June 7th, 2019 by Katrina Engelsted
How Oil and Gas Midstream Is Digitizing
The oil and gas pipeline industry is constantly evolving, becoming safer, and more efficient. One of the best methods to do this is by digitizing. In this article, we will discuss the digitization process and what it means for the midstream oil and gas companies that are taking advantage of this process as well as what it means for those that are not.
What Is Digitizing and How Does It Apply to the Oil and Gas Midstream Industry
Digitizing is the act of converting data into a format that computers can read. Essentially, the digitization (also known as digitalization) process creates a digital image that can be used by both people and computers. An example of this could be converting images into a midstream pipeline map.
Once digitized, computer software could analyze the map and check for slope anomalies and other threats to the ROW. Using UAVs and continuous monitoring services, this data could be continuously updated. The computer could then compare the integrity of past slopes with current ones which could be used to alert midstream operators of any changes.
In the past, this was a process that human inspectors would have done as they could have inspected on-site or through manual image review. As you can imagine, it was both time-consuming and labor-intensive. Digitizing made this process much faster and reduced the work required. Let’s look at some other ways digitization has helped midstream operations.
Data-Driven Mapping and Anomaly Checking Verses Reviewing Images by Human Eye
There are many advantages of using data-driven mapping and anomaly checking compared to manual methods of human eye image review. Some benefits include:
- An increase in speed
- An increase in safety
- Easier compliance with government regulations
- Better protection of the environment
- A better public image of pipeline operations
- Reduced costs
Yale University Press reports that a personal computer can now operate 1 billion times faster than the human brain. Not only this, but it also works with much higher skill. This is because a computer can represent and distinguish 4.2 billion data differences. Man simply cannot biologically reach this level of accuracy with the human eye alone.
As a result, companies that take advantage of digitization get more accurate reports and get them faster. Speed itself is useful, but it also has many other benefits.
Increased processing speeds improve safety. The quicker the computer can relay slope changes to midstream pipeline companies, the faster these slopes can be repaired. Repairing a slope early could avoid a landslip while the ramifications of repairing too late could potentially be catastrophic.
The human eye can’t always detect slope changes as early as a computer can. Consequently, companies that use software to search for these slope changes will always find them sooner than if they rely solely on a human inspector.
A Better Relationship with The Government, The Environment, and The Public
A midstream pipeline company is always going to have to work with government on a local, state, and national level. Each government agency has its own needs and expectations. Using data-driven mapping and digitized data helps midstream companies meet and even exceed these expectations.
Quick data collection and anomaly checking also help protect the local environment. Computer software can be used to check for ROW encroachment into protected habitats. Any encroachments can be quickly rectified before any damage to the local environment occurs.
Such swift actions lead to better public relations. This facilitates future business for midstream pipeline companies. Conversely, companies relying on human-reviewed anomaly checks tend to be less proactive and often end up having to repair problems only after the damage has been done to surrounding areas. This can make acquiring future contracts difficult.
According to a report written by the World Economic Forum, “digitalization has the potential to create around $1 trillion of value for Oil and Gas firms”.
Costs savings include:
- Reducing time for completion of pipeline goals
- Reducing slope failures
- Reducing ROW encroachment and overgrowth
- Reducing environmental damage
Digitization improves the speed of virtually every midstream pipeline action. For example, sensors can be used to detect abnormal temperatures, so inspectors need not take constant readings. Midstream pipeline operators can access real-time data at any time during pipeline operation, and midstream pipeline services can be requested immediately as situations arise.
This reduces the time it takes to rectify any pipeline issues, which in turn reduces the time the pipeline remains inactive. According to PG&E, a gas pipeline could send gas at rates of around 15 mph through the line. Two hours of downtime and customers could find their gas 30 miles away when they need it.
Slope Failure Reductions
Continuous monitoring can lead to a reduction in slope failures, often causing considerable damage to pipeline operations. Slopes can be protected as soon as outside influences begin to affect them.
For example, a company using digitization to perform anomaly checks quickly finds a slope losing its integrity. Upon further examination, this company finds that the area adjacent to this slope funnels water into the slope, causing damage. The company can take steps to eliminate or slow this water flow before the slope is severely damaged. This eliminates the costly repairs that would have had to be done on the slope if the situation were allowed to continue for a longer time.
Encroachment of a ROW and The Environment
Finding and stopping ROW encroachment and plant overgrowth can also save costs. That’s because cutting trees is less expensive when they’re young and small than when they’re bigger. The larger the tree, the more equipment will be needed to cut it down. Larger equipment is expensive to operate and more likely to cause ROW damage.
The reduction in environmental damage, as a direct result of digitization, can also help to save midstream oil and gas companies money. This is because environmental damage can lead to fines and lawsuits. Not only this, but the damage must be repaired, which can be costly on its own.
The Benefits of Digitization and Aerial Analytics in Midstream Pipeline Operations
The combination of aerial analytics and digitization benefit oil and gas pipeline projects. Additional reasons to digitize midstream pipeline operations include:
- Digitizing makes planning and the allocation of midstream oil and gas assets clearer and more accurate
- Safety checks can be done before endangering humans
- Continuous ROW and pipeline monitoring can be done faster and more accurately
- Non-destructive examinations can be facilitated
Digitizing can help companies to allocate their resources better. Maps created through aerial analytics can be used to discover geohazards so that teams will know what to expect before they head out into the field. This means planners will have a better idea of what their midstream pipeline investment will cost them before boots ever hit the ground.
Digitization and aerial analytics can work together to provide continuous monitoring of the ROW. This gives midstream oil and gas companies the ability to discover issues as they arise and to deal with them before they have a chance to cause any damage to the pipeline, the ROW, the workers, or the surrounding areas.
Also, digitized aerial analytics data can be used to eliminate environmental damage that traditional inspection teams may have in the past. UAVs, for example, can be used non-invasively to access nearby ROW areas. This allows inspection without ever driving or stepping on.
Digitization and aerial analytics have revolutionized midstream oil and gas pipelines. It made the entire industry much safer, more cost-effective, and less labor-intensive. Companies using these technologies serve their customers better while earning more money.
Solspec is happy to help in any way we can. Our company has many years of combined experience and is willing to put that knowledge to work. We offer constant monitoring, and 3D models, as well as industry standard reports to help monitor any and all terrain. See our Industry Solutions page for more information.