Clean Tech and Developing the Digital Oilfield

Award-winning remote monitoring and control specialist Abriox’s CEO Sean Daniels discusses the greening of the production of one of the world’s most prolific energy sources—oil—and how digitalization can assist.

“We’ve all seen, read, or heard the news headlines about the need, or at least expectation, for companies in all sectors of industry to do what they can to work cleaner,” says Daniels. “The oil industry comes under a lot of criticism as a natural by-product of petrochemical combustion is carbon dioxide. However, all electricity generation—and I do believe we need a mix of energy from different sources to meet global energy demand—comes at a cost in terms of environmental impact or risk.”

Some examples of this include damming of rivers or flooding of valleys with hydropower; and producing radioactive waste and using a great deal of water with nuclear power.

Oil generates electricity to power cities, warm homes, and fuel cars.

Daniels notes that it is a reliable, safe, and versatile form of energy. “But like all industries over the last decade or so, oil manufacturers and distributors have been under pressure to ‘come clean,’” he explains. “There is one easy way to do this—embracing technology. Specifically, ‘clean technology’ or ‘clean tech.’”

Defining the Digital Oilfield

Many buzzwords are used today suggesting something is environmentally friendly, such as “net zero,” “sustainability,” and “environmental, social, and governance compliance (ESG).” Similarly, clean tech is about utilizing technology to be more environmentally friendly. “When it comes to oil production and distribution, the clean tech evolution is specifically contained in the ‘digital oilfield’ concept,” says Daniels.

So, what is the digital oilfield? It’s an oilfield operation that uses digital technology to replace manual processes wherever possible. This offers a myriad of benefits, including significantly improved cathodic protection (CP) monitoring data quality, safety, cost efficiencies, and a significant reduction of potential negative environmental impacts.

In fact, at this year’s World Future Energy Summit, digital oilfields were recognized for becoming increasingly prevalent due to the multiple advantages they offer over traditional oil field and distribution operations.

“Specifically, by using monitoring devices which utilize the Internet of Things, or IoT, to collect and analyze data in real time, faster, more accurate and better decisions can be made,” Daniels says. “This in turn leads to significant operational and bottom-line benefits.” Pipeline operators receive accurate, business-critical data faster, and they can analyze it faster, allowing them to make decisions faster.

Remote CP Monitoring

High quality, high reliability remote CP monitoring is essential to assisting in the prevention of pipeline (or storage facility) failures due to corrosion. “According to data collected by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, there are still dozens of pipeline and storage facility incidents each year,” notes Daniels.

“Leading to not only disastrous environmental consequences, but also resulting in human fatalities and injuries,” he adds. Unfortunately, numerous companies are facing civil and criminal proceedings due to the consequences of these, often entirely preventable, incidents.

Looking at the labor and cost intensive process of ongoing pipeline monitoring provides an example of how the digital oilfield aids in corrosion management. Traditionally, visual inspections are carried out via foot patrols in accessible areas or by helicopter, or even boats, once a year. Not only is this time consuming, but it is also expensive. Sometimes problems arise between these inspections, leaving pipeline operators to respond to a situation that has occurred.

“Digital CP RMUs provide integrity data every day as opposed to annually,” explains Daniels. This means where a weakness is identified, steps can be proactively taken to prevent the problem, rather than the previous reactive response of damage control.

Abriox Sales Manager Richard Williams during field trials of the SUNBIRD SP. Photo courtesy of Abriox.

The Abriox Solution

Since 2005, Abriox has developed low-power remote monitoring systems for pipeline operators in the oil, gas, and petrochemical industries. Today, efficient remote solutions must be digital and use compatible platforms, such as 4G and 5G IoT, to transmit data.

“At Abriox, since our inception, our entire ethos has been about developing the best in cutting-edge, high-quality, cost-efficient technology to enable oil companies to remotely monitor and control their fields and networks at optimum levels,” says Daniels. “I guess you could say Abriox were digital oilfield pioneers!”

All Abriox monitoring units, or RMUs, are internet based. More recently, they have been developing very exciting proprietary technology that allows some of their cellular and devices to be 100% solar-powered.

“The SUNBIRD SP, which features integral solar panels (the ‘SP’ stands for ‘solar powered’), was featured in Materials Performance magazine last year and was called ‘the industry game-changer’ by customers—some of the USA’s top oil companies—during field trials,” Daniels says. The SUNBIRD SP is a solar-powered RMU that requires no external power source other than the sun to run it. It transmits vital CP data via 5G cellular communication on demand.

Another initiative we launched to support sustainability is our MERLIN6 Upgrade Service,” notes Daniels. “This is effectively a promise by Abriox that all our MERLIN6 units can be modified at a very low cost to ensure they work with future cellular communications networks. One of the issues our customers tell us about is how frustrating it is for them to purchase our products, which are incredibly high quality, and then not be able to use them if network providers decide to sunset a particular communication platform, such as the ongoing 3G sunset in the USA.”

Path to Going Digital

If an oil company is interested in becoming digital, the first step would be to deploy RMUs because data collection and monitoring will immediately have a zero-carbon footprint and ongoing monitoring costs will become negligible.

“Abriox’s units are typically ‘fit and forget’ with automatic installation (no laptops required), are robust, and don’t need much or any maintenance, which is advantageous as many sites are difficult and costly to access due to hazards or geographical challenges,” Daniels explains. “This enables our oil customers to redeploy the specialist skills of oil pipeline technicians to more critical tasks. I also recommend that RMUs are sourced directly from specialist suppliers or distributors with clear expertise.”

Consideration of technical support is also important. For example, Abriox offers a five-year warranty on many of their products and their U.S.-based team is available to help with any questions.

Daniels concludes that digital oilfields streamline all the processes involved in the maintenance and monitoring of pipeline integrity. “There are no negatives to digital oilfield models: they are the future of effective pipeline management.”

Source: Abriox,

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