The energy industry serves as an ideal example of how advanced digital technologies like automated flare monitoring, and intelligent video and audio solutions can transform operational safety, security, and efficiency.
As an area of critical infrastructure, the oil and gas sector is central to the successful functioning of a nation’s economy, society, and security. Any disruption to oil and gas discovery, extraction, processing, and transportation can be detrimental to a country’s activity, its economy, and its GDP. As such, it is imperative for an industry as important as this to gaze towards the future, looking at the ways digital technologies can be used to keep people safe and operations secure throughout the entire production process. And with the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on staff numbers and proximity, digital solutions also offer an opportunity to boost operational effectiveness and efficiency. Let’s look at how oil and gas are moving towards digitalisation to reap these benefits.
Since these critical sites are hazardous due to the handling of complex hydrocarbons, drilling rigs are carefully segregated by area classifications, zones, and divisions, each of which has specific demands for safety and security. Players in this industry should look for partners who have extensive experience working in this sector and can recommend the most appropriate camera solution for these classified areas. For example, explosion-protected cameras for the most hazardous environments should feature hardened casings to protect the cameras in extreme weather conditions and ensure that they don’t create a spark that could cause an explosion.
As the initial drilling process to verify the presence and volume of oil and gas can last for two months or more, and must operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, thermal cameras are essential. They operate in total darkness, are able to alert to changes in heat, caused by leaks and fire, and can provide early detection of internal erosion of high-pressure lines, minimising high-pressure hazards for workers.
Each oilfield can feature tens or even hundreds of wellheads, which are the complex valve and piping structures at the top of a drill-hole. Wellheads manage the flow of the fluid and gas from the production well. They are unmanned but critical and need constant monitoring to reduce the risk of failures and allow for preventative maintenance.
Here again, a combination of both video surveillance and thermal cameras is the ideal solution. Thermal cameras can spot leaks, while high-quality video surveillance cameras can cross-verify and allow for action and response. By enabling prompt repair and resolution of minor issues before they become major, and the deployment of staff across vast oilfields, this solution improves operational efficiency.
As oilfields are exposed to some of the most extreme weather on the planet, it is crucial to use cameras that have been specifically designed to withstand extreme heat and cold, dust, sand, and saline.
After extraction from the ground, oil is transported to a processing facility where it is filtered, cleaned, and turned into exportable crude oil. These processing facilities represent multibillion-dollar investments, and the need to protect these plants from physical attack is understandable. Surveillance cameras are used throughout the plant’s perimeter to create alerts and, if necessary, activate security staff. These are combined with audio technologies, such as loudspeakers issuing automated warnings to people entering restricted areas and live talkdowns for unauthorised entry to the plant’s perimeter.
Within the plants themselves, video cameras are again used to ensure important health and safety processes are being adhered to. Thermal cameras monitor for leaks and the temperature of fluids in the plant’s piping, automatically alerting when these move beyond defined parameters. With other sensors, these cameras can also be used to verify gas leaks and evacuate staff from dangerous situations.
After processing, crude oil is usually transported to the coast where it is stored in tank farms. These farms are critical to keep the oil safe from leaks, fire hazards, and attacks. As such, these sites are constantly monitored by homeland security staff. An integrated intelligent perimeter solution combines thermal cameras for precise detection of potential intruders, high-zoom PTZ (pan-tilt-zoom) cameras to identify intrusions, and pre-recorded and live warning audio for day-to-day security. Additional analytics technologies included in high-powered surveillance cameras, such as drone detection and monitoring, allows operators to mitigate the risks of potential attacks.
The oil tankers used to ship crude oil across the globe are enormous but have relatively small crews. Any leak or failure can be disastrous for the ship’s crew and the environment. Again, intelligent network cameras and analytics can give early warning of any issues on oil tankers and support rapid response, such as man overboard detection and rescue, and prevent catastrophic accidents, particularly while berthing and unberthing.
Automated flare monitoring
Used since the early days of oil and gas production and refining, gas flares are a critical element of health and safety. Traditionally, flare monitoring has been a manual task, with operators using video from analogue thermal cameras to assess the state of a flare at different stages of production. This coordination with the production process is vital – expected flare behaviour and characteristics will differ with the processing activity and the use of safety valves.
Manual monitoring is an intensive activity, with human fallibility presenting a potential risk. And with the recent impact of the pandemic, many sites are operating with fewer staff, further exacerbating the risks of manual monitoring.
Enter IP-based camera technology, which allows operators to efficiently monitor the burning of gas flares digitally. A high-range thermal camera, especially a thermographic one, produces a high-resolution image of a gas flare from almost any distance, allowing for it to be sited in a safe area and easily maintained. Thermal cameras also measure the instantaneous temperature of the infrared radiation emitted from a gas flare, enabling an extremely accurate analysis of the flame characteristics. If a flame is burning transparently and is invisible to the human eye, for instance, or when weather conditions such as high winds cause the flare to rapidly move or change direction, a thermal camera will still return an accurate image.
These highly accurate temperature readings help operators feel more confident that gases are indeed being burnt off. All of the data returned can be fed into the process control system to fine-tune the flare. And when coordinated with processing activity, these measurements give far earlier warning of potential issues than manual monitoring. If flares are burning higher, lower, hotter or cooler than expected, alarms and alerts can be created for operator verification and intervention.
Dual cameras that use both thermal and visual sensors bring additional benefits. While thermal images are optimal for analytics and automated monitoring, high-resolution video cameras allow operators to more clearly assess flare behaviour when alerted and are also essential in post-incident investigations. The ongoing collection and analysis of data is another advantage here – when used in machine learning applications, this information will lead to future innovations in operational efficiency, additional automation, and proactive maintenance.
The oil and gas industry has much to gain from viewing safety and security through a digital lens. This is also true for other sectors that are responsible for critical infrastructure. Even though every sector is unique, each will benefit greatly from digitalisation and the intelligent use of network cameras and analytics. The result? Improved safety and enhanced efficiency. A win-win for all.
Authored by: Meraj Khan, Key Account Manager – End Customer, Axis Communications, Middle East
Rebecca Morpeth Spayne,
Editor, Security Portfolio
Tel: +44 (0) 1622 823 920