Maximising Operational Efficiency: Digitalisation initiatives in the oil and gas sector

Digital transformation has revolutionised the oil and gas sector in the past few ye­ars. Recent digital initiatives include advanced analytics platforms for process unit optimisation and asset performance, big data integration technology and services, pervasive sensors for reliability, digital twin, blockchain, ro­botic process automation and machine learning systems. Moreover, asset management solutio­ns have become crucial for extending the life of assets and enhancing efficiency in the day-to-day operations of the oil and gas sector.

The oil and gas industry is among the early adopters of the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, as its operations are highly de­pendent on workflow management and market analysis. ERP system providers are now designing solutions specific to upstream, midstream, downstream, and oil and gas field service providers. In response to difficult years owing to price volatility, many oil and gas companies have switched to lean operations and realigned their strategies. Lean operations represent a minimalist approach driven by the principle of doing more with less.
Automation and machine integration sho­uld take place when devices are equipped with monitoring capabilities and sensors. Automa­tion primarily takes place at the basic process monitoring level. The supply side includes manufacturing solutions and mobile solutions. On the customer-facing side, ERP systems and customer relationship management systems play a key role and require IT security, cybersecurity, internet of things (IoT) and cloud solutions.

The supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system is one of the most crucial operational technology solutions for the city gas distribution (CGD) networks. It is used to remotely monitor and automate the control of processes and equipment. SCADA systems accomplish these functions by integrating with networks, programmable logic controllers, remote terminal units (RTUs), and sensors and equipment, allowing them to collect, analyse, translate and display real-time data. The web application provides dire­ct connectivity to the SCADA software to gene­rate real-time reports, leveraging auto­mation data to facilitate optimal operational decision-making. Further, the web application enables users to acc­ess reports within seco­n­ds over the internet thro­ugh interactive dy­na­mic dashboards.
Mahanagar Gas Limited (MGL) has dep­loyed one of the best SCADA systems to operate its compressed natural gas (CNG) stations. It has SCADA-enabled valves, which allow mo­ni­toring of their pipeline network. Apart from this, MGL is working on developing systems that will enable customers to track the queues at CNG stations and book slots for gas filling, among other features. Moreover, they are in the process of fully automating their CNG stations. Besides, many other CGD companies across the country have installed SCADA technology and are using it extensively for their gas operations. Key players such as Reliance Gas Transportation Infrastructure Limited, GAIL Limited, Adani Gas Limited, Gujarat State Petronet Limited, Haryana City Gas Dis­tribution Limited, Indraprastha Gas Limited (IGL), and Assam Gas Company Limited have su­cc­essfully deployed SCADA.

All utility networks, including oil and gas, are becoming progressively dynamic and complex given the need for integrating vast amounts of data to ensure sustainable growth. As a result, the management of assets using data has become more challenging. To this end, various industries are adopting the geographic information system (GIS) to streamline and improve business operations and processes. GIS is a comprehensive system that creates, manages, analyses and maps all types of data. By connecting data to a map, GIS integrates location data (where things are) with descriptive information (what things are like there). This provides a foundation for mapping and analysis utilised in science and across various indust­ries. It helps users to comprehend patterns, re­lationships and geographic contexts. GIS data includes imagery, features and base maps linked to spreadsheets and tables, facilitating the interconnection, integration and streamlining of workflows. Additionally, GIS provides as­set intelligence and encompasses various as­pects such as pipelines and networks, asset condition, activity in and around it, surrounding environments, device features, manufacture in­formation and maintenance schedules.
MGL, Think Gas and AG&P Pratham have integrated Smallworld GIS solutions into their distribution networks. MGL encountered challenges in distribution mapping and found GIS to be an effective solution for network mapping, navigation and fault detection. This strea­m­lined their design workflow and significantly improved user experience and efficiency over time. Similarly, Think Gas, which manages multiple lines of businesses such as CNG, domestic piped natural gas (PNG), commercial PNG and industrial PNG, deployed GIS to maintain a consistent workflow. The company successfully integrated SCADA, a vehicle tracking system and mobile GIS to create a unified user application environment. AG&P Pratham has also been leveraging GIS to enhance coordination, planning processes, data quality and relative positioning within its network.

Smart metering
Smart metering is increasingly being adopted to support the long-term growth aspirations of the CGD sector. Automated meter reading en­ables rapid deployment and ensures improved reconciliation between distribution points and loss tracking capabilities. As the price of gas increases and local supply dec­reases, the government and gas suppliers are collaborating to find ways to monitor, conserve and reduce the loss of gas by leveraging technology. The government intends to connect 70 million gas meters over the next 10 years, with the majority being manufactured and supplied by local original equipment manufacturers. IGL is embarking on an ambitious network expansion plan by transitioning from a ma­nual post-paid metering solution to an IoT-based smart gas metering system, enhancing efficiency and improving customer experience. Various types of prepaid metering solutions include near-field communication (NFC)-based prepaid meters, mo­bile application-based smart prepaid me­te­rs and smart prepaid gas meters. In NFC-based prepaid meters, the card serves as the acco­u­n­ting method, with the capacity to store data/ gas consumption for up to 90-180 days. The kiosk acts as the communication point for the card and is required at intervals of 1 km for every 1,000 metres. How­ever, this smart meter may not be feasible for scattered installations. In the case of mobile application-based smart prepaid meters, the mobile application point of sale acts as the accounting method, with the capacity to store data/gas consumption for 90 days in the card. It is important to note that the kiosk requires recharging to obtain data on gas consumption. With rapidly evolving technologies, the smart metering space is witnessing the emergence of innovative solutions, such as ultrasonic meters and thermal mass flow meters, which offer interoperability with other utility bills. There are various communication technologies available for smart gas metering such as walk-by systems, data concentrators, global systems for mobile communications and general packet radio services-based communications.

Key challenges
One of the key challenges faced by oil and gas companies is the lack of an overall strategy to implement digitalisation. Additionally, there is a shortage of expertise to lead digital interventions. Furthermore, the introduction of new digital solutions often encounters pushback from employees. With the expansion of assets, data is being collected from multiple sources. How­ever, at times, this data is scattered across various silos, making it a cumbersome task to consolidate. Apart from budget limitations, oil and gas companies face issues of interoperability, the absence of national or international standards for information technology, and data security threats. To address these challenges, firms must collaborate with technology provi­ders, consultants and engineers to develop a comprehensive strategy.

The road ahead
With the government focusing on enhancing the proportion of natural gas in the country’s energy mix, the importance of deploying digital tech­no­logies has intensified. By increasing the im­ple­me­n­tation of powerful information technology-op­erational technology convergence solutions, businesses can monitor vital assets in real time. The real-time monitoring and manag­ement of gas distribution equipment will help prevent tough and da­ngerous situations such as gas leaks, thereby pro­viding a safe working environment for employe­es and maximising operational efficiency. Through digitalisation, oil and gas networks can transform their operational processes by le­veraging data to seize opportunities and maximise revenue.