Gazprom Neft, Russia’s state-owned gas producing company, owns the world’s largest gas transmission network spanning 172,600 km. The company not only supplies gas to the Russian federation but also exports to over 30 countries worldwide. In order to expand its footprint, Gazprom is laying new pipelines within the country as well as cross-country. However, with increasing complexities in the pipeline network, it has become difficult to manage pipeline leakages and theft, and large gas supply contracts through traditional approaches.
In view of these critical business issues, Gazprom is focusing on improving its business processes through digital transformation and automation. It has formulated new management strategies based on internet of things (IoT) and information technology solutions. In addition, it has taken several initiatives such as the installation of automated and integrated information control system, use of drones for leakage detection, and adoption of blockchain for managing gas supply contracts. With these smart solutions, Gazprom has made the move from conventional practices to fully integrated, automatic and end-to-end management of business processes. This has led to improvement in specific business areas and overall business synergies.
To make the right use of data pertaining to gas supply and pipeline pressure, Gazprom has implemented Skkynet’s DataHub®. This advanced tool integrates data from various sources and generates insights. It acts as a middleware as it allows the integration of the supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system, human-machine interface modules and remote terminal units (RTUs) deployed across the gas network. The access to diverse data helps the gas utility remotely monitor and control 23,000 km of gas pipelines, spanning much of western Russia. The tool has been developed by the Federal State Unitary Enterprise and is called Unified Remote Control Complex, or UNK TM. Its associated software and support is provided by SWD Software Limited. After successfully passing the tests administered by the Interdepartmental State Testing Commission, the tool was recommended for use in Gazprom units.
DataHub’s architecture and functionality
DataHub® is an open, distributed information control system based on modular hardware architecture. It runs on the QNX 4 operating system. All RTUs, SCADA and other smart devices are connected to the control room where the tool has been installed. The RTUs are retrofitted on valves, pumps and consumption control units to measure performance parameters such as gas flow and pressure. The tool helps collect and store data from the field equipment on a real-time basis. This data can then be viewed to generate reports. Over 50,000 data changes can be received, integrated and streamed per second.
Further, DataHub has a multi-window graphical user interface with data processing and data storage facilities. This allows bidirectional communication between the utility, clients and customers through communication protocols. OPC Unified Architecture, Html, Modbus and XML are some of the communication protocols embedded in the system, through which anyone can access any data subset. The tool is also easy to connect with the SQL database, Excel spreadsheets and other custom programs such as Azure IoT Hub, Google IoT, Amazon IoT Core, which are used to generate reports. Apart from this, workstation devices and services such as electrochemical protection and other operational services can be added or removed at any time from the tool to manage operations.
Another innovative technology introduced by Gazprom NEFT is unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones for remotely monitoring the pressure pipeline network. The technology was commercially operationalised in September 2015 at the company’s centre of excellence for pipeline operations and maintenance. It was used for monitoring the Murvalenko intra-field pipeline network, which runs to a total length of over 482 km. The use of UAVs allows the monitoring of intra-field pipelines located in remote areas, without any interruption. It significantly reduces emergency response times by allowing the monitoring of pipeline condition in real time, particularly during periods of fire hazard.
Apart from this, the company successfully used drones in the multilevel magnetic prospecting surveys for oil exploration conducted in June 2019. The technology was tested at the company’s Novoportovskoye field. Under this, domestically manufactured drones were deployed across an area of 100 square km to survey the most inaccessible areas. The drones covered the area ten times faster than ground surveying techniques. The technology is also cheaper than traditional surveying methods, which involve aircraft.
Drones for leak detection
Besides the survey and mapping of pipelines, Gazprom installed drone-mounted natural gas leak detectors. In 2017, two Russian companies, Pergam-Engineering and CROC, developed the LMC G2 DL, a methane detector for monitoring natural gas (methane) leakage in pipelines using UAVs. In 2018, five Gazprom-affiliated companies conducted tests of the methane detector. In 2019, they started putting it to commercial use. The software monitors infrastructure sites such as gas distribution stations with a speed of up to 100 square metres per five minutes. Apart from this, it can survey four to five gas distribution stations located at a distance of 5-10 km on a daily basis. The equipment operates at a maximum height of 100 metres (the optimal height is 30 metres) and operates at a speed of 100 km per hour. Its key feature is the ability to transfer data on detected leakages to a pilot’s control panel in online mode. The recorded data can also be transferred at a distance of up to 5 km.
Distributed ledger technology
In April 2019, the gas utility announced plans to use blockchain to execute and monitor business contracts related to gas supply. With this, the utility aims to digitalise the gas supply process using distributed ledger technology. To this end, Gazprom along with state-owned Gazprombank (a Gazprom subsidiary and Russia’s third largest bank) has developed a prototype of a technological platform, which will automate the process of monitoring and executing contracts. This system also provides facilities for automating the arbitrage process and the calculation of gas payments. The system will be accessible to all parties involved in the process and is tamper-proof. It eliminates the chance of unauthorised alterations. Initially, the utility will work with major industrial consumers to implement the blockchain-based process.
Gazprom Neft’s technology portfolio already includes more than 500 digital projects and initiatives. These projects are part of Gazprom’s long-term digital transformation strategy of enhancing its business processes. From cognitive assistance software programs for geologists and drillers to integrated data management software for officials, technologies have become key assets for the gas utility. The transformation from preventive to predictive pipeline management has improved its operations and revenue generation capabilities. These technology initiatives are recommended for every gas utility that is looking to address gas leakages and make the best use of data.