The continued suppression of global commodity prices has reduced oil and gas producers’ appetite for pursuing new exploration opportunities. As a direct result, operators are increasingly focusing their efforts on existing assets, targeting efficiency, uptime and safety, as well as aiming to reduce overall operating expenditure. Delivering on these objectives can enable assets to be in operation for longer and for resources to be extracted more cost-effectively. However, having specialist people constantly on site can be a significant financial commitment, especially when assets are situated in remote areas that are often difficult and expensive to visit and survey.
In response, satellite imagery and the intelligence derived from its application has become an essential tool for operators – enabling them to get up-to-date information of any area on the globe. Airbus Defence and Space is a specialist provider of intelligence and monitoring solutions for the oil and gas industry, with access to a fleet of exclusive very high-resolution optical and radar satellites. In this article Airbus Defence and Space’s senior geologist, Michael Hall, explores the latest technical advancements and how they meet the challenges related to site monitoring.
Wide overview and fine detail
The variety of currently available satellite sensors already provides the flexibility operators need to access required intelligence during the decision-making process. In most cases, fine detail is required to monitor infrastructure, including pipelines or storage facilities. Airbus Defence and Space’s Pléiades satellite constellation for example consists of two very high-resolution (50cm imagery products) satellites orbiting the earth 180 degrees apart. Pléiades is commonly used when a high level of detail is required over a specific area of interest. In one recent example, a 600 km pipeline built over undulating terrain, required regular monitoring. The Pléiades constellation was tasked with capturing very high-resolution images of the entire pipeline, with the resulting images supplied in 12 segments. Once acquired the data allowed the operator to analyse the infrastructure’s status, identify potential risks and plan maintenance work without ever leaving the office. This approach proved to be significantly more cost-effective than sending surveying personnel out to examine the extensive stretch of pipeline on the ground, where risks are prevalent and more time is needed for the team to accurately cover the infrastructure’s entire length.
When monitoring the surrounding area of a site or facility, wide swath sensors are often the optimal solution. In one monitoring project along the Australian North East coast, Airbus Defence and Space’s SPOT constellation (1.5m imagery products) was used to capture more than 1,500km2 in a single day, whilst Pléiades was also used to augment the resulting data by providing fine detail for more critical areas of interest.
Operators of offshore facilities can equally benefit from satellite technology. Using the latest radar sensors offered by TerraSAR-X, the presence of oil on the sea surface from both natural and anthropogenic sources, can be accurately detected by observing the dampening effect of oil on capillary waves. This radar assessment approach provides an accurate indication of natural oil seepage and a useful tool for environmental protection activities or to plan emergency response actions when a spill occurs.
Near-real time imagery
When up-to-date information of a specific area of interest is required, end users can task satellites from the comfort of their desk. This can be useful for a variety of applications throughout the oil and gas project’s lifecycle. In one recent example, Airbus Defence and Space’s satellite tasking service was used to get up-to-date data for water quality reporting, which was supplied to an oil and gas industry contractor undertaking a project in the Caspian Sea.
The contractor was constructing a pipeline – a process which involved dredging the sea bed, causing underwater sediments to be disturbed and impacting water quality. During the project Airbus Defence and Space’s high-resolution Pléiades satellite was tasked five times through the GeoStore (an online platform which allows tasking a satellite 24/7). The images were delivered 2.5 hours after acquisition thanks to the fully automated process. The speedy delivery allowed the client to carefully analyse the dredging impact in significant detail and proved to be highly cost-effective, as it removed the need to send team members to the site to collect data for laboratory-based analysis.
One Tasking - satellite tasking innovation
Based on the operator’s interest in keeping processing and ordering times to a minimum, Airbus Defence and Space recently developed a new satellite tasking service, named ‘One Tasking’. This new offering makes the satellite tasking process easier than ever before, whilst also fully committing to delivering only the most useful results, with minimal cloud-cover. To match contrasting industry needs, different, tailored One Tasking solutions have been developed based on the required level of access to very high and high-resolution sensors. These One Tasking solutions allow cost-effective, up to daily monitoring of development projects, production sites or decommissioned infrastructure. Image capture can be set up in regular intervals (OnePlan) to ensure changes are recorded and monitored. In case of an emergency on site, immediate imagery is required and OneNow has been developed precisely for this purpose. OneNow allows the tasking of a satellite, with the highest priority, to continuously collect images until a clear, almost cloud-free image has been successfully acquired.
When facing an immediate emergency on site – for example fire, oil leak, explosion or damage caused by a natural disaster – satellite imagery of the area can play a vital role in planning a timely and appropriate response. In one recent incident, Libya’s largest fuel storage facility caught fire during conflicts between rival militants. As the fire was spreading amongst storage tanks, rapid acquisition of very high-resolution images of the facility was essential in providing a quick and effective assessment. Airbus Defence and Space’s Pléiades satellites were tasked to supply very high-resolution images of the area, with initial imagery being delivered just one and a half hours after the satellite passed over the region.
When operators need immediate, expert assistance in an emergency, some satellite image providers offer a 24/7 emergency support hotline to supply up-to-date intelligence. An additional tool is to have dedicated software, such as SafeCommand, in place. This type of integrated operational data management, communication, asset tracking and emergency response software allows operators to securely and reliably share relevant information with their teams around the world, creating work groups and safely facilitating large volumes of data transfer.
Saving cost and time
The nature of the satellite imagery and intelligence industry means technological advances are rapid and there are regular new developments. This article explored how innovation in satellite-based monitoring is making a significant contribution in supporting the operational activities of oil and gas companies and related industries. In addition, the capability of automated processing and analysis, utilising satellite derived data, is constantly increasingly – providing a suite of tools to cost-effectively monitor assets over an extended period of time or when facing an emergency. Our industry understands the specific challenges being faced by the oil and gas industry and is on hand to help.