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Midstream Going Mainstream, Using IoT to Get Fuel (& Data) to the Right Places

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With a global pandemic raging, there are concerns across the whole of the oil and gas (O&G) industry. Yet there is still investment and consolidation taking place in the midstream sector as companies and investors are looking with renewed interest to expand the capacity of existing networks.

The midstream O&G sector covers the storage, processing, and transportation of oil and gas. Companies in this area of the industry specialize in managing pipelines, trucking fleets, and shipping operations, as well as storage facilities, essentially, covering all aspects of transporting and storing fossil fuels after the oil or gas has been discovered and extracted from the ground.

Because of the large privately-owned oil pipelines and storage facilities in the U.S. and Canada, the midstream designation is much more prevalent in the oil industry in North America than the rest of the world, however, a growing system of crude oil pipelines in parts of the middle east, as well as ambitious decarbonization targets in Europe are leading to increasing demand for more efficient interconnection pipelines between separate national markets.

New O&G exploration projects are being shelved for the time being, while the industry waits for the global market to recover. Pipeline operators are currently stressing that it is easier to reach agreements with landowners to expand existing brownfield systems as opposed to discovering new fields.

Concurrent with these developments in the O&G sphere is the evolution of IoT systems.

IoT Solutions

Pipeline leakage is one of the frontline issues faced by the oil and gas industry. Unanticipated pipeline ruptures and explosions can wreak havoc with the environment and create major transportation disruptions in fossil fuel delivery systems all around the world.

Crucially, IoT systems can help monitor pipeline systems and reduce the risk of leakage or explosions by using “smart” valves, pumps, and filters. With predictive maintenance, companies can rely more on IoT technology for regular inspections, rather than risking worker health and safety for pipeline checks. Drones are now also part of the picture in checking potential pipeline problems in remote areas. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are being used for data-enabled, GPS location-tracking end-to-end inspection duties for industry operators.

Monitoring crude oil pressure in pipelines via flow monitors can also help companies detect leaks or possible thefts. Oil theft is a common problem in Africa, parts of Mexico, and the U.S. Enabling pipelines that can utilize supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems that allow remote data transmission can help to monitor environmental conditions in distant locations, such as air and water quality.

IoT systems can aid in infrastructure management, monitoring pipeline pressures, flow rates and controlling operations at pumping and compressor stations, terminals, and tank farms. With the IoT, pipeline operators can get energy usage and cost details right at the plant. This gives managers speedy access to their data, allowing them to optimize energy efficiency while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and improving the bottom line.

Crude oil can be transported internationally, whether by very large crude carriers (VLCC) over the ocean or moved along the coast or through rivers in smaller barges. Land transportation methods include truck fleets and rail. Sensors can be fitted in tankers, trains, and trucks to connect to alarms that track and monitor the progress of O&G shipments. The use of GPS tracking for truck fleets, rail cars, and ships can help avoid risks and reduce costs. In the U.S., recent Department of Transportation regulations have made it illegal to overload trucks. A business that wants to optimize its profits per shipment, however, doesn’t want to load its truck less than the allowable limit. Smart truck-weighing solutions can help monitor the real-time loading of vehicles, increasing efficiency and payoff.

When storing fuel, storage tank level pressure and flow rates can be monitored daily. Supervisors on site can be alerted if the pressure goes above or below a certain set level.

All these elements come together in the midstream sector, as IoT allows companies to bring together data for processing, storing, and transporting materials over land and sea. Even for oil and gas companies, data is the new currency. Sensors, monitors, and other IoT devices are producing vast tranches of new data that can be used both on the edge and in the cloud, giving companies fresh insights into how to improve their business.

FieldIntell, a Network Innovations company, has IoT solutions to provide the edge-intelligence and insights that oil and gas operators need to preemptively address the safety, performance, and productivity challenges common in the highly distributed and complex O&G sector.

Read the Upstream Oil and Gas Blog: ENTERPRISE IOT TRANSFORMING UPSTREAM OIL & GAS: UNLOCKING VISIBILITY, INSIGHTS, AND AUTOMATION