Wireless communications in the oil and gas industry

Wireless technology is being used in a variety of use cases. George Malim reports

Wireless communications in the oil and gas industry

How do you park an oil tanker?


The transportation of crude oil plays an integral role in the production of oil-based fuels. Large tankers have to be safely filled and discharged close to land near oil refineries for extraction. Often, because of the nature of these sites and sheer size of the tankers, long jetties are used to dock the tankers. These jetties can be up to two miles from shore.

Parking a vehicle larger than the Eiffel Tower is not straightforward and, because of the volatile nature of the tanker’s cargo, docking the vessel requires absolute precision.

Weatherford International is an oilfield services company that operates in more than 730 locations and 100 countries. Headquartered in Switzerland and employing 52,000 people, it provides the oil and gas production industry with a comprehensive suite of products and services, including drilling, evaluation, completion, production, intervention as well as tactical research and development.

Weatherford typically uses local pilots to handle the docking manoeuvre at the sites it handles tanker offload and docking. These pilots possess knowledge of the coastal area and experience in controlling these transporters. However, this operation cannot rely on pilot skill alone. Technology, and in particular differential GPS (Global Positioning System), is employed to deliver a positioning accuracy to less than one metre.

Oil tankers vary in size – from general purpose tankers to ultra large crude carrier (ULCC) and differential GPS is only required when parking the vessel. However, installing differential GPS capabilities into each ship would be uneconomical. Instead the local pilots fit wireless transmitters around the ship before docking to provide real time positioning information wirelessly to the pilot at the bridge. 

UK firm Wood & Douglas created a solution where differential GPS transmitters around the ship could be linked to a receiver. 

To provide a total picture of the pontoon and vessel position, point-to-multipoint wireless technology was needed to relay the GPS data to both the bridge of the tanker and a land-based receiver. The pilot is able to see on screen the boat’s position in relation to the pontoon and steer the ship accordingly.

Docking a ULCC tanker with a deadweight of 550,000 tons means even the slightest error in GPS data transmission can result in serious damage to the vessel and potential ecological disaster. Wood & Douglas’s Sentinel ER450 Digital Outstation was selected to provide a reliable point-to-multipoint two-way wireless communication, rapid receive and transmit turnaround, a comprehensive management system and remote diagnostics, delivering the real time accuracy and reliability to enable the safe docking of these huge vessels.


AirLink Intelligent Gateways deployed to monitor Norse Pipeline


The Norse Pipeline is a 320-mile system of high-pressured steel pipeline spanning 2.1 million acres in western New York and north-western Pennsylvania in the US.

When it needed a wireless solution to provide real-time information to remotely monitor and manage its pipeline meters, it turned to Mobile Electron, a consultant and distributor in the M2M and mobile wireless data communication solutions market. Mobile Electron recommended Sierra Wireless AirLink Raven rugged, wireless modems, featuring the company’s ALEOS embedded intelligence. 

The integrator also provided the technical and logistical expertise to select, source, deploy and test upgraded utility meter hardware and communications software to round out the solution. 

The Norse Pipeline is situated in the northern Appalachian basin, an area of prolific gas production with over 11,000 wells. Whether delivering local gas into interstate pipelines or to points for local 

distribution, the 16 year-old Norse Pipeline’s goal is to provide local producers with innovative, reliable, flexible and quality services. 

The company had previously employed field technicians to manually check pressure, load, temperature and consumption data by visiting remote terminals and reporting their findings using written charts. Often it would take more than a month to retrieve and analyse data obtained by a field technician.

Norse Pipeline was able to deploy a reliable, always-on, always-there solution and realised an immediate and significant improvement in operational efficiency and time savings.

‘The 24/7 information that we can access with our wireless system is invaluable,’ said Larry Swanson, operations manager at Norse Pipeline. ‘Not only can we easily monitor and manage our pipeline at all meter locations, we can also provide critical real-time data to our gas suppliers, which adds tremendous value for them. 

‘Sierra Wireless and Mobile Electron have been excellent partners, helping us through every step of the wireless technology adoption, with the end result of making our company more efficient and better equipped to meet the needs of our customers.’

Norse Pipeline is running fully operational metered locations using its progressive remote monitoring and management solution. The AirLink rugged, wireless Raven devices generate updated, flawless information every 15 minutes for Norse’s technicians, giving them more time to spend on necessary field maintenance. 

Norse has also been able to reduce its reoccurring costs by over $8,750 per month and eliminated its lost gas costs for an estimated annual saving of over $36,000.

Satellite broadband is also now an affordable option for businesses of all sizes. Whereas a typical fixed line internet connection could cost a business up to £3,000 per month to provide remote access, businesses can now be paying as little as £40 per month for a 1Gb pay-as-you-go plan and their satellite connection can be mobilised in around three minutes, ready to start any new project. A number of different service plans are also available to meet individual business needs, including an unlimited usage monthly plan for around £400 a month.


Erith Group turns to satellite broadband for remote locations


Erith Group, which specialises in delivering complex demolition and civil engineering projects, often in remote locations and alongside the oil and gas industry has recently deployed satellite broadband from Alvea. 

Erith’s Remediation Division is responsible for the rejuvenation of contaminated land as well as civil engineering and utility works. The division operates in locations on a temporary basis, with often no basic communications network in place or where there is no mobile phone signal. 

With projects lasting anything from a few months to a number of years, maintaining email contact and access to the internet is vital to facilitate the smooth running of the business. In the past the only solution was for site personnel to catch up on email when they returned to their hotel rooms in the evening after a day on-site. This was neither tenable nor viable in the long term.

The challenge for Erith was to provide internet connectivity wherever teams were located and at a cost that would not make a huge dent in project overheads. It also had to be up and running quickly to ensure on-site teams could be productive from day one. With no copper exchanges available in remote rural locations and 3G and 4G either unreliable or non-existent, satellite broadband was the obvious choice.

Erith now installs Alvea Satellite Broadband on any site which doesn’t have readily available access to the public telecoms network. The company’s teams all have full internet and email access through a private satellite connection to the company’s network, operated from its data centre in Kent. 

Individuals and project teams are connected via a LAN running across cabling between site cabins. Dishes are re-used from one project to the next and are stored at head-office in between installations.

Written by Wireless magazine
Wireless magazine

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