Video Increases Safety in Oil & Gas

By Joyce Deuley

The first session JBA attended at this year’s Entelec Conference was A Picture is Worth a Thousand Data Points, presented by Greg Santos, Principle Engineer for Industrial Video & Control (IVC). Monitoring remote processes in oil and gas operations is critical, since leaks can not only result in heavy losses, repairs and clean up costs, but also endanger lives. Traditional forms of remote monitoring have improved over the years, thanks to super control advisory and data acquisition (SCADA) and human machine interface (HMI) systems, but when video is streamed into SCADA/HMI systems, it offers more information in a single frame than HMI screens display with a multitude of data points. Because video streaming can add layers of value to established remote monitoring systems, companies can detect leaks more effectively and improve response times. One of the main benefits to utilizing video with SCADA/HMI is that what is pictured is immediately understood. Rather than having to sift through lines and lines of data, companies can look at a snapshot to see if a leak is occurring in real time.

How does it work?

IVC installs multiple cameras at a remote site, and use specialized algorithms and thermal imaging to detect “events” that can trigger alarms. Thermal cameras, though, can often have a series of false events when animals pass in front of the camera, humans are onsite, or nearby light sources that heat up overtime. IVC has developed a series of algorithms to help mitigate these false alarms that can tell the difference between an actual event and other animals and people, and “ignore” the non-human figures from the screen. Additionally, when people are onsite, an event alert is created, and there is a “lock-down” on the video footage. It is easy for companies to know whether someone who isn’t authorized to be onsite is present.

Another aspect to IVC’s video process control solution is that the company can designate alarm zones and put priority levels according to which zone is more critical than another. This keeps the camera’s attentions more focused on the areas that need surveillance most. In the event that there is a leak or a security event, the cameras switch on and begin recording and then sends the video back to the company servers. Companies can use the web interface or “control room” via their mobile device or computer to immediately see what is happening.

In the event of a leak, IVC has created an algorithm that is specifically looking for the presence of hydrocarbons. This means that water vapor in rain or other weather events won’t trigger false alarms. Once hydrocarbons are detected, the camera will then colorize the pixels, isolating the ones that have hydrocarbons, making it immediately apparent that there is a leak, even if it is a relatively small one. Companies can also set up thresholds on how big the leak needs to be before an alarm goes off. This can help them prioritize which remote sites to attend to first—not every alert is a critical one.

Additional Benefits

Not only can video monitoring increase response times and help companies save on damages, loss, and safety, but when incorporated into monitoring daily operations, video can be utilized to identify portions of the process that can be improved. By detecting inefficient, or incorrect, procedures, companies can make incremental changes in processes for better optimization and performance. Through the web interface, videos can be isolated by date and time, allowing companies to examine what had occurred during a particular event, notice areas that need improvement, and make changes accordingly. These improvements could result in increased efficiencies and better management of resources and product, helping bolster the company’s bottom line.

It is important to note, however, that IVC doesn’t claim to be a preventative for any of these event-based alerts or issues with processes. Instead, it markets itself as a powerful tool that helps companies react much faster and more strategically, which results in better business practices as well as improved operations and security.

Some Drawbacks

Video streaming does require a lot of bandwidth, so continuous monitoring isn’t really an option unless the site has a decent Internet connection; for smaller oil & gas companies, this could be challenging. However, IVC’s system can be set up to just transmit video in case of a security or safety event. Setting up alarm zones will also help keep streaming to a minimum, maximizing the site’s network for other systems.

The equipment isn’t explosion/hazard proof, so it is subject to safety regulations and portions of the system may have to be housed away from the site. One of IVC’s cameras allows the viewer to control the direction the camera is facing and can even zoom in, so closer inspections are still possible. Not to mention, the colorization of hydrocarbons and other types of leaks mean that even if the camera is at a distance, the leak can still be detected and visible on the video. But in order to get the equipment set up, it could require some serious investment to potentially dig trenches and build proper housing, not to mention installing additional solar panels to help mitigate the system’s power draw.

Ball park figures for a two-camera system could be as much (if not more) as $100k, and taking into account installations at multiple sites, it is a staggering amount given the industry’s current situation. If the presence at the Entelec Conference served as a reflection of the atmosphere in oil & gas, I’m not certain that many companies are prepared to make such a huge financial commitment.

Final Thoughts

Utilizing video on top of current SCADA/HMI systems could prove invaluable to the oil & gas industry as a means to reduce loss, increase safety, and improve response times. Though IVC’s system is reactionary rather than preventative, it and others like it, could serve as a powerful tool to help companies optimize their processes and improve their profit margins. But given the industry’s current supply gut, and the fact that it is dealing with a knowledge/skills gap between veteran and new employees, a tightening of budgets across the board, it is important to remember that there are many different ways that companies can benefit from IoT, whatever the budget. Oil & gas companies can use this current downturn as an opportunity to open up the conversation and reach out to players in the ecosystem to find manageable, incremental improvements suited for their unique business needs.