For over a decade now, the midstream market of the O&G industry has been witnessing a shifting tide of changes directly influenced by shale and tight oil exploration, oil price slump, low CAPEX budget, production cuts and sluggish rebound of oil prices. In addition, there is the upsurge in operational expenditure due to the rise in operational challenges posed by aging pipelines, leakages, spillage, flow anomalies, third-party intrusion, which have escalated concerns over environment safety. There have been several scenarios where scheduled, manual inspections carried out by pipeline operators have failed to anticipate or spot leakages. Such lapses have often been attributed to lack of visibility due to either limited reach or access to the internal flow of these liquids and gases, especially in cases involving subsea pipelines or remote locations. As a result, pipelines that form the crux of the O&G infrastructure are redefining their maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) approach.
Oil and gas are transported under high-pressure conditions, typically ranging between 500psi and 1500 psi and are prone to pipeline depletion and spillage. Moreover, pipelines laid across the globe lack proper instrumentation and leak-detection systems, and are operated and managed by using conventional mathematical models for fluid and gas flow.
To overcome such constraints, pipeline operators require robust and end-to-end pipeline monitoring solutions that provide visibility on the performance of equipment, machinery, interconnectors, and physical pipelines operating in both offshore and onshore locations. This will help operators perform meticulous inspection and increase chances for early detection of pipeline malfunction and timely intervention. In fact, there have been significant advancements in sensing technologies and end users have shown keen interest in adopting them to enhance their pipeline maintenance approach. This includes the use of fibre optics and ultrasonic sensing methods that help measure and detect variations in both the internal and the external environment of the installed pipeline (unauthorized drilling into oil pipes, disturbance caused by installation of telecom towers and deformation of pipe walls, to name a few).
Pipeline visualization is the need of the hour, as it provides reliable insight into asset health condition. With 3D images and time stamping of assets, operators can compare the images to measure the level of deposits, water-and-oil ratio, sand formation, and emulsion layer formed inside the pipeline. They are well positioned to perform prognostic analysis on the time and need for maintenance and prioritize which part of the pipeline or asset requires close monitoring. Access or visibility into internal operations of an asset enhance data accuracy and reliability—thereby helping O&G operators to prevent pipeline blockages—optimizes pigging cycles, and minimizes delays.
At the same time, alternative and cost-effective solutions such as non-intrusive sensing devices integrated with IoT technologies are developed to perform real-time inspection that helps in the detection of even minute leakages in the pipeline system. A reactive substance in the devices sends alerts to the operators on the detection of any molecules and particles in the pipeline. Some novel capabilities include easy mounting over the pipeline, the presence of unique codes and location tracking feature, and low energy consumption reduce the frequency of replacement and disruptions in pipeline operations. Furthermore, these devices are augmented with encryptions and communication protocols that collect and store data in the cloud. This data is supported by an analytical platform that performs differential analysis to understand the flow, temperature, pressure, density, and viscosity of the liquid in the pipe. A combination of these unique capabilities enables pipeline operators to understand their pipe behavior and condition; helps improve maintenance decision and transition to predictive pipeline maintenance processes and procedures.
Research institutes and oil giants are collaborating to encourage the development of remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) to perform pipeline inspections in remote locations. They are embedded with sensors, cameras, processors, and connectivity that enable live streaming of the pipeline condition, capture geospatial data, and cover extensive areas that are restricted and unsafe for personnel. This solution eliminates the need for manpower to operate these ROVs due to the intelligent light detection and ranging (LiDAR) sensor that detects and avoids collision with obstacles during inspection. This data is later uploaded to the cloud and further evaluated by data analytics engines. Such a cost-efficient alternative will also prove crucial to identifying problems in remote or restricted areas.
As pipelines are the safest and most cost-effective mode of transporting oil and gas, it is essential that these assets be efficiently monitored to avoid environmental disaster and human loss. As oil and gas companies strive to enhance their operational efficiency and increase extraction volume at the same cost of investment, end-to-end monitoring of the asset is highly essential. This will help prevent unnecessary shutdown, reduce process interruption, and avoid further operational costs.