagnostic, emergency shutdown and recovery, video surveillance and VoIP (SIP) phone support.

For the compete webinar please visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xayKdL8Cw98.

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