Skip to main content

The ongoing power struggle

This article was written by John Coutts and published in the Innovations magazine #2.

According to a recent report from Exxon Mobil, “Outlook for Energy: A View to 2040”, oil, gas and coal will still comprise “about 80 per cent of total energy consumption in 2040”.
It’s no wonder then that operators are working harder than ever to pinpoint new reserves and to find new ways to squeeze more resources out of existing ones. The rapid pace of global change is only adding to that pressure.
“Demand is growing due to shifting demographics, economic expansion and urbanisation, particularly in terms of transport,industrial and electricity generation requirements,” says Arnaud Rimokh, business development manager with Thales.
According to a study by the Paris-based International Energy Agency, the world will have to invest US$16trn – or one per cent of global gross domestic product – over the next three decades in order to maintain the present level of energy supplies.
“As a consequence, the industry is investing in the digital oil field, because exploration and production are becoming increasingly complex,” says Rimokh. At the Digital Oil Fields Summit held in the UK in 2013, total upstream spending in this arena was expected to rise to more than $700bn in 2013, The total value of digital oil field services was expected to pass US$200bn by 2015, up more than 40 per cent from 2012.
The digital oil field represents the integration of a huge flow of data in real time, analytics capabilities and scalable IT. It is transforming the efficiency of operations and making it possible for operators to bridge the gulf between upstream and downstream operations. But it’s also opening the door to potential new security concerns, as well as resilience, as systems are increasingly networked. With exploration  and production becoming more technology and capital intensive, the need for integrated security is now greater than ever.


Evolving security challenges

As well as dealing with conventional threats, such as unauthorized intrusion, theft and vandalism on physical assets, the oil and gas industry must now contend with a growing array of unconventional threats. These include terrorism, organized crime and cyber attacks.
The difficulties faced by the industry are compounded by the fact that oil and gas production is being driven into increasingly remote and challenging environments – countries and territories that are not only physically difficult to work in, but to which there is also attached a high level of political risk.
Assets are now more widely scattered than ever and there are more of them, making them harder to protect. The global pipeline network,for example, now stretches for more than three million kilometres. While infrastructure remains a primary point of vulnerability, recent changes in terrorist tactics underline the need to provide greater protection for the industry’s workforce. This point was brought home by the attack on Algeria’s In Amenas gas facility in January 2013, in
which employees and civilians were taken hostage and the plant stormed and held by terrorists.
“It’s not only fixed assets that require protection, but also the people who are employed by oil and gas companies,” says Jean-Pierre Vidal, product line manager of critical infrastructure protection solutions with Thales. “This is a recent development and it presents new risks.”
Criminal interference with assets poses a different type of problem. Pipeline “tapping” – puncturing a pipeline to siphon off oil.
“the object is to provide the operator with a global view of all the assets and then to organise the most effective response” Jean-Pierre Vidal, product line manager of critical infrastructure protection solutions, Thales – is a case in point: in some countries, tapping is carried out on a large scale.
Oil theft not only deprives the operator of revenue, but it can also trigger catastrophic consequences: tapping incidents have been linked to explosions, loss of life and environmental damage. In many cases, oil theft is linked to organised crime, with stolen oil sold on international markets.
In addition to the dangers posed by physical attacks, oil and gas enterprises are also vulnerable to cyber threats. These are aimed at companies’ legacy IT systems, including security systems. Electronic sabotage is being used to target the legacy industrial control systems that supervise and monitor key infrastructure components such as valves and pumps.


Meeting new security needs

The oil and gas industry has a number of specific security requirements. First, there’s the need to guarantee business continuity. Oil and gas production is process-led, with high levels of interdependency: a single incident can have consequences right down the line, so it’s essential that every weakness is identified and every vulnerable asset protected.
Second, if things do go wrong, operators need to be able to react rapidly and deliver a coordinated response. Effective crisis management relies on a command and control capability that provides relevant common situation awareness – a big picture view that can be shared and acted upon.
This is of vital importance, particularly in a major incident that is likely to involve both the operator’s own security staff and external agencies, such as emergency services or government forces. And with threats multiplying, operators are increasingly interested in security solutions that protect not only single sites, but sites spread out across an entire region or nation.
“Our approach is to use real-time data to help operators make the best decisions and to anticipate risks and problems,” says Rimokh. “For that, you need sensors on site, reliable high-speed communications and techniques to exploit, control and filter the data. The solutions we propose are focused on managing that complexity.”
Thales has a long heritage in oil and gas security with a track record built up over more than 20 years. But its ability to deliver  large, complex solutions also draws on its wider expertise in communications, the integration of critical information systems and in cybersecurity, including in challenging military environments. Building the right solution starts on the ground with a thorough evaluation of the customer’s infrastructure.
“Our approach is to develop a complete understanding of the customer’s assets. In the case of a pipeline, this means evaluating the threat level with the pipeline operator, as well as the physical environment, the impact of human activities along the route of the pipeline and an assessment of political risk,” says Vidal.
Every asset is different, so solutions are tailored. “This means adopting a multi-sensor approach,” he adds. “This includes using fibre optic sensors along the length of the pipeline, radar and long-range cameras. We can also deploy mobile sensors, with cameras mounted on vehicles or in UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles]. The key is to identify the right combination of sensors and to tailor the solution to the specific situation.”
Thales’ capabilities and offering are unique in the oil and gas security marketplace in that the company has the specific ability to build and operate UAVs and satellites. These capabilities are increasingly used to provide continuous surveillance of critical infrastructure because they cannot easily be compromised.
“It’s easy to cut a cable,” notes Vidal.“With a satellite, you eliminate that risk – and, at the same time, you can easily monitor your environmental impact.”

Taking control

Monitoring technology is just one part of a much bigger security picture. The sensors associated with surveillance, detection systems, access control and perimeter protection produce vast amounts of data.
To extract insights, intelligent management,processing and interpretation are vital. Command and control centres are designed to make sense of the deluge of data and alarms in the event of a crisis, reducing information overload and presenting operators with only the data that matters most.
“The object is to provide the operator with a global view of all the assets and then to organise the most effective response,” says Vidal. “During the specification phase of any project, we make an assessment of the different kinds of incidents that can arise. For each incident, we develop an appropriate response aligned with the company’s operational procedures.”
In the event of a crisis, command and control teams can call up decision support tools at the click of a mouse. These provide step-by-step guidance on what actions to take and when, with key processes automated to save valuable time. “The aim is to help operators respond efficiently in times of crisis,” says Vidal.
Communication and collaboration tools are vital. Operators need to be able to coordinate their own security forces in the event of an incident. And in the case of serious attack, they also need to be able to share information with government security forces. Thales’ command and control infrastructure is designed to achieve these objectives quickly and easily.
Solutions of this sort are already transforming security in critical industries such as oil and gas. But they have the potential to transform efficiency as well, allowing operators to do more with less and to work with confidence no matter how remote or risky the environment. “When we talk about innovation, we’re not just talking about security,” says Rimokh. “We’re also talking about using our expertise in research and technology to help oil and gas businesses increase production and deliver more energy. “This combination of challenges sits at
the heart of the industry’s future and it is vital that we all play our part to ensure our power supply remains consistent, safe and secure for years to come.”