Automation & control in European oil & gas

Heightened oil and gas infrastructure investments and stricter process safety regulations to boost market prospects

The automation and control solutions (ACS) market in the European oil and gas industries is expected to witness moderate growth over the next 3-4 years. The demand for oil and gas is expected to boost investments in upstream and mid-stream oil and gas segments which, in turn, will result in greater demand for ACS.

New analysis from Frost & Sullivan, Automation and Control Solutions Market in the European Oil & Gas Industries, finds that the market earned revenues of $1,556.6 million (€1210m) in 2011 and is estimated to reach $1,904.1 million (€1480m) in 2016.

“With an extremely volatile geopolitical landscape in the Middle East and North Africa, the European oil and gas industry is expected to witness greater investments in greenfield projects over the forecast period,” noted Frost & Sullivan Senior Research Analyst Karthik Sundaram. “Although European oil and gas reserves are restricted to the North Sea basin, new upstream exploration and investments in on-shore fields are expected to meet growing energy needs. Such trends will offer significant growth potential for ACS.”

Another key factor driving market growth will be the need for improved asset utilisation and reduced downtime. As Europe has limited sources of crude oil and natural gas, it will be imperative for end-users to invest in advanced ACS that can maximise process output and limit wastage.

Major accidents in oil and gas installations like the Deepwater horizon spill and the Gulf of Mexico incident have highlighted the need for process safety in major oil and gas installations. Such accidents are influencing the regulatory landscape and will encourage end-user investments in ACS, especially, safety systems.

“European Commission regulatory initiatives have been aimed at enforcing exclusive safety standards and regulations governing all segments of the oil and gas industry,” explained Sundaram. “In effect, the emphasis on the highest levels of process safety will persuade end-users to adopt and implement high-end safety systems and safety programmable logic controllers (PLCs) in their oil and gas installations.”

While these are positive trends, major market participants concede that the current economic uncertainty has the potential to dampen new investments and delay project orders, affecting revenue margins and profitability in the short-term.

“However, overall automation needs in the oil and gas domain are expected to be high, and an early resolution of the Euro zone crisis is likely to promote investments and, subsequently, aid the long-term growth of the ACS market,” concluded Sundaram.

Safety and Performance at Gulf Coast (US) Oil Rig

 Improving safety and performance on oil production platform

Moore Industries-International recently helped a major oil and gas company comply with new federal safety regulations relating to communications with offshore oil platforms.

White Paper from Moore Industries

A new case study, Remote Emergency Shutdown Device Improves Safety and Performance at Oil Production Platform (pdf, 236k)  by Jim McConahay, P.E., Senior Field Applications Engineer with Moore and  Richard Conway, Facility Engineer, ENI Petroleum, highlights how ENI Petroleum was able to use the NCS NET Concentrator System® from Moore Industries to establish a direct, real-time communications link between its Devil’s Tower oil platform off the coast of Louisiana and drill ships operating more than 100 km away. The communications system assures that quick action can be taken in case of an emergency and reduces the risk of expensive shutdowns.

Rising more than one mile above the sea bed in the Mississippi Canyon region of the Gulf of Mexico, the Devil’s Tower oil rig is operated by ENI, an Italian multinational oil and gas company. The Devil’s Tower platform is one of the deepest production truss spars in the world, with ships performing drilling operations near subsea pipelines that transport oil and gas to and from the production platform.

New federal regulations forced ENI to create a solution that would allow control room operators to communicate with the drill ships and initiate an emergency shutdown in case of an serious event such as a “dropped object” impacting a submerged pipeline. The solution needed to be effective but avoid false shutdowns – a shutdown of one day costs $100,000 in lost production. ENI had previously used short-range radio links for communication but an expansion of operations took drill ships out of the range of this type of “over the horizon” communications link.

To meet its communications challenges, ENI developed a system across its Ethernet network using the NCS NET Concentrator System mounted on DIN rails. Using an Ethernet Interface Module in the control rooms of the oil platform and drill ships, the drill ship operator can use a push button switch to sound a klaxon horn at the oil platform control room to alert them of a potential threat. In addition, if communications are lost between the drill ship and the platform and human operators are not available to respond, a shutdown procedure is automatically triggered.

“ENI needed a reliable, low-cost communications platform to meet new federal requirements and extend the range that their drill ships could operate safely,” said Jim McConahay. “The NCS NET Concentrator System proved to be a flexible and dependable solution that allows ENI to maintain contact with drill ships and take quick action should any problems arise.”

Improving SCADA operations using wireless instrumentation


by Hany Fouda, Control Microsystems

The purpose of this paper is to explore the particular ways in which operators can tightly integrate wireless instrumentation networks with SCADA and realize the full benefits of such an integrated solution.


Hany FoudaHany Fouda is the VP of Marketing at Control Microsystems and is responsible for developing and executing global marketing strategies across the brand portfolio to further drive growth. From 1995 to 2007, Hany held various sales and marketing positions within the company. Prior to Control Microsystems, Hany worked for Digital Equipment Corp., Yokogawa Electric Corp., and more recently, General Electric Company. He has a B. Eng in Telecommunications and a Masters Degree in Engineering from Carleton University.

Integrating wireless instrumentation with SCADA systems can drive operational efficiency and reduce deployment costs.

The use of wireless instruments in pipelines and gas production operations has been gaining momentum over the past few years. Driven by cost cutting measures and the need to gain more operational visibility to meet regulatory requirements, wireless instruments eliminate expensive trenching and cabling while providing access to hard-to-reach areas using self-contained, battery-powered instruments. However, SCADA engineers and operators are facing the challenge of integrating wireless instrumentation networks with other communication infrastructure available in the field. Managing and debugging dispersed wireless networks presents a new level of complexity to field operators that could deter them from adopting wireless instrumentation despite the exceptional savings.

This paper will look into the particular ways in which operators can tightly integrate wireless instrumentation networks with SCADA and realize the full benefits of such an integrated solution.

The Evolution of Wireless
Since Guglielmo Marconi sent the first telegraph signal across the Atlantic, wireless became part of our everyday lives.  However, the last ten years have seen a dramatic change not only in the radio technology but more importantly in how we use it as consumers and oil and gas professionals. Gas producers and pipeline companies have relied for many years on long range wireless technology to transmit and distribute critical operational data using a wide range of technologies, including satellite, VHF, UHF and license-free spread spectrum.  As more consumers lined up to acquire the latest Smart Phones with embedded Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and broadband capabilities, the price of radio modules have plummeted over the past three years. This has made it easy on industrial vendors to integrate radio modules into a long list of devices and sensors. As a result, the O&G industry has seen an increase in wireless instrumentation, also broadly known as wireless sensor networks, offered from major process control and SCADA suppliers. Wireless became the holy grail of the industry with editors and pundits predicting double digit annual growth and a $1.2 billion market by 2012.

The business case behind deploying wireless instrumentation is a compelling one. By eliminating cabling and trenching, you can dramatically reduce the cost of deployment by as much as 70%. Since wireless instrumentation is battery powered, they are much easier to deploy in the field relative to their conventional counterparts.  Wired systems can take days or weeks to be properly installed. Wireless instruments require only the sensor to be installed in the process, saving hours or days and valuable resources. Other instruments can be added as needed.

Safety and compliance with environmental requirements are major driving factors. In gas production, during the initial flowback period, using wireless pressure sensors reduces the risk to personnel who would otherwise need to be in close proximity to a volatile and toxic well in order to read manual pressure gauges and to report on production readiness. During the flowback period before a wired solution can be installed, wireless pressure sensors put the well analyst in touch with the well enabling remote trending and analysis. EPA regulations in many regions require the use of a Vapour Recovery Unit (VRU) to burn off residual gases from separators and condensate tanks. An easy to install wireless temperature sensor can monitor the VRU and report an alarm condition if the flame goes out.

Wireless Instrumentation is a Different Game
So if the business case is that strong and the return on investment is solid, why are some still reluctant to deploy wireless instrumentation in their facilities? There are three main reasons:

1. 1. Reliability
In industrial applications, reliability is a major concern. Wireless instrumentation must be as reliable as conventional wired units. Even in simple applications like remote monitoring, users come to expect a certain level of reliability and network availability. Wired systems are much easier to diagnose and trace because the medium, the wire, is physically there or could be dug out. Wireless, on the other hand, uses the invisible free space as a medium. Radio signals are subject to free space attenuation, where the signal loses strength at a rate proportional to the square of the distance travelled. Radio signals are subject to reflection as a result of structure, trees, water bodies and buildings. Furthermore, interference from near-by wireless systems such as cell towers adds more challenges.

RF design is getting better in addressing many of these issues. By designing highly sensitive radio receivers, using the transmit power more efficiently and high gain antennas, engineers were able to establish highly reliable RF point-to-multipoint links.

1. 2. Adaptability
Wireless instrumentation networks are required to adapt to the existing environment. It is not practical to move a well head, a compressor, tank or a separator just to create a reliable wireless link. In long range SCADA networks, it would be much easier to locate a 30 foot tower in the field to allow for line-of-sight consideration. It might also be easier to increase the height of the tower to extend the range and avoid obstruction. Wireless instrumentation networks do not have that luxury. It is sometimes difficult to find a location for an access point or base radio that provides reliable communication with the wireless instruments. Relocating the access point or base radio to improve the RF link with one sensor could result in degrading the links with other sensors in the same network.

Adaptability can be addressed by using lower frequency bands, such as the license-free 900 MHz, which tend to provide better coverage, longer range and better propagation characteristics allowing the signal to penetrate obstacles. Also, high gain external antennas that can be mounted as high as possible on a structure allow access to hard-to-reach sensors which could be located at the bottom of a tank. Improved receive sensitivity of radio modules also plays a crucial role in ensuring network adaptability to various industrial environments.

1. 3. Integration
Most gas production, processing plants and pipeline facilities have some level of wireless capability in place. Long range proprietary SCADA networks, backhaul point-to-point networks and local wireless area networks are some of the common systems deployed. Each of these networks is being used for a specific purpose such as control data transmission, high bandwidth communication and video surveillance. Engineers and operators are facing the challenge of integrating wireless instrumentation networks with other communication infrastructure available in the field. Managing and debugging dispersed wireless networks presents a new level of complexity to field operators that could deter them from adopting wireless instrumentation despite the exceptional savings.

The wireless networks integration dilemma is more apparent in SCADA systems. Since wireless instrumentation networks are supposed to tie into the same SCADA infrastructure available at site in order to relay valuable operating data to the SCADA host, having the ability to manage the complete infrastructure as one network becomes essential.

Moreover, having the ability to access hard-to-reach areas and gather new data points that were not economically viable before, gives the operator better visibility into the process and plant operations. However, this data has to end up somewhere in the system in order to be monitored, analyzed and leveraged. SCADA systems are normally designed to handle a certain number of data points or tags. Scaling up the system to handle additional data points and integrate them in trends and reports could be costly.

Despite the abundance of tools to capture, process and analyze data in the process control market, ensuring data integration is still a major problem. Some SCADA systems even have a separate historian module that must be purchased as an add-on to handle the flood of data as a result of adding wireless instrumentation networks.

Addressing the Wireless and Data Integration Challenges
A new breed of advanced wireless instrumentation base station radios or gateways is now emerging in the marketplace to address this need. This new generation of gateways integrate both a wireless instrumentation base radio and a long range industrial radio in the same device.  The wireless instrumentation base radio has a Modbus data port, allowing an external Modbus Master to poll information from the base radio about its own status as well as the status and process values of its field units. It also has a diagnostics port, allowing the connection of the network management software for sensor configuration and diagnostics. Both of these data streams are sent simultaneously through an advanced long range serial or Ethernet radio network. This is how it works in practice:

  • The wireless instrumentation base radio and all field units must have the RF Channel and Baud Rate set identically.
  • Each field unit must then have its RF ID set to a unique value. This value will be used later for Modbus polling of the data.
  • The base radio’s Modbus serial port baud rate must be set to match that of the long range radio.
  • The base radio’s Device ID must be set. This value will be required later for Modbus polling of the system.

The integrated long range remote radio is configured as a remote device relaying information to a Master radio at the main SCADA center. The available two serial ports on the radio are configured to tunnel Modbus polling and diagnostic data simultaneously to the wireless instrumentation base radio. This allows operators to manage and diagnose the wireless instrumentation network through the existing long range SCADA infrastructure. Live data and status information for all field units are displayed in a separate view or integrated in the SCADA host.

On the data integration front, modern SCADA host software offers a fully integrated environment that includes an integrated and scalable historian to handle more additional data without going through expensive and sometimes lengthy upgrades. Developing the SCADA screens based on templates allow engineers to add data points easily and rapidly in their systems.

As the adoption of wireless instrumentation networks increases, users will be faced with a number of challenges to ensure the reliability, adaptability and tight integration with their existing infrastructure.  New RF and antenna designs help to address reliability and adaptability challenges. This leaves wireless and data integration with the existing SCADA infrastructure as one of the critical challenges to be resolved. Luckily, hybrid gateways, where sensor network base radio and long range radio are integrated, allow users to view, manage and diagnose their dispersed wireless systems from a single point. Similarly, advanced SCADA host software, with an integrated historian and rapid development environment using templates, can facilitate the integration of new data points generated by a growing network of wireless sensors.