Satellite is of upmost importance when it comes to the oil and gas industry. Reliable connectivity delivered via satellite is used to provide everything from high-speed broadband to real-time monitoring and video conferencing, allowing crew aboard oil and gas drilling rigs to communicate with colleagues at headquarters or friends and family back home from the middle of the North Sea.
Simon Gatty Saunt, Regional VP, Europe, Data and Mobility Services at SES, says: “Not only has satellite managed to keep crew morale high, it also enables instant access to corporate head offices, hence driving efficiencies and streamlining operations across the oil and gas industry.
“With oil and gas explorations taking place in increasingly harsh and remote environments, effective health and safety measures supported by reliable data and voice communications have never been more important. For example, CCTVs are placed all around the oil rigs to identify and monitor the situation and crew on board.”
Expanding on this, Mike Korotinsky, Director of Resources, Inmarsat, says: “Oil companies, drilling contractors and oil field services companies rely on satellite communications to improve operational efficiencies, real-time decision making, safety, security and crew welfare. From exploration to drilling to completion, reliable communications is still difficult to find at so many locations around the world, which is why satellite communications is so important to the industry.”
Satellite communications supports simultaneous voice, video, machine-to-machine (M2M) and broadband data applications in some of the harshest environments around the world. Operationally, voice calling is one of the most critical applications to support, along with corporate network access, video conferencing and live streaming video to enhance real-time decision making, safety and security. Data logging, file transfer and intranet applications must also be supported, while crew calling and internet access enhance crew welfare and retention.
With the advent of high throughput satellites (HTS), things in the industry are getting ready for change. HTS are communications satellites that provide at least twice (though usually 20 times or more) the total throughput of a traditional
satellite, for the same amount of allocate orbital spectrum.
According to James Collett, Director, Mobility Services Product Management at Intelsat, as communications requirements continue to increase, HTS will provide the capacity that enables new, innovative applications that increase the efficiency of site operations. “This connectivity continues to grow in importance as the amount of data being exchanged between remote sites and headquarters increases and operations have expanded to more harsh, distant and isolated areas,” he says.
Another perspective on HTS comes from Fahad Kahoor, Director of Market Development for Energy, Thuraya. He says: “There is much higher bandwidth, though with additional cost and complexity. However, companies are cautious about making new investments and remain focused on cost management. The challenge is to provide satellite communications in a cost-effective way, with a pricing plan that fits their needs, either as a primary channel or a back-up. What that means for us is an opportunity to provide a cost-effective, high quality service that appeals to oil and gas companies’ operational applications and crew calling, with price packages that are competitive compared to other satellite operators.”
Satellite is also used to support mission critical applications. Collet says: “Satellite being used for bandwidth-hungry applications – such as geological data gathering, remote monitoring, data transfer to headquarters and crew safety – is helping make operations on the rig more efficient and profitable. These enhanced services require reliable broadband connectivity to deliver their return. For example, the slightest interruption could mean delays in production and suspensions in operations.
“When the average rig rents for $500,000-750,000 per day, connectivity must be reliable and ensure minimal downtime, and satellite, where 99.999% reliability is the norm, is the one technology that is able to deliver that. As we look ahead, we expect the demands of energy companies to grow in scope and sophistication. High throughput satellites such as Intelsat Epic are designed to meet the growing bandwidth demands as well as provide the support for new applications that will satisfy long-term business objectives,” explains Collett.
Kortinsky says that multiple satellite technologies are integrated to provide an extra level of resilience and traffic load balancing for mission-critical applications. Ku-band or Ka-band systems are commonly integrated with L-band to provide an extra level of network availability and redundancy. Offshore, integrated C-band and Ka-band systems can offer high throughput and higher availability in a cost-effective package on a global scale.
Telemedicine is another mission-critical application that has benefited from the use of satellite.
“When it comes to offshore telemedicine needs, doctors need to be able to provide timely consultation and first aid support. For example, if a team member is injured and needs to be hospitalised, it is critical to get help immediately. Satellite communication can enable this, using a telemedicine solution. It allows the company to set up a call with a doctor who is thousands of miles away from to obtain medical consultation. With the telemedicine solution, the doctor will have access to the patient’s medical records. If further evaluation is needed, a decision can be made immediately,” says Kahoor.
The popularity of smart phones, tablets and laptops has led to the crew’s need to be connected even at the most remote location. Companies aiming to boost crew welfare deliver services such as high-speed broadband, video conferencing and video-streaming so the crew can remain connected to their friends and family back home, and to the world.
Saunt says: “As the relentless search for oil and gas reserves at the bottom of the sea continues, exploration vessels need to remain connected even as they move from one region to another. This has led satellite operators such as SES to design specific mobility beams such as those of the SES-6 covering the shipping lanes of the North Atlantic, AMC-21 covering the Gulf of Mexico and the upcoming SES-9 covering the
Fuelled by a booming population that is set to consume even more energy, some SES customers are now exploring for oil and gas in inhospitable environments such as Greenland, the Barents Sea and Siberia, all using connectivity provided by SES satellites covering these regions, according to Saunt.
Another trend is the impact of satellite technology on the M2M market. Kahoor says: “The landscape for oil and gas companies has evolved to a point where M2M applications are now used to optimise operations, from asset tracking, to communicating remotely with systems all over the globe, to running 24-hour monitoring schedules, while enduring both natural elements and influence from unexpected factors. The promise of efficiency driven by M2M systems combined with satellite technology is even more significant. It impacts the optimisation of processes, enables higher production capacity, enhances security and also helps establish redundancy.”
So what are the challenges faced by the oil and gas industry, and how can they be resolved?
Saunt says: “Not only do the companies have to find the right equipment to withstand the harsh conditions, they find themselves having to implement environment, health and safety measures effectively to ensure their smooth business operations. Much of the challenges can be resolved with reliable satellite connectivity, which can assist in real-time monitoring of the oil and gas platforms. In areas where automation is possible, satellite is also the key to ensuring the team works remotely to control the work process out on the platforms.”
Collett thinks the most common challenge for customers is making an investment in network technology that can satisfy their communications needs today and 10 years from now, by leveraging hardware investments as long as possible.
He says: “Rapid technology advancement and new applications create a challenge for customers to maintain access to bandwidth that can flex as requirements change. As demands keep increasing, customers are facing the challenge of making network choices that will allow them to adapt and expand to meet future requirements without significant increases in capex and opex. Intelsat Epic is designed to provide value for our customers and their end users. Our open architecture approach provides great flexibility, with service providers controlling system elements. When open architecture is combined with our backwards-compatible design, oil and gas companies can incorporate high throughput capacity into their operations without having to replace existing network hardware.
“This delivers improvements in throughput and cost-per-bit while leveraging current network investments, and leads to lower total cost of ownership for the end user. As demands continue to grow, we believe the advantages of an open architecture approach will become even more apparent as operators retain the ability to adapt their networks, increasing access to incredible amounts of bandwidth while controlling cost,”
The continued increase in throughput provided by HTS satellite capacity will enable applications to grow in scope and sophistication. This will also enable more collaboration with headquarters and even other remote locations. All of this means more efficient operations, improved return on investment and a better bottom line for the oil and gas sector.