The first thing one notices about trout fishing in western Pennsylvania on a clear April morning is the stunning, unnerving calm. The quiet that blankets the shores of the state’s waterways right around 5 a.m. is so still and peaceful it’s nearly sacred.
It’s a serenity that commands respect. It forces grown men to creep along its pathways like children sneaking downstairs on Christmas morning. If they talk, they only do so in a whisper. If they break the silence by snapping a twig, they twist up their faces in embarrassment and apologize profusely but quietly.
There’s a lot of art in fishing—especially fly-fishing—but there’s a fair amount of science involved too.
Knowing the best time of day and what bait to use can mean the difference between winning and losing.
While it might sound simplistic, that’s pretty much the way applying automation and technology to oil and gas operations works. The more data an operator collects on its surroundings and the better it knows the environment, the better chance it has of being successful.
In the early morning, just after a light rain, as the sky clears and the sun comes out, drops of water collect on leaves and begin to pool. The weight of the water pulls the leaf down and a trickle of water spills out into the river. A small amount of water joins the flow and becomes part of one large stream.
The same goes for the information that unknowingly streams into our networks on a daily basis. Piece by piece, information is collected from offshore platforms and onshore oil wells and transmitted via microprocessor-controlled electronic devices called remote telemetry units. One stream means one thing and came from a specific place, making it usable when operators collect it and learn from it.
Watching a river pass by is not unlike how operators learn about their processes through a SCADA system. Operators interact with the SCADA system by using a human machine interface (HMI), which can be something as simple as a computer screen that displays the SCADA interface.
The data coming into the SCADA system can be as simple as a picture of a tank filling with an animation that represents a certain capacity. When the tank in the field is half full, an animation of the tank onscreen rises to 50%.
In addition to visual cues, the SCADA system also provides alarms that indicate if there’s a problem. There also is the “control” aspect, which refers to the operator’s ability to remotely operate the equipment.
What if every piece of information needed to catch every fish on the first cast could be captured?
Today’s powerful historian software does just that. It logs data continuously without fail, collecting thousands of pieces of data and locking them away. For oil and gas companies, this means being able to take years of data from their operations and capturing them into a robust, never-fail locker.
Once those data are captured, they can be analyzed for trends to make better decisions. These practices, while grossly oversimplified, are how companies use Big Data to make things better. Companies analyze years and years of operational data and search for commonalities and trends that will provide insight into how they can improve in some areas or discover deficiencies in others.
A Cybersecurity Strategy
What if fishing wasn’t just a hobby for you? What if your favorite fishing hole was actually the sole source of food for your family, and you needed to protect it at all costs? What if you could segment your part of the river from the rest of the world and cloak it in such a way that no one else could see it?
In the wake of high-profile attacks on big businesses, oil and gas companies across the country are getting serious about implementing a cybersecurity strategy. The Industrial Control System Cyber Emergency Response Team, or ICS-CERT, recommends a defense-in-depth approach involving specific countermeasures to create an aggregated security posture. It can help defend against cybersecurity threats and vulnerabilities that affect an industrial control system.
That technology exists now, and oil and gas companies are using it to hide critical parts of their network. These cybersecurity solutions can sit on a network and cloak high-value assets, servers and endpoints to safeguard against cyber breaches.
Standard Operating Procedures
Standard operating procedures are beginning to change in a very real way. The practice of locking down standard operating procedures makes a lot of sense for a number of reasons.
First, it ensures all operators respond to specific situations in a certain predetermined way. Next, it captures the best practices of the best operators before they are lost to retirement. Finally, it ensures that the critical steps required to complete certain activities, some of which may be regulated by government agencies, are followed strictly and documented diligently.
While the variables involved with fishing are part of the game, for the oil and gas industry, technology has become quite adept at weeding out variability in such a way that it becomes a nonfactor. The technology exists today to predict outcomes with great certainty, forecast asset failure accurately and connect people with real-time data so they make informed decisions.
This post originally appeared online for Hart Energy’s E&P Magazine.