2017 is expected to be an improved year for oil and gas. Reports show the industry is expanding, jobs are growing and drilling permits have doubled. This leads many to believe that over the next quarter, the market will rebound from several years of plummeting sales.

Even with a rosy forecast, no industry is immune to challenges, and oil and gas is no exception. The oil and gas sector faces a unique array of pain points, from traditional concerns of safety and reliability, downtime and availability to dynamic new-age issues, such as regulatory and cyber security concerns. The key for overcoming these obstacles is having a sound and secure networking infrastructure.

The oil and gas industry is set for expansion, but with this growth comes new challenges to consider, including cyber security concerns. The best way to prepare is to ensure the communications network is future-proof and designed to withstand whatever comes its way.

Reliable Oil and Gas Communication: Who’s Most Impacted?

Regardless of your role – distributor, system integrator, design engineer, IT manager, original equipment manufacturer, or end-user – everyone who touches the oil and gas industry has a stake in the successful design of the communications network.

If your infrastructure is not up to par, costly network downtime can occur. This results in less productivity, delayed downstream processes and loss of service to customers relying on the production of oil and gas.

It’s important that teams across every step of oil and gas production, including upstream (hydraulic fracturing, oil field monitoring and offshore rigs), midstream (pipeline monitoring and pumping stations) and downstream (refineries and gas stations) applications, use dependable network components that can withstand harsh industrial conditions for the highest network reliability and availability.

New Challenges for Oil and Gas Communication

Quick and easy networking design that offers the utmost commissioning and control is key for success in the control room and across all oil and gas applications, especially in the face of new and complex threats.

Cyber security, for example, is quickly becoming a big concern for industries everywhere, especially oil and gas. Between 2011 and 2015, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security registered more than 350 incidents and 900 security vulnerabilities with U.S. energy companies, which is higher than any other industry.

A major contributing factor to oil and gas company vulnerability is that many have outdated, aging control systems in their facilities that rely on non-standard and insecure network components. And with the rise of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and an increased reliance on connected devices, the security challenges will become even greater.

Combatting Future Challenges: Four Things to Consider
 

In the face of increased risks and outdated technology, oil and gas companies need to choose future-proof networking components designed to support new and expanded technologies.

When considering how to design the network, teams should look for components that meet the following four requirements:

1. Safety and reliability: Remote monitoring solutions offering high network visibility and control are helpful, in addition to leading industrial security and firewall products for Layer 2 and Layer 3 networks.

What to look for: Look for components that can withstand the harshest environmental conditions and are compliant to oil and gas standards, meeting all possible classified types for each facility site to ensure compliance with UL Class I Division 2 and ATEX certifications. Solutions that can transmit up to 170km without using active repeaters in between are ideal for oil and gas applications.

2. Reduced operational costs: Constant maintenance-related updates, especially in difficult to reach areas such as deep water shelters below 200-400m of the surface, are extremely costly. This is not only because of maintenance fees, but also because of unnecessary downtime.

What to look for: Maintenance-free networking solutions that allow you to remotely and automatically monitor wells and fields and take preventable measures to help avoid production downtime. Using multi-Gigabit solutions that offer extended bandwidth and expandability are flexible and cost-effective tools that can support this initiative.

3. Minimized installation efforts: Installation can be costly in most industrial settings – but even more costly in extreme oil and gas settings, which are often underwater.

What to look for: Wide local area network (WLAN) solutions that meet the ATEX Zone 2 standard for oil and gas applications can help reduce wire line installation costs and enable teams to get closer to the field level, contributing to seamless installation.

4. Withstand harsh environments: The biggest step teams can take to ensure they have a solid communications network is to invest in high-quality, rugged Ethernet infrastructure designed specifically for use in harsh environments. In addition, it’s essential to understand when and where to use industrial-grade components versus those designed for commercial settings.

What to look for: Identify solutions that withstand the corrosive and extreme elements oil and gas applications face every day, including water immersion, crushing, abrasion, UV exposure, oils and solvents, sunlight, extreme temperatures, chemical exposure, and prolonged vibration and noise. This is foundational to the success of upstream, midstream and downstream processes.

Oil and gas applications expose network components, like cabling, to very harsh conditions. Teams need to choose solutions that will offer the highest reliability, safety and availability amidst vibration, moisture and extreme temperatures.
 

The oil and gas industry is poised for growth, but to take advantage, teams need to ensure their control rooms and overall communications infrastructure are well-equipped to support expansion, harsh environments and modern technologies. Success requires the right combination of switches, cabling, firewalls and wireless components that deliver on the team’s unique needs, protect against evolving threats and add to the bottom-line.

There’s a lot to consider when designing the oil and gas communications network. To learn more about how to ensure long-term network performance and reliability in industrial settings, please read the white paper: The Case for Specifying Industrial Ethernet Cable for Harsh Environments.

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