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Total CIO: Oil and gas companies are preparing for the IoT data gush

Gimenez Gimenez
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IoT sensors can deliver transformational improvements for the oil and gas industry. But first, they must work in dense and often explosive environments, says Frédéric Gimenez.

If data is the new oil, what does that do for the oil industry?

Well, according to research by the World Economic Forum and Accenture, it could be a key to unlock US$1.6T of value for the industry, consumers and wider society.

The WEF’s 2017 report examined how cheap Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, widening connectivity and rising computing power are driving the increase in data collected by oil and gas companies.

Specifically, it revealed that a typical drilling platform houses around 80,000 sensors, which can generate approximately 15 petabytes (or 15 million gigabytes) of data during an asset’s lifetime.

Clearly, oil and gas companies can use this data to make decisions that can dramatically improve efficiency and safety.

This is certainly how Total sees the IoT opportunity. The French company, which extracts 2.5 million barrels of oil a day, believes the potential for transformation is vast.

“The IoT is an opportunity in so many areas,” says Frédéric Gimenez, CIO of Total. “We can use it for preventive maintenance, to optimize the supply chain with tracking equipment, to power safety enhancements for people and assets, and also to create new business models especially in low carbon energy management systems.”

Gimenez explains that the IoT opportunity arises from a powerful combination of three elements:

1. The sensors that gather data about equipment performance and geological conditions
2. The connectivity that enables the sensors to transmit the data
3. The data analytics platform that makes sense of the information gathered

However, he also says that the oil and gas industry has unique challenges when it comes to building out IoT solutions.

“Connectivity is key,” he says. “But our sites are very large and they have a dense concentration of metal equipment. Wireless connectivity can be very bad in these environments. That’s why we are currently testing more than seven different technologies to find [the] best one to fit both for [sic] the geolocation of people and the gathering of remote information.”

While oil and gas extraction sites are large and ‘metallic’, they are also explosive. This is another factor that compels companies like Total to look for new ideas – especially when it comes to sensors, which have to abide by a standard known as ATEX (ATmosphere EXplosive).

“Our plants are full of hydrocarbons,” says Gimenez. “We have strong constraints on the kind of electrical equipment we can bring into the site.

“We must ensure that all equipment is ATEX compliant, but…they are 100 times the price of a standard sensor. So we need to co-develop new kinds kinds of sensors with vendors and startups.”

In fact, Total already has a number of projects in place to accelerate these ideas. They include the launch of the Plant 4.0 incubator in 2017.

Needless to say, Total also recognizes the primary importance of cybersecurity in the development of IoT solutions. In oil and gas, the dangers of a breach clearly extend beyond finance and identity and into areas of sabotage.

Meanwhile, an added complexity for oil and gas companies is their geographical scale. This means that firms like Total cannot merely rely on following regulatory guidelines for a single region.

“Regulators have their role,” says Gimenez. “However there is not just one regulator on earth – and we operate everywhere. So we can’t wait. We have to work with the other companies and with vendors to create cybersecurity that is embedded inside the solutions and still honours the regulation.”