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Oceaneering - subsea on your iPad

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Subsea engineering company Oceaneering is seeing a big increase in requests from customers to monitor what is happening on tablet computers - including video from both topside and subsea activities. Is this a pathway to improved subsea efficiency?

Subsea engineering and applied technology company Oceaneering is seeing a big increase in requests from customers to be able to monitor their subsea and topsides activities on their tablet computers, including both video and data.

This is perhaps a sign of where the future is going, said Mark Stevens, director of Communications
and Application Development, Oceaneering, speaking at the Digital Energy Journal Aberdeen forum, 'Digital subsea - integrity management and monitoring', on June 2.

Most of us have seen live subsea video feeds, they were hard to avoid during the Macondo disaster.

Oceaneering carries between 200 and 250 live subsea video feeds from its remote operated vehicles at any time. 30 per cent of the video viewing is now being made on mobile devices, Mr Stevens said.

Customers are asking to see more and more about their subsea work on their mobile devices - including a live map of all of their subsea activities, starting with a map view, which they can zoom in to see the details.

To provide this data takes an enormous amount of software and communications infrastructure.

Mr Stevens leads the 'Communications and Application Development' division of Oceaneering, which is focussed on making this happen.

Oceaneering has been doing live subsea video since 2001, and this summer it will have between 200 and 250 live subsea video feeds at any time.

Companies are increasingly using small ROVs for taking video, known as 'Observation ROVs', he said. These were initially developed following a request from Statoil, and now many companies are using them.

'They literally just fly around the larger ROV providing a better perspective of the operations,' he said.

There is a big drive for more live video streaming of topside equipment, he said, to support the subsea work. The company has seen an increased demand for their explosion proof cameras on rigs and vessels. 'People want to see if the crane is working, if the material is on the deck.'

Providing live video reduces the amount of telephone calls people need to make, to check the operations are going as they expect, he said.

It has started providing KLV/CoT video capabilities, where you insert the geographical co-ordinates of the ROV into a video stream.

This means you can find the section of a video which was recorded from a certain geographical position. 'When a client clicks on a point on the map, the video shows up,' he said.

This is useful for integrity management, for example if you would like to see a video image of a certain section of pipeline.

You can overlay symbols on the video, for example, showing data or equipment size.

Increasing emphasis is being placed on subsea lighting, to improve the video image. It helps that there have been big advances in LED lighting, including their reliability, which is 'a factor of 10 better than it used to be,' he said.

There is also a big growth in demand for 'photogrammetry' services, which means making measurements from photographs, he said.

Managing video data
With the 200-250 video feeds generating around 2 terabytes of data every day, just managing the data is becoming quite a challenge.

In one project, there were 29 ROVs in the water at one time, and every ROV had up to 6 cameras, so over 100 live video feeds were provided to the customer.

The size of video files has also steadily increased, as the industry has moved from 'SD' (standard definition) to HD (high definition) and now to 3D cameras over the past 10 years.

Oceaneering is moving to H265 video compression format, which gives you double the image resolution for the same data speed.

Many oil and gas companies are very reluctant to store the data internally. When faced with a request to store a petabyte, 'the IT group said, 'I don't want anything to do with that', he said.

So Oceaneering manages the data for them. It uses both Google and Amazon cloud platforms. 'By posting it in a cloud environment, it is fairly secure,' he said. 'We can easily replicate the data, it comes up at the same speed in the UK as in Houston.'

Data from tools
The subsea tools are also generating large amounts of data, he said.

For example, rotary brushes capture data about the brush revolutions per minute, and use a camera to see how the cleaning is going.

There is an ultrasonic testing (UT) tool which clamps around a device such as a pipe and sends ultrasound (high frequency non audible sound waves) into an object to test for internal flaws and characterise materials. There is a chain link weld inspection tool, which wraps around chain links.

There is a digital radiography tool (a type of X-ray imaging) which will generate 50 megabytes per hour.

Oceaneering has inspection tools custom built around subsea operations available for rental globally.

There are also tools to continually monitor subsea assets, for example a tool for monitoring blow out preventers in real time and the position of the rams which can be updated every second.

Subsea communications
It would be very helpful to have more and more data from subsea operations available in real time, rather than being downloaded periodically.

At the moment, the only way to gather data from subsea equipment is for a ROV to move to different points in the field and download the data from equipment via acoustic or optical communication, he said, which means that the data is sent to the surface in batches.

'We're trying to get where the whole field is communicating in real time,' he said.

Optical subsea communication means communicating data with (basically) flashing light.

With modern light emitting diodes, this can work over distances at least 150m, if there is minimal turbidity in the water and it is dark.

At the moment there are various optical communications modems on the market and no standard protocol, he said.

There are many different components which need to be connected, and so having open standards is essential to make equipment easier to plug together.

Once the data has reached a ROV, getting data to the surface is fairly easy, because the ROVs are connected via fiber embedded in the umbilical cable.

For communicating data from vessels to shore, it helps that standard maritime satellite communications bandwidth from rigs has steadily increased over the past few years from 256 kbps to 512 kbps, and 'we're moving close to 1 mbps standard,' he said.

Incident response
Mr Stevens said that his division spends about 10 per cent of its time helping companies put together incident response systems.

In the event of any subsea disaster, an oil and gas company would be required to set up a sophisticated incident response centre very quickly, including having a live view of everything that was happening both on the seabed and the surface, including video data and map based tracking.

As a practise drill, oil and gas companies regularly rehearse the process of setting an incident response centre up, he said.

Oceaneering can supply a 'skid' of IT equipment to support the data communications which would be required after an incident, he said.

The US authorities are emphasising the importance of oil and gas companies having what they call a 'Common Operating Picture', a military term which (roughly speaking) means an overall view of what is happening.

'We've been looking to define a Common Operating Picture,' he said. 'In my view it is the embodiment of all the data coming in. If I'm in a room, all of the data that comes up, that is the common operating picture.'

The data can be displayed either on a very large screen, or on a smaller screen with multiple layers.

The Common Operating Picture could include both subsea video and data.

A map based interface is also an important part of a Common Operating Picture. Oceaneering has been doing a lot of work with ESRI, a provider of geographic information system (GIS) software, in this area.

Vessel tracking
Oil companies have a growing need for accurate data about the location of vessels working on their project.

All vessels greater than 300 gross tonnage are required to be equipped with 'Automatic Identification System' (AIS) transponders which broadcast their location.

There are a number of online services which provide AIS data for all vessels in a certain region, but they typically only provide the information via a web interface,so they can earn money by selling banner adverts around it, Mr Stevens said.

Operators are increasingly demanding vessel traffic data as an 'ingestible' data feed, he said.

In order to be able to provide this, Oceaneering recently acquired a U.S. company called Airsis, which provides a vessel tracking and doc management system called PortVision, which provides AIS as a data feed or as a web portal to view over 5 years of vessel movement history, he said.

Associated Companies
» Oceaneering
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