Whitepaper

Winning at the edge

A new frontier for pipeline management

With systems that are continually operating and transmitting real-time accurate data, 24/7/365 monitoring with automatic fault-detection prevents unplanned downtime and other operational inefficiencies.

In this whitepaper it outlines:

  • Bring control and automation to the edge (devices supporting pipeline operations).
  • Build a robust platform that can operate under severe climate conditions.
  • Provide a solution that secures data at the edge and across the enterprise.

Abstract

In recent years the United States (U.S.) natural gas industry has grown in both supply and demand. Rising demand for cleaner energy options and new reserves exploitation support the expansion of natural gas production. But can the natural gas industry safely sustain this growth? When your operational systems fail, you are exposed to safety threats, compliance violations, inaccurate gas balancing and a host of other issues. In this whitepaper, you’ll learn how applying a rugged industrial-grade platform as part of a wider Edge Computing solution can drastically improve pipeline operating economics, enable more flexible operations, reduce downtime and create better information management.

Introduction

The U.S. natural gas industry has rapidly grown. New methods and technologies in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling unleashed a wave of natural gas supplies. With over 3,374 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of discovered reserves, the U.S. is a leading natural gas producer. Concerns over climate change and the environment are drivers to use “cleaner” energy resources. Electric power is the leading consumer of natural gas (Figure 1). Today, natural gas meets more than 30% of the U.S. energy needs.1

Natural gas is a clean-energy resource. With abundant supplies, Henry Hub natural gas prices have averaged under $4/BTU since 2015 with some exceptions. Consequently, residential and commercial users are migrating to natural gas for heating and other services. As demand across all sectors increases, can the natural gas industry sustainably meet future demand? Are necessary infrastructure, skilled personnel and safety procedures in place to reliably deliver natural gas to all users?

Pipeline management today

In the U.S., natural gas is delivered to customers through a 2.6 million-mile underground pipeline network. It includes more than 2.2 million miles of local utility distribution pipelines and 300,000 miles of transmission pipelines.1 Although this is a vast and complicated network, pipeline transportation remains the safest way to deliver natural gas to consumers.

In pipeline operations, good information based on real-time data is critical to maintain sustainable operations. For natural gas distribution, the root causes of major incidents are sourced to outside damage (Figure 2). Yet, one-third of serious incidents are related to pipeline maintenance and operations. With a vast network, the time between an event occurrence and the corrective response can be the determining factor of whether it is just a brief interruption or an environmental disaster.

Figure 1. 2019 U.S. natural gas consumption by sector.
Source: U.S. EIA, eia.gov/tools/faqs
Figure 2. Gas distribution serious incident causes, 2005-2019.
Source: phmsa.dot.gov/data-and-statistics/pipeline/pipeline-incident-
20-year-trends. Graphics: Global Energy Writers.

Disruptions in natural gas distribution have major economic, safety and societal effects. From 2015 to 2017, 12 deaths and 10 injuries were reported due to natural gas pipeline accidents in the U.S. There are other countless incidents and near-miss events that do not result in fatalities or injuries. Natural gas pipeline companies are facing pressures from all sides. Communities are concerned about safety practices and the aging pipeline infrastructure. Government regulatory agencies demand better safety and environmental performance by pipeline operators and have enacted more stringent legislation involving rigorous audits and larger fines for non-compliance.

Stratus is hearing the same themes from natural gas companies:

“We are experiencing unacceptable down time of our ever increasingly complex pipeline infrastructure systems.”

“We have to send an army of people to remote locations to monitor critical parts of the pipelines manually if all systems are down.”

“We are running blind when we do not have our systems always on.”

“We have to prove we are in compliance—and cannot be missing data; otherwise we can get fined.”

“We do not have technical IT skills or resources to fix system issues at remote locations.”

“We are adding more and more complexity to our pipeline systems making them more breakable.”

Natural gas pipeline operators are facing multiple challenges to manage legacy, latency and modernization concerns. More importantly, pipeline operators must capitalize on collected data and make information-driven decisions.

“Edge Computing infrastructure outside of the data center is essential as it collects, processes and acts on data collected close to the pipeline infrastructure itself in real-time.”

Edge and Edge Computing: Advanced hardware and software technologies are charting new pathways to improve operations and profitability of pipelines. Such developments are radically reshaping the options to manage data in real-time. Robust and reliable platforms ensure that data and information can be shared with multiple users in a secure manner.

The 2020s is defined as the decade of digitalization. Consequently, advancements in hardware, software and industrial management platforms are blurring responsibility areas and creating new concepts to manage and analyze data closer to the pipeline infrastructure. Looking forward, IT and OT duties will merge as the adoption of Edge Computing and industrial infrastructure management platforms gains momentum within the natural gas pipeline industry.

Edge Computing infrastructure outside of the data center is essential as it collects, processes and acts on data collected close to the pipeline infrastructure itself in real-time.

Conventional pipeline management solutions are failing midstream operators

Many midstream companies struggle to solve pipeline data usage and operational management problems. Incorporating more digitalization capabilities will be part of survival plans to automate processes and do real-time data analytics. Edge Computing is both a viable and essential solution for certain pipeline management workloads and tasks.

Midstream assets are sprawling networks. To improve operating performance and increase equipment availability, pipeline operators need solutions installed closer to the area of operation. Edge Computing acts as the backbone for the transition to Industrial IoT and digitalization. Both the edge and Edge Computing require industrial-grade platforms in order to run automation and control solutions containing HMI, SCADA, historians, analytics and asset performance management functions (Figure 3).

Figure 3. A robust platform supports edge and Edge-Computing applications at the device levels and secures data from remote operations.

Edge Computing can balance the data load collected by smart industrial devices—sensors and programmable logic controllers (PLCs). Not all data needs to be sent back to the global data center. With Edge Computing, data can be processed closer to the midstream pipeline infrastructure, thus supporting faster responses to changing conditions.

For pipeline infrastructure management operations, reliability and safety are critical priorities. According to a recent Deloitte report, a data-driven approach can reduce annual downtime by 70% and lower unplanned downtime costs up to 22%. Unlike conventional time-based infrastructure management programs, Edge Computing ensures that equipment health data (temperature, pressure and vibrations) can be analyzed in real-time. Moreover, Edge Computing is essential as it supports critical predictive maintenance solutions.

Better maintenance programs lengthen the service life of key infrastructure. Due to the remote location of pipeline assets, Edge Computing requires a rugged, secure and highly-automated computing system that protects and supports pipeline management applications quickly, reliably and efficiently. In addition, the platforms must incorporate redundancy to protect stored data and to continue designated pipeline operations should connections to SCADA platforms be interrupted.

“According to a recent Deloitte report, a data-driven approach can reduce annual downtime by 70% and lower unplanned downtime costs up to 22%. Unlike conventional time-based infrastructure management programs, Edge Computing ensures that equipment health data (temperature, pressure and vibrations) can be analyzed in real-time.”

Pipeline management—Houston, we have a problem

A large gas pipeline operator managing 15,000 miles of infrastructure, spread across 16 states, transporting over 1 Tcf of natural gas per year to their customer base, upgraded their compressor stations to a fully redundant system. This upgrade included compressor pumps/turbines, valves, and safety and control systems as mandated by CRM regulations. It was easy to implement redundancy for PLCs, power and network services. Creating an always-on fully redundant computer platform to operate the SCADA, historian, HMI and related control system applications, however, remained a critical challenge. More importantly, a key element in the total operational upgrade was deploying a predictive maintenance solution to detect and address compressor station problems before unplanned outages or catastrophic failures occurred.

The solution adopted involved deploying three standard computer servers at each compressor station, each running one critical application. Unfortunately, this solution had multiple weaknesses. Six to eight servers were necessary at each location to support a range of pipeline management applications. Given space and power constraints, this was a significant problem complicating operations when servers failed. To get a compressor station fully operational again required reconfiguring its exact operating environment back at head­quarters and then driving to the location to do the install and re-cabling. This would take two to three days.

Data loss at compressor stations meant sub-optimal results for the pipeline operator thus defeating the objective of increasing total operational efficiency. The existing hardware computing infrastructure created critical and expensive obstructions to pipeline management goals.

“With systems that are continually operating and transmitting real-time accurate data, 24/7/365 monitoring with automatic fault-detection prevents unplanned downtime and other operational inefficiencies.”

Managing pipelines of the future

Stratus Technologies is working on a new approach solving pipeline infrastructure management problems such as those highlighted. Our solution supports a complete, always-on pipeline system that eliminates downtime and optimizes operations. This approach consists of three steps:

  • Bring control and automation to the edge (devices supporting pipeline operations).
  • Build a robust platform that can operate under severe climate conditions.
  • Provide a solution that secures data at the edge and across the enterprise.

Bring control and automation to the edge. Instead of relying on the data center or SCADA systems for analytics and response actions, Edge Computing supports control decisions and actions at the device level. For pipelines, compressor stations are the heart of the operation. Using industrial-grade computing platforms (Figure 3), Edge Computing supports predictive maintenance and overall health monitoring of compressor stations. Trending compressor sensors data can detect the need for repairs well before a total failure occurs.

Planned maintenance reduces equipment unavailability, cost of repairs and lost revenue. About 30% of major pipeline incidents are caused by equipment failure and incorrect operations (Figure 2). With systems that are continually operating and transmitting real-time accurate data, 24/7/365 monitoring with automatic fault-detection prevents unplanned downtime and other operational inefficiencies.

Build a robust platform that operates under severe climate conditions. For pipelines, instrumentation, sensors, compressors, and data platforms are subject to variable conditions. These devices and assets must withstand temperature extremes, vibrations, and shock. The Edge Computing platform must be industrial-grade design and have resiliency to constantly changing environment. More importantly, the platform must be self-monitoring and self-healing should problems occur. For pipelines, zero-touch technology efficiently supports the monitoring, controlling and updating of remote assets without requiring IT resources on site.

Provide a solution that secures data at the edge and across the enterprise. The main benefit of digitalization is the enhanced ability to move and use data across the organization. Security of data is a major concern. The platform supporting Edge Computing must be continuously available, protect data and include redundancy features for failure protection. With a rugged platform, data is easier, safer, and cheaper to share throughout the enterprise. Flexible operations enable running more applications without adding complexity or risk of failures.

Data hierarchy assists in determining where data should be stored or used. Digitalization will create more data to efficiently manage and analyze. With real-time information developed by Edge Computing, better decisions can be implemented faster at the device level. Smart devices in “plug and play” architectures enable analytics at the edge level and can reduce the need to send data to the data center for further action.

Future proofing the operation

Looking ahead, the midstream industry will need living plans that support continued connectivity and data security to remote pipeline infrastructure, pipeline management solutions and data centers. Planning the best hardware and software infrastructure for midstream operations is critical for long-term sustainability. Midstream companies can’t afford “blind” moments in their operations.

For over 40 years Stratus Technologies has been helping companies keep their systems continuously operational. Learn more at Oil and Gas Midstream or to request a demo.

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