Oil and gas is the only sector that incorporates geographical data at every stage of the process, from opportunity analysis and exploration to appraisal and production, all the way to distribution. Geographic information systems (GIS) allow for advanced mapping and spatial analytics, which enhance operational efficiency through rich location intelligence. Therefore, gas distributors across the country are deploying GIS to enhance their competence and serve consumers better. Oil and gas operators use GIS to record, evaluate and store information about potential drilling sites. GIS also helps in layering data for effective pipeline mapping, managing field teams remotely, conducting analysis of exploratory wells and receiving real-time updates regarding site and pipeline status.
GIS technology has become a critical aspect of city gas distribution (CGD) business processes, ranging from network planning, engineering, and operations and maintenance to the complete management of network assets. It is used to obtain information regarding the area of a pipeline network, the depth at which the pipe is buried, pipe diameter, gas pressure, leaks, and maintenance, among others, through surveys and mapping. GIS brings additional value to the CGD business when it is integrated with other business applications.
Integrating GIS with mainstream CGD operations leads to improved analysis, visualisation, network planning and informed decision-making. GIS mapping enables CGD companies to use, make and share maps and map-based solutions based on their entire pipeline network from any device, at any given location and time. It enables employees and contractors to leverage maps and map-based solutions to individually or collaboratively perform all geographically oriented tasks and workflows on their network. Deploying GIS in field operations through data on location helps in improving coordination and operational efficiency in field workforce activities and reduces the reliance on paper.
Mahanagar Gas Limited (MGL) began using GIS in 2002 with the GE Smallworld 3.2.1 system, aiming to develop a more robust pipeline network. Since its initial adoption, MGL’s entire pipeline network and all its critical equipment installations have been mapped via GIS software. As part of its GIS solutions, the company provides facilities such as gas outage analyses, generic raster imports, customer import modules and AutoCAD imports. Gujarat Gas Limited (GGL) has also adopted GIS to access network information in real time. The GIS solution helped GGL streamline its field operations and expedite decision-making. GIS enabled GGL to undertake network planning, compliance and maintenance of its natural gas pipeline network as well as improve its gas transmission and distribution
One of the challenges faced by CGD companies is accessing the location and data of field assets. Pipelines are enlarged, new networks are commissioned, control devices and fittings are installed, existing networks are diverted, and non-working devices are discarded from time to time. It takes a long time to gather this information and feed it into a GIS. To this end, mobile GIS is playing an integral role in visualisation and data acquisition through handheld devices (phones/tablets). Mobile GIS can make it easy to capture data regarding networks and assets from the field, allowing real-time monitoring and data analysis.
The country’s CGD network has been developing rapidly. Because of the complexities involved in the pipeline network, keeping constant track of it is extremely critical. Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) is one of the key operational monitoring technologies that has been deployed to this end. This system gathers operating data from remote field locations, comprising the flow rate through pipelines, operational status, and pressure and temperature readings. The data is communicated through linked control centres (for display and reporting). These centralised stations assimilate and manage the data provided by SCADA and the compressor stations, and use it to assess the status of the entire pipeline network at any point in time. They also allow the utilities to monitor and control the natural gas flow through pipelines. The deployment of SCADA helps in eliminating issues related to data collection, tracking and control, predictive maintenance via analytics, and timely leakage detection, making it crucial for CGD players’ operations.
GIS software can combine with third-party applications to improve network efficiency and simplify business functions. For instance, SCADA information can be presented directly on a map using GIS software. Among the notable examples of gas operators implementing GIS-SCADA integrated systems are MGL’s implementation of a SCADA system for real-time monitoring, controlling and data acquisition of key performance parameters such as gas pressure, temperature, and flow rate from gas terminals. Indraprastha Gas Limited, using GIS and SCADA as one of the various methods for controlling and maintaining its huge CNG and piped natural gas networks, is another notable example. GAIL (India) Limited has deployed a state-of-the-art centralised SCADA system for real-time monitoring and controlling of cross-country natural gas and LPG pipelines. Meanwhile, GGL has integrated a SCADA system with GIS technology to enhance productivity.
ArcGIS is a complete GIS for gas utilities that can potentially be used as an internet of things platform. It can successfully solve asset management and operations management concerns while also ensuring safety and compliance. The ArcGIS spatiotemporal big data store has improved significantly over the years, and now supports 3D points and on-the-fly spatial aggregations.
ArcGIS simplifies data collection by expediting inspection in sensitive areas, and creates a compliant knowledge base. It provides operations management and keeps a check on the capital and operating expenditure incurred by gas utilities. It also helps in identifying unsafe conditions and prepares utilities for unforeseen circumstances by using location analytics. Further, ArcGIS communicates insights to stakeholders in real time, thereby ensuring timely feedback and transparency in operations. Additionally, the ArcGIS portal allows for diversified collaboration, which enables the setting up of multiple portals sharing with each other instead of just one portal with multiple groups. For large organisations that need to set up multiple systems of engagement, this has proven to be a valuable advancement.
Other key technology advancements
As the world enters the next phase of automation, there is an increased focus on artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotic process automation, which will eventually reduce the number of operational processes in an organisation. With this, repetitive processes such as invoice matching will be eliminated. Mapping of pipelines using unmanned aerial vehicles, better known as drones, is a new aerial inspection technique that can transform the pipeline inspection process from reactive to proactive. It can be used for identifying encroachment and surveillance in a high-pressure network. The aerial intelligence provided by drones offers several key benefits, including safer inspections and helping companies comply with regulatory requirements, while saving millions of dollars in labour, remediation and other costs.
Differential global positioning system (DGPS) is a technology that helps achieve accuracy up to a margin of 10 cm in capturing ground coordinates (50-60 cm in the case of cloudy weather). This helps the operations and maintenance team to get the exact location of the pipeline in case of damages, which can minimise the time required to repair the network. Cloud applications are ideal for addressing the challenges of oil and gas companies, such as rising costs, escalating volumes of data, and running operations on a real-time basis across a difficult and remote asset base. To this end, the cloud offers solutions by integrating and offering standardisation of processes.
The increasing deployment of advanced information technology and operational technology convergence solutions such as GIS, SCADA, terminal automation systems, drone mapping, DGPS and satellite surveillance solutions is helping companies monitor their assets with greater precision and in real time. Oil and gas data sets are largely geographically based; as a result, GIS can optimise almost every phase of the manufacturing and distribution process, ranging from well planning and pipeline routing to effective refinery management and emergency response. Net, net, GIS has a number of applications in the oil and gas industry. Going forward, the demand for GIS in gas distribution is only going to expand.