Reliable Connectivity for Offshore Energy Operations
Mike McNally, Director, Maritime Products
Reading Time: 8 minutes
A surge in oil prices and rising energy demand has led to increased investments in offshore drilling. These “floating cities” are expensive to build with ocean-based rigs accommodating on-site employee housing, gyms, cafeterias, and infrastructure to transport oil to shore. But once offshore drill sites are up and running efficiently, they can turn profits with fewer emissions per barrel than their onshore counterparts. Profits are only attainable if oil prices remain at a certain level. Volatile oil prices mean offshore rig operators need the flexibility to pause and restart operations as markets fluctuate.
With sites getting further and further offshore, new modes of reliable connectivity with flexible service plans to accommodate oil markets have become increasingly important. In many regions traditional cellular networks do not reach the offshore sites, making satellite the most reliable mode of connectivity. A connected rig allows operators to automate production, communicate rig-to-shore, improve health and safety of employees, and monitor for leaks or spills – all through an array of connected sensors and devices providing real-time insights. Industry leaders cited rig-to-shore logistics orchestration and remote production monitoring as the most important aspects of offshore energy operations. (Source: Intelsat 2022 Voice of Customer Survey) These are some of the many use cases enabled by reliable satellite connectivity.
Improving Operations with Remote Monitoring and Automation
Real-time monitoring becomes critical for improved connectivity as drilling operations move further out into the sea. Satellite connectivity enables real-time sensors to track drilling and production, monitoring for any changes in machinery to prevent breaks before they occur. This automated array of sensors monitors oil rig assets, collecting data like temperature, flow, fluid level and pressure to optimize productivity and identify any issues in near real time. These monitoring solutions help prevent costly machine breakdowns, safety hazards and detrimental oil spills. In addition, fuel consumption monitoring can help optimize and save money while engine room monitoring and automation can help prevent major delays and broken machinery.
Secure and Reliable Network for Rig-to-Shore Communication
Offshore drilling requires bringing many stakeholders together, from the offshore installation manager (OIM) to the supply vessel captain to third party vendors. Each of these parties play a unique and critical role in keeping the rig functioning efficiently. Satellite connectivity allows all the drilling and monitoring data from sensors to be shared in real-time with onshore employees for instant analysis, asset tracking and geo-mechanical surveillance. Reliable connectivity accommodates critical ship-to-shore communications between onshore technicians/engineers and offshore crew, allowing for remote troubleshooting and diagnostics. It also allows for the integration of corporate IT systems at offshore sites, giving crews access to the business communication systems they are already familiar with, including video conferencing, remote learning tools and crew training.
Increasing Crew Safety and Welfare
Offshore rigs have 50-200+ on-board crewmembers at any time, with roles spanning everything from managers, engineers, cooks, cleaners and general crew. Oil rig personnel can spend weeks or months in very isolated settings, away from families and friends. Reliable connectivity gives crewmembers a lifeline to their onshore loved ones, in addition to many necessary employee benefits, such as telehealth, access to entertainment, crew tracking for safety compliance and remote crew training. It also gives crews and captains access to real-time weather data to ensure awareness and preventative action around any weather threats. This is especially critical for offshore oil rigs in isolated areas prone to rough seas.
Choosing a Flexible Satellite Connectivity Service
Of the 6,713 serviceable offshore vessels, only 50 percent have broadband connectivity and there are currently 610 offshore rigs equipped with satellite connectivity, according to Harbor Research. Unconnected or poorly connected oil rigs risk the safety of their crews, less efficient operations and even unmitigated oil spills. But connectivity alone is not enough – rigs are producing increasing amounts of data and requiring larger bandwidth subscriptions to send data from sensor to shore and offer crew access to connected resources. In fact, connected oil rigs are expected to increase average bandwidth subscriptions from 21Mbps in 2020 to 200Mbps by 2030, according to Harbor Research.
Offshore oil rigs are more affected by fluctuating oil prices than their onshore counterparts because the costs of setting up and operating can be so high. As oil prices fluctuate, operators need the flexibility to slow and speed operations. If oil prices decrease too much, operations will need to be safely halted without risking costly environmental spills or the safety of the crew. Rig operators are looking for reliable communications provided through flexible subscription models from all third-party vendors to support occasional pauses in operations.
Data and service plans aren’t the only drivers in choosing a satellite provider. Many offshore rigs operate in remote locations, where reliable connectivity is crucial, but often hard to find. Providers must offer global, layered coverage with consistent uptime.
Powering Offshore Operations with Intelsat FlexMaritime
Intelsat operates the world’s largest geosynchronous satellite network, with expansion plans underway to deploy the world’s first global unified network. Merging software-defined satellite technology, multiple orbits, cloud infrastructure, and terrestrial network advancements, Intelsat will continue to enable users to experience seamless, reliable and secure connectivity, precisely when and where needed.
Intelsat FlexMaritime is a global, secure, fully managed connectivity solution designed specifically for offshore drilling needs. It removes the complexity of dealing with bandwidth availability, configuration and management of network infrastructure, giving oil rig managers and other stakeholders peace of mind. FlexMaritime delivers multiple layers of throughput where needed, even at the most remote offshore drilling locations. This award-winning, high-performance service provides consistent, “always on” connectivity anywhere in the world with unrivaled network uptime, meaning end-users won’t have to worry about a lack in service availability or quality. Delivered exclusively through Intelsat’s network of highly experienced Solutions Partners, FlexMaritime can be integrated with their innovative value-added services and world-class support to create the perfect solution for their offshore customers. And with a portfolio of cost-effective, easy-to-install terminals, FlexMaritime is the preferred solution for oil rig operators, offshore managers and supply vessel captains alike. Learn more at http://www.intelsat.com/maritime.