Process Automation

Tapas Datta

Tapas Datta

Connecting upstream, optimising production

Companies such as Rockwell Automation are working with one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies to develop fully autonomous drilling-control systems. These are designed for low-cost land drilling in unconventional plays

The oil and gas industry has entered a transformative era of global competition. This era is rife with fluctuations, as the global oil and gas landscape continues to shift, leaving much uncertainty for economic projections, says Tapas Datta, Operation Manager Oil and Gas Middle East, Rockwell Automation.

The implications of today’s industry extend far beyond the latest fluctuations in global cost of a barrel. Oil and gas is arguably the world’s most asset-intensive industry, and every additional wellhead, pump and compressor raises a company’s operational complexity, he says.

The potential cost of an equipment failure or operating error has never been higher. A single hour of downtime can cost a company thousands, even millions, while a major event like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill could swipe billions from a producer’s balance sheet. The nature of today’s industry has put new pressures on each sector of the oil and gas industry.

Highly dispersed production assets, combined with tightening environmental regulations and a shrinking pool of skilled, in-house expertise, are forcing oil and gas companies to find new ways to optimise production, increase efficiencies, enhance recovery and contain costs.


As with other major industries, the search for solutions is leading to a boom in digital technologies, he says.

Today, integrated control and information solutions, including smart devices – elements of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) embedded in wellheads, on compressors and pump stations – are enabling enterprise connections that yield a new wealth of data.

Leading oil and gas companies are taking advantage of innovations in industrial Ethernet-based connectivity and advanced analytical software to better leverage the full value of their asset data and achieve higher operational performance.

Realising The Connected Enterprise has become a business imperative. As the benefits from the convergence of automation, communications and information technology multiply, oil and gas companies are creating digital oilfields.

Wireless technology, visualisation software and other advances now allow oil and gas companies to access and monitor assets in real time, and help merge disparate oilfield data into streams of actionable information – anywhere, anytime, says Datta.

For example: Instead of manually checking on remote wellheads, pump stations and storage sites, operators are using remote-monitoring technology designed for oil and gas applications.

Combining sensors and cellular or wireless connections, this technology offers producers the ability to supervise their wells and other operations from a single, centralised – and safe – location.


Advanced connected technology is helping upstream oil and gas operations pull as much oil and gas from reservoirs as possible, while increasing efficiencies and safety.

Gas lift is one of the methods used to improve recovery from older fields. These systems are designed to automatically sense and control the wellhead variables of a gas lift production site.

The unit adjusts the gas lift injection flow to match an operator-determined flow rate and computes the estimated gas, oil and/or water production in real time.

A centrally located computer allows personnel to easily gather communication and results for analysis, such as trending of flow data which can be particularly useful in the early detection of well problems, he says.

Companies such as Rockwell Automation are working with one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies to develop fully autonomous drilling-control systems.

These are designed for low-cost land drilling in unconventional plays, where development involves thousands of the same kind of wells. A supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system monitors drilling parameters.

Using special controllers and software, the system requires only a small number of highly trained operators in a centralised location.

Via a satellite link, operators can view the drilling sites on computer screens, and override the automatic controls to improve drilling efficiency or make other corrections.

Besides decreasing the number of days required to complete a well, autonomous drilling reduces worker exposure to on-site hazards.

More Stories