Despite global efforts to become less dependent on oil, the world still consumes enormous amounts of the product and the fuels made from it: about 32 billion barrels per year as of 2011, the most recent data available from the International Energy Agency.
And getting that oil isn’t easy.
“To tap into the world’s offshore oil reserves, you need to travel to some pretty remote locations — and be willing to go farther once you get there. Today’s ultra-deepwater drill ships sail to the far corners of Earth and then plunge equipment down as much as two miles to the ocean floor to begin drilling,” John Ward wrote in an article for Forbes Dec. 9.
The drills on these rigs operate at the ocean floor in close-to-freezing temperatures and severe pressure.
But great heights, as well as depths, are involved in coordinating these efforts. “About 22,000 miles up … into outer space. That’s where the geostationary satellites used for Internet connections are located,” explains Ward.
There are significant challenges associated with such communications. Most of them come down to the concept of latency, which laypeople might be more familiar with as “lag.”
It takes only between 1,000 and 1,400 milliseconds for a packet of data to make its way up to a satellite and back down to the Earth. But when those tiny delays add up, given the hundreds of data packets exchanged in a simple Internet action, the results can be frustrating.
“We are landing data traffic in Southeast Asia and West Africa and sending it halfway around the world to our server in Phoenix, Arizona,” says Jay Marqua, Chief Information Officer at Vantage Drilling. “Even a simple screen refresh can be slow and choppy, but to bring up a work order and perform a query could take seven minutes.”
Other factors common for remote sites at sea or on land — bad weather, poor local infrastructure, few carriers and unreliable power — can make safe coordination of processes or even the simplest of business applications difficult.
In answer to these challenges, however, oil companies and the IT companies who provide their service are coming up with innovative solutions.
Many companies are turning to combined methods including satellite, cellular and radio communications.
“Whether the site is in the oil and gas industry or mining industries these locations are incredibly remote,” says Bevan Hoynick, President, Benchmark Data Solutions. “Communications in these locations is critical and can be a challenge to connect people. Implementing a communication system is vital for connecting people and essential decision-making. Benchmark Data Solutions provides and recommends ensuring advanced, consistant technology is being applied to every project.”