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Data flow in the pipeline—An Accenture article in petroleum review

In the industrial Internet, data flows present pipeline operators with new challenges.

Overview

Significant finance is flowing into the midstream segment of the industry as operators are investing considerably in expansion projects to connect new oil and gas supplies with markets. Another part of the surge in investment is a result of the maintenance required to upgrade or replace ageing assets that present the industry with risks as well as lost productivity. Much of the pipeline infrastructure around the world is more than 20 years old, causing pipeline operators to take added precautions to ensure safety when transporting increased production volumes.

While oil and gas pipeline operators are investing heavily in new technologies for better control, inspection and maintenance of assets, an estimated 10 billion devices are linked to the industrial Internet, the global network connecting people, data and machines. These trends foreshadow the future for the pipeline industry. Given the capital investments the industry is making to expand or upgrade pipeline networks, a challenge for operators is to take advantage of emerging technologies that make pipelines safer, more efficient and more agile in terms of routing production where and when needed.

First published in Petroleum Review December 2014. Licensed for print and electronic distribution to Accenture Energy and sites owned by Accenture Energy exclusively. © This information is the intellectual property of the Energy Institute. Any unauthorised copying, republication or redistribution of Energy Institute material, either in print or electronically, wholly or in part, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of The Energy Institute. The Energy Institute logo together with the EI letters are registered trademarks of the Energy Institute. For additional information on the Energy Institute, please visit www.energyinst.org.

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KEY FINDINGS

Three broad trends are converging to create new opportunities.

  • Development of intelligent machines employing advanced sensors and controls

  • Advanced analytics for making deeper business insights

  • Sophisticated visualisation tools for sharing data across entire companies

Some of these technologies are already in use, such as fibre-optic cables and radio frequency identification devices (RFID) that connect to the Internet and provide operators with an understanding of the operating condition of their assets in as near real-time as possible. Others, including big data analytics to identify otherwise unrecognisable trends and conditions to support safety, risk and commercial optimization, are being deployed or are on the very near horizon.

Other technologies are further down the road, but show significant potential for increasing safety, reducing costs and delivering greater efficiency.

Meanwhile, the technology transformation represented by solutions such the Intelligent Pipeline Solution by GE and Accenture has vast potential for the industry. By integrating and digitising large quantities of data, management and operations can share a common view of situations in near real-time, with analytics available at the level of individual assets. The benefits of using the industrial "Internet of Things" include helping pipeline operators make better, faster decisions to improve safety and prevent costly downtime. It will also provide a more real-time view of pipeline integrity across vast networks of interstate natural gas pipelines.

Recommendations

Solutions related to the industrial Internet hold great promise for oil and gas pipeline companies, despite the problems posed by the high costs of investment, proliferating regulatory initiatives and an aging workforce. Indeed, for digital and technology solutions to deliver optimal returns on the investment they represent, companies need to have control of three key success factors:

  • Data management and quality

  • Knowledge management and transfer

  • Understanding the "big picture"

Overall, the success of the pipeline industry is critical to the global energy market. Companies need to improve, not only their infrastructure, but how that infrastructure is managed and operated. Reliability and sophistication of a company’s visualization and data management capabilities are just as important to that company’s future as changes in transportation demand. Companies that scale both will take the lead in this time of tremendous opportunity.