June 2, 2009
Space Technology Will Monitor Offshore Fields
With the help of ESA technology used in the monitoring and control of satellites, a start-up company at ESA's Business Incubation Center has developed a system to remotely monitor offshore oil and gas installations.
"Our Remote Intuitive Visual Operations system (RIVOPS) is based upon years of ESA experience in the monitoring of satellites and the handling of emergency situations. It is an enhanced alarm monitoring system that sits on top of conventional distributed control systems used by offshore oil and gas exploration companies," says Alexandre Van Damme from the French-Dutch start-up company EATOPS.
In an offshore installation, thousands of parameters have to be monitored continuously. By combining the monitored parameters into clusters, and applying a series of filtering algorithms, EATOPS provides a clean, graphical and intuitive overview of all emergency situations that can occur in an oil rig or similar offshore structure.
EATOPS' RIVOPS system adds functionality to the monitoring systems already in use to supervise the installations, and helps oil and gas rig operators to spot and identify problems more quickly and efficiently.
Space technology increases safety
At ESA, the concept of grouping parameters into major clusters which are then monitored has been developed and refined during years of satellite control. The way of organizing the monitoring of the satellite parameters and using intuitive visualization techniques has proved to be a safe methodology that ensures faster decision-making.
This has made it possible to handle and continuously monitor a large amount of parameters with the help of relatively few operators. For Envisat, Europe's largest satellite, operators have to continuously monitor over 20 000 parameters, which is a number comparable to that of a large offshore oil and gas installation.
"Within seconds, the operator can identify where alarms originate from and, more importantly, how they are related to each other. RIVOPS can constantly supervise large installations, such as the ones for oil and gas fields, and provide the operators with a sharp understanding of the emergency scenario in real time, which increases the overall safety on the rigs," explains Van Damme.
Van Damme is the co-inventor of the RIVOPS. This system was developed by using proven ESA technology that displays ergonomics for controlling its satellites, consisting of a console that provides an intelligent overview of the alarm situation. It has been developed at ESA's Business Incubation Center at ESTEC in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, with the support of ESA's flight controllers, as well as the expertise from the North Sea offshore oil and gas control centers located in Den Haag and Den Helder in the Netherlands, and Stavanger in Norway.
Novel three-dimensional display for improved overview
Another innovative aspect of the RIVOPS system is that, compared to many conventional industrial monitoring systems, it uses three-dimensional representation to display the status of all parameters. This was developed for satellite control in order to improve visibility. Transferred to RIVOPS, it was enhanced with a whole range of features designed specifically for offshore oil and gas rigs.
The RIVOPS system is under evaluation by several North Sea installations in Norwegian and Dutch waters. Van Damme foresees that the RIVOPS system could provide additional safety to future explorations planned for the Arctic area, where the fragile polar ecosystem combined with extremely harsh conditions call for extra careful monitoring, such as the vast Shtokman gas field in the Barents Sea, estimated to be one of the world's biggest gas fields.
"Located 600 km north of Kola Peninsula, icebergs, 27-meter waves, and temperatures down to -50°C, pose extreme requirements on the technology and systems needed to safely extract gas and transport it to the shores of Europe, Russia and North America," says Van Damme.
"For such installations, our RIVOPS system could provide extra safety."
Spin-off through ESA's Business Incubation Center
"This is an excellent example of how space technology can benefit society," explains Bruno Naulais, ESA Business Incubation Manager.
"EATOPS based their system on well-proven technology we use at ESA to monitor all our satellites. Located at the ESA Business Incubation Center in ESTEC, EATOPS has been able to accelerate the spin-off to the offshore business. Our specialists in satellite monitoring have helped EATOPS transfer proven functionality from our applications to their novel system."
ESA's Technology Transfer Program Office (TTPO)
The main mission of the ESA TTPO is to facilitate the use of space technology and space systems for non-space applications, and to further demonstrate the benefits of the European space program to European citizens. The TTPO is responsible for defining the overall approach and strategy for the transfer of space technologies, including the incubation of start-up companies and their funding.
Image Caption: ESA's ten-instrument environmental satellite Envisat has been observing the Earth for more than three years Credits: EADS Astrium [ More Images ]
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