From Oil & Gas Network Magazine, October 2014:
Security Technology in the Oil and Gas Industry: Managing Risk and Enhancing Operational Efficiency
THE PROTECTION OF OIL AND GAS infrastructure, assets and personnel against attacks, theft and vandalism, accidents and unforeseen events has long been an industry challenge. As global demand for energy grows, more companies are exploring remote or politically unstable areas where security risks must be mitigated. Even at North American operations theft at remote sites costs companies millions of dollars each year, along with lost productivity from damaged infrastructure. Whether protecting pipelines, storage units or remote drilling rigs, the nature of oil and gas operations creates unique operational challenges. Remote locations combined with the lack of available, trained personnel are factors in driving technological innovation in this critical industrial sector. The need to deploy advanced technology solutions in such demanding environments has become a priority not just for security, but also for operational efficiency and worker safety.
M2M, Cloud and Mobile – Driving innovation in oil and gas operations
M2M, an abbreviation for machine-to-machine, describes technology that supports wired or wireless communication between devices. M2M technologies can be found throughout oil and gas operations, including access control and facility, well and pipeline monitoring. Given that oil and gas operations are often in remote areas, wireless communication, typically cellular or satellite, is often the only way to effectively transfer M2M data. This data may include SCADA telemetry or video and imagery from onsite cameras. Fundamentally, M2M bridges remote equipment, public or private networks and enterprise data systems, ideally increasing security, safety and operational efficiency. Remote automation and monitoring through M2M can help make it cost-effective to operate in the most challenging environments.
Cloud computing is also creating opportunities for oil and gas security and efficiency. Through M2M and other technologies, companies are able to obtain massive amounts of data. However, this data must be processed, stored and made available to those that need it. Furthermore, implementing new technology “in-house” can be expensive and difficult to scale and maintain. The cloud model makes massive computing power and data storage readily available, and the cost of entry is typically much lower than traditional enter- prise IT installations, with most cloud models being “pay-as-you-go”. Cloud systems also provide a platform for collaboration and information sharing which is vital in an industry with distributed operations, such as oil and gas. Today, we are seeing a growing acceptance of cloud-based security solutions in the industry, including remote visual monitoring and SCADA systems.
Cloud-based systems can also provide the mobile access to information that is needed by the modern oil and gas workforce. Workers can get secure access to data without having this information reside on a laptop or other device, which may be lost or stolen. Many cloud-based security solutions are also optimized for smartphones and tablets, making information available from anywhere, over the device that makes the most sense for a given situation.
Intelligent Visual Monitoring for Oil and Gas Operations
As computing power advances and more devices are connected to the Internet, oil and gas companies have the opportunity to access critical data related to the security of their operations. While this data can take many forms, visual information is the easiest for our brains to process. Since people are able to gather, analyze and communicate information best through visualization, then businesses need to look at video and imagery as an important business asset.
Visual monitoring is not a new concept for the oil field. Traditionally, companies have used closed circuit television (CCTV) and digital video recorder (DVR) systems to stream and record video for security purposes. With these systems, the video is used primarily for post-incident analysis within a control center. With this reactive approach, video is stored away in case it needs to be reviewed at some point. When monitoring field operations, oil and gas companies face unique challenges, with widely dispersed infrastructure and difficult weather conditions. This makes it difficult to maintain site-based hardware such as CCTV and DVRs across multiple operations, while ensuring that cameras are operating properly.
From a security perspective, cloud-based visual monitoring allows operators to react quickly to an incident, with the right information immediately available.
Until recently, visual monitoring for the oil field has been seen limited return on investment (ROI), with poor usability and reli- ability. Its primary use has been to provide evidence after a security incident has occurred. However, a combination of industry need and technological innovation has led to a new era in visual monitoring, with a focus not just on security, but also on operational efficiency. As visual monitoring shifts from site-based systems to the cloud, the technology has become more reliable, accessible and useful. As the oil industry faces rising operating costs, a shortage of skilled labor and concerns over security, safety and the environment, the potential for visual monitoring to improve field operations is significant.
From a security perspective, cloud-based visual monitoring allows operators to react quickly to an incident, with the right information immediately available. Furthermore, that information can be quickly shared across the enterprise or with law enforcement. Where traditional DVR video monitoring systems are used reactively to gather evidence after an incident has occurred, an intelligent cloud-based system can proactively detect a potential incident and send an urgent alert to the right person, with immediate access to critical visual information. For example, the system may detect that a vehicle has arrived at an unmanned site after hours and send a text, phone or email alert to an operator. The operator can then view photos and live video of the vehicle to determine if further action is needed. He or she can also create a visual report of the incident to share with authorized users. All of the incident imagery and video can stay in the cloud where it can be easily accessed over the web, from any computer, smartphone or tablet.
While visual monitoring continues to provide important security benefits, it is also driving operational efficiencies, as operators are able to visually assess the status of equipment, facilities and personnel before deciding whether to send a worker to a site. From a safety perspective, visual monitoring is now used to support work-alone programs, ensuring that the worker arrives and departs within the expected time window and by monitoring the worker’s activities while onsite.
Demand for security technologies in oil and gas will continue to grow as companies face significant geopolitical, environmental and staffing challenges. Driven by further advances in M2M, cloud computing and mobile, leading technology providers will continue to develop innovative solutions that address not only security concerns, but that drive operational efficiencies across the enterprise.