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New Era of Real-Time Digital Oil Rigs

The best way for a struggling drilling industry to deal with lower crude oil and natural gas prices is to squeeze more efficiency, yields and cost savings out of production using technology. Since it costs about $20,000 a day to contract an onshore drilling rig, shaving even a few days off well yields using information and automation can deliver a make-or-break ROI.

Oil rigs are becoming huge sources of Big Data that can help engineers back at operation centers achieve greater safety, optimize yields and reduce rig downtime.

It’s not uncommon to find instruments continuously collecting data from wellheads, pipelines and mechanical systems that could help engineers improve well productivity as well as prevent equipment breakdowns and safety/environmental threats…if they could analyze and visualize the data in real time.

But oil rigs are typically located in remote areas cut off from the broadband world. Rig operators need new technologies to transport massive terabyte-volumes of data in real time so that offsite operations specialists can instantly predict problems, reduce risks, fine-tune oil and gas flows, and make other informed decisions that reduce the cost of production at a time when every cent-per-barrel counts.

One of the worldwide leaders in oil and gas drilling equipment and production operations is combining the latest in land rig technology with high-speed communications and data analytics to bring oil and gas production into the real-time data era.

The Houston-based company turns drilling data into real-time information for review and analysis of rig operations. Huge volumes of rig data are uploaded or streamed to a centralized monitoring and advisory support center, which serves as an analytics hub for all drilling data.  Data specialists and engineers work around the clock to proactively monitor and analyze real-time drilling data to optimize the drilling environment.

Analysts begin by reviewing key performance indicators and drilling data to understand how to improve drilling rigs, and identify where risks and opportunities may lie. Using offset well benchmarks, they then develop a drilling plan. Once the plan is mobilized on the rig, they continuously gather and visualize many gigabits of surface and downhole data to make real-time recommendations that minimize risk, increase uptime and improve performance.

The new system serves as a visualization platform for time-series data from sensors and control systems to support the analytics and machine learning. It includes a compact, lossless storage mechanism for sensor data. Each terabyte of storage has the capacity to store 750 billion to 5 trillion data points.

The system can quickly collect and process this sensor data and all other time-series data from any source within the rig infrastructure and make it widely available to users.

For example, a wired drill pipe streams data to the surface up to 2,000 times faster than conventional telemetry. That information controls the rig, and based on real-time analytics, operators can set new parameters to further optimize the drilling process, improving drilling performance and reducing risks from factors like vibration and pressure.

More data means faster remote communications
However, analytics is only part of the solution. With the constant stream of vital information being collected, relayed, and analyzed—from weight on drill bits and downhole sensors to pump pressure and rate of penetration—the company also needed a fast, secure, and accurate network to support the real time communications.

The company has equipped its drilling rigs with a broadband satellite network from Hughes Network Systems, making it one of the fastest satellite network services in the oil & gas exploration industry. The recent explosion of data and communication services on mobile exploration rigs has required higher capacity network connectivity in hard-to-reach remote areas. Satellite communications provides high quality connectivity anywhere on the earth, making it well suited for the remote and often harsh environments of oil fields. 

And because the company’s clients have zero tolerance for network outages due to the huge operational costs of these rigs, the reliability of satellite broadband was key. The network utilizes the IPoS (IP over Satellite) standard for satellite transmission – a standard which has been adapted by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) and the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA). The key to this standard is the ability to provide differentiated and prioritized services to individual remote terminals. This allows each connected rig to have a guaranteed SLA in terms of response time as well as bandwidth offered.

Also integral to the IPoS standard is the capability to continuously and dynamically adjust and prioritize the downstream and upstream link parameters to each rig individually. This capability results in the network providing the very highest link availability possible to ensure real time performance for data analysis.

In addition to expanded satellite service, the company installed new mobile ground equipment on hundreds of rigs. The equipment includes a high-speed VSAT modem packaged in a compact “auto-deployable” platform that automatically unfolds and orients itself towards the satellite and starts transmitting data with the push of a button. This ease of deployment is critical because the mobile rigs are typically packed up and moved to a new site on a tractor trailer every few days or weeks.

Perhaps most importantly, the oil rig network is completely private, meaning no data crosses the public Internet, eliminating the risk of infiltration by hackers and viruses.

The network also enhanced the personal communications capabilities for drilling rigs, enabled data analysts to collaborate in real time with rig operators more effectively using (VoIP) technology for phone calls, and enabled rig users to utilize web, email and other applications for file exchanges and information sharing.


The costs of extracting oil and gas in the current turbulent market means that companies need to squeeze greater efficiencies out of their drilling operations to stay profitable. The ability to collect, transmit and analyze the Big Data involved in oil and gas wells in real time means that drilling time can be reduced by multiple days per well. This new generation of “digital oil rigs” are marrying high-speed communications with advanced analytics to bring oil and gas production into a real-time operation. It is enabling rig operators to instantly predict problems reduce risks, fine-tune oil and gas flows, and make other informed decisions that reduce the cost of production at a time when every cent-per-barrel counts.