February 2019, Vol. 246, No. 2

Editor's Notebook

Refining the Oil and Gas Industry Through 5G Mobile Technology

Guest Editorial

Refining the Oil & Gas Industry Through 5G Mobile Technology

The next generation of wireless technology, 5G, is nearly upon us. And right now, enterprises across all industries are imagining how it will change their business. This digital transformation will impact the oil and gas industry in significant ways.

We expect 5G technology to eventually connect more devices faster, enable lower latency, boost battery life and handle more data. This will usher in possibilities like analytics-driven optimization of well location and production including field operations. This means companies will be able to remotely monitor performance and equipment maintenance.

Without the network there is no digital transformation. The network of the future will help enable connecting the entire enterprise, not just bring faster speeds to hub locations. 5G is expected to ultimately impact how businesses operate at every level.

Picture this

Today’s business critical functions will be augmented and enhanced in the future with 5G. With multi-disciplinary capabilities of 5G – such as, spectral efficiency, densification, licensed, and unlicensed & shared spectrum –  software defined networking (SDN) and edge computing will change the perception of 5G from a network evolution play to an enabler of digital business.

For example, consider emerging 5G capabilities in well optimization efforts. Using artificial lift technologies, paired with AI and automation could help keep pumping rates in sync with the changing fluid flow into the well. With more than 100,000 horizontal wells in the U.S., even moderately increased efficiencies in a few barrels per day, per well, could deliver a significant increase in production.

Consider edge computing at the drill site, for example. There would be no more waiting for data to be moved off-site, processed and returned with actionable intelligence. Most of this would be completed in near real-time and on site. Applications could be built for the efficient and rapid collection of data, making edge computing-enabled on-site decisions, utilizing machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI)-assisted analytics, and ultimately protecting a platform for digital transformation.

For oil and gas companies, LAN infrastructure and associated cabling in the refineries can be costly to install. The potential of 5G technology is promising. In the downstream sector, refineries and terminals will eventually see major impact with the new wireless and antenna capabilities of 5G to connect thousands of sensors versus older technologies.” Digitalization of refineries could enable just-in-time, prescriptive maintenance and automate processes like blending of crude based on market economics and energy transactions secured through blockchain-enabled trading platforms. And upstream, exploration and production operations would be able to use massive machine type communications (MTC) to connect thousands more sensors at the well site.  

With 5G, these connections could eventually take advantage of about 100x more data throughput with 1/10th the latency and self-backhaul capabilities to enable edge computing capabilities delivering more drilling up-time and efficiencies.

Critical to a digital transformation

New opportunities will be created with 5G that will benefit oil and gas companies. For example, 5G could eventually power drones with near real-time video streaming to carry out inspections in hazardous environments. 

Think about possibilities in remote equipment operation, health, safety and well-being of workers. Autonomous vehicle technologies could enhance remote-operated vehicles (ROVs) in subsea operations and crash avoidance of drone fleets. AR/VR and digital twin technologies could eventually facilitate remote expertise for operational challenges in remote and offshore operations.

5G will become an enabler of digital business and will be an integral part of a company’s digital transformation. The opportunities 5G presents to oil and gas companies are expected to be limitless. P&GJ 

Author: Michael Heath is vice president, Energy Solutions for AT&T.

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