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Intelligent data from space to play a key role in future streamlining of oil & gas activities (by Earth-i)

Subject matter expert on Earth Observation in the oil & gas industry and Chief Scientist Dr. Peter Hausknecht from Earth-i comments on the trends and benefits high-resolution imaging and data services offer to the oil & gas industry

The use of advanced technology can help improve planning, efficiency, safety and profitability for oil companies, and through its effective use significant competitive benefits can be achieved. Earth Observation (EO) data in general and images from remote sensing satellites in particular have been used for geological and environmental mapping since the 70 ́s. Today, ever-higher resolution images and derived data sets are available on a more frequent and dependable basis.

The pace of growth in EO is accelerating. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), in January 2014 there were 192 EO satellites in space. China and the USA account for approximately half of the satellites deployed with the remaining satellites belonging to a total of 43 nations including India, France, Germany and Russia.

Over 80% are deployed for government or military use, while around 10% are listed as being for civil or commercial purposes. The remaining 10% have dual use.

Since the list was updated, the numbers have grown dramatically. A significant proportion of the growth is attributed to nanosatellites often also called ‘Cubesats’. Cubesats are lower-cost miniature spacecraft and the significantly lower cost of this class of satellite is shrinking the barriers to entry and allowing more countries and commercial organisations to enter space. It’s inevitable that this will result in dedicated applications for particular industries and specific issues, which the oil & gas industry and for example oil spill response is one of many.

The 2012 World Energy Outlook from the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that primary energy demand will more than treble in the next 20 years with oil and gas remaining dominant at around 50% of the world’s energy supply. Even though energy prices have fallen considerably, the worldwide demand is still high but maybe at a slightly lower growth rate. Intense exploration efforts to find new oil & gas reserves are still being pursued on a global scale to meet future demands. In general the oil & gas industry is not cutting exploration budgets, but looking for more efficient ways to spend their exploration dollars. Hence they are looking to EO as a means of supplementing other data sources, or pre-qualifying an area of interest before traditional and very expensive methods such as seismic are utilised for locating new reserves. One day of seismic surveys saved could finance the entire EO programme for a medium sized oil and gas company. Hence using EO data in an intelligent way will save valuable exploration expenses. The oil & gas industry is already a significant user of satellite technology for EO across their entire business portfolio and the acceptance of EO as a beneficial technology is continuing at a fast pace. As existing reserves are reducing oil & gas companies are continuing their search in extreme and ever more remote areas. Exploration in such areas will often be hampered by extreme temperatures and weather conditions.

Hydrocarbon-storage-near-Istanbul-overview.jpg. DMC3/Triplesat satellite data over a hydrocarbon storage facility near Istanbul, Turkey. Displayed is a 4m multispectral image; RGB = ch 3,2,1

Initially, the uptake of applications for EO in oil and gas exploration was fairly limited and mainly supported the traditional data. As the data is becoming more available, the industry is finding more and more new ways to use this data, not only in the exploration phase but also through the entire operation of an oil/gas field from development to production and finally abandonment.

  • Environmental baseline mapping and subsequent monitoring (including change detection analysis)
  • Asset monitoring (including shipping, pipelines, production facilities)
  • Infrastructure development mapping and monitoring (onshore and offshore)
  • Operational environmental impact assessment
  • Remote area intelligence compilation
  • Security assessment and monitoring
  • Supporting social licence to operate
  • Routine and on-demand ocean monitoring services
  • Statistical analysis and historical comparison of areas of interest
  • Corporate assessments and insurance verification
  • Health and safety assessment for staff deployed
  • Oil spill response and preparedness
  • Disaster prevention, event assessment and general situational awareness
  • Ice and polar monitoring for safe and sustainable developments
  • Exploration (marine and terrestrial) including mapping in support of survey planning and site evaluation

Clearly there are many ways EO can support the oil & gas industry. The real drivers behind this fast adoption are the key benefits EO brings.

When identifying new reservoirs, EO facilitates improved geological studies over wide areas and especially in harsh or difficult-to-access regions allowing costs and potential negative impacts to be reduced. Examples include reducing risk of unexpected reservoir compaction and monitoring reservoir pressure through ground motion monitoring, or minimising risk of accidents in natural gas storage sites by monitoring uplift and subsidence. All of this allows for improved quality and safety procedures with lower operational costs. Managing assets, understanding and monitoring any environmental impact are very important factors for the facility operators and EO has a significant role to play here too. It can be used to support offshore platforms by monitoring sea levels, forecasting extreme weather, ocean wave height and direction and even spotting icebergs.

Hydrocarbon-storage-near-Istanbul-fullres-subset.jpg. Subset of the image above showing the close proximity of the storage tanks to a bordering nature strip. Displayed is a 1m pan-sharpened multispectral image; RGB = ch 3,2,1

EO derived products also allow companies to develop mapping and models of spills before they happen. This enables them to understand and mitigate the impact on vulnerable or sensitive areas. Should the worst ever happen, continuous oil spill monitoring and guidance of any response activity is readily supported by EO.
Although the applications are growing rapidly, during this early technology adoption stage, the methods of use of EO data remain somewhat fragmented and, due to the commercially-sensitive nature of this information, very little has been shared within the industry.

As an example, there are several different methods of data management within the service providers. Some companies have a single team that manages the process from the initial ‘Can EO help?’ and determining what data could or should be used, right the way through to managing the collection request, data storage and application supervision. Other companies manage this on a ‘by project’ basis and data is infrequently shared between projects. There is also a model whereby the whole process is outsourced and then the data is provided to support decision-making in one particular area of the company.

However, through the establishment of some fairly informal industry groups (notably the Oil & Gas Earth Observation interest group – OGEO) this ‘silo’ mentality is shifting. We are seeing better communication between oil & gas companies and service providers, especially the sharing of success stories and cross-application data exchange, which will benefit the industry as a whole.

Iceberg and coastal monitoring-Greenland—overview.jpg. DMC3/Triplesat satellite data over a coastal area for iceberg monitoring and coastal mapping in Greenland. Displayed is a 4m multispectral image; RGB = ch 4,3,2

One of the leading companies in the EO industry is the UK satellite data company Earth-i , which is utilising the recently launched DMC3 TripleSat constellation to offer previously unachievable levels of imaging opportunity frequency with sector-leading levels of resolution. This unique set of 3 identical high resolution optical satellites, each with four multispectral (4 metre) and one panchromatic (1 metre) sensors, has the capability to image any location on Earth every day. Highly dynamic tasking capabilities and fast delivery options make it an ideal sensor for not only emergency response activities, but also larger scale monitoring projects, where regular coverage and reliable data supply is essential.

One of the main challenges for Earth-i is to ensure that the data quality and product reliability is sustained and new products and applications can be supported with this new satellite constellation.

In summary, it is an exciting and fast moving time for the EO sector which is already delivering valuable information and benefits to the oil & gas industry with speed and accuracy of providing data over a wide area. This will potentially allow companies to develop new reservoirs faster, and the convenience of obtaining data in remote areas without deploying personnel will increase safety as large areas can be continuously monitored for small changes and corrective actions taken. Overall operational cost reductions in many areas of the exploration and production processes, alongside reduced HSE risks for the companies, will justify any sensible expenditure on EO data and its applications.

About Dr. Peter Hausknecht
Dr. Hausknecht holds a PhD in Geoscience from Munich University. Prior to joining Earth-i, he spent more than eight years at Woodside – Australia’s leading Oil & Gas company. Whilst working for the Perth based, but internationally operating, organisation Peter fulfilled different roles and was the subject matter expert on Earth Observation and remote sensing.
At an international level, Peter Hausknecht was a founding member of the Oil & Gas Earth Observation (OGEO) interest group and also Chairman of the International Association for Oil & Gas Producers (IOGP) sub-committee on Earth Observation. In addition to presenting at international conferences and workshops, he has also given regular lectures at different universities and professional organisations, in particular on hyper-spectral remote sensing and the general applications of remote sensing in the Oil & Gas industry.

About Earth-i Ltd:
Earth-i is a British company dedicated to facilitating the distribution of data from the DMC3/TripleSat Constellation. As the master distributor appointed by 21AT, Earth-i provides a portal for data users wishing to take advantage of the advanced data and services made possible by this uniquely capable Earth Observation satellite constellation.
Earth-i is co-located on the Surrey Research Park in the UK with Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd, the manufacturer of the DMC3/Triplesat constellation. 
For further information, please contact:

  • Richard Blain
    Chief Executive, Earth-i Ltd
    Phone (24hrs): +44 (0)333 433 0015
    7 Huxley Road, Surrey Research Park, Guildford, GU2 7RE, United Kingdom