As with most other businesses, digital technology has become a strategic priority for energy companies in 2020. According to a recent survey by professional services company Accenture, 97% of upstream and 91% of downstream executives believe that the pace of innovation in their organisation has accelerated over the past three years due to emerging technologies.
Oil and gas operators’ proactive embrace of advanced digital solutions, especially geographic information systems (GIS), can also be attributed partly to volatile global economic sentiments affecting growth momentum. More and more companies today are focusing their budgets and efforts to enable standardization in workflows and improve productivity to retain their ability to turn a profit. And gas distribution retailers are no different.
Complexities in Gas Distribution
Compared to other utilities, a gas distribution network can be extremely complex. If all gas pipelines were laid down in a single line, the sprawling infrastructure would circle the earth multiple times!
In essence, a gas distribution network is made up of a series of well-looped external pipelines leading from the source to the main gas distribution point, and ultimately to the customer location. These include long-distance trunk lines, street-level distribution pipelines, infeed service lines, entrance gas pipelines, and internal gas pipelines.
Some pipelines are low-pressure, such as those meant for residential buildings, while others could be medium- or high-pressure networks, like those designed for industrial plants. Accordingly, valves are installed in readily accessible locations to reduce the time to shut down during emergencies. Other connected assets include pressure regulators as well as spring/pilot/weight-loaded relief valves for protection against accidental over-pressurizing. Operators also need to maintain regulators and metering stations, odorization devices, automatic shutoff mechanisms, etc.
However, unforeseen challenges such as extreme temperatures or unplanned excavations could pose threats to pipelines and hinder distribution companies from providing uninterrupted services. Moreover, gas leakages can happen at many places along the distribution chain for a variety of reasons, leading to a loss in revenue and contributing to climate change. Which is why the management and upkeep of these overwhelming systems necessitate that distributors keep a thorough inventory of their assets. Federal governments and regulators also require operators to maintain comprehensive plans for operations, maintenance, and emergency response activities.
Managing Gas Distribution Assets with GIS
From a technology standpoint, the ideal solution for gas distribution networks would balance the requirements for uptime, security, and safety, while seamlessly connecting all systems and hardware platforms to provide operators with a single source of truth that fosters quicker and better decision-making. This is where GIS for gas distribution systems comes in.
A GIS platform allows operators to not only maintain a geo-tagged knowledge bank of their assets and network elements, but it also empowers them to seamlessly integrate this information into the existing IT infrastructure. This powerful database can then act as an integral part of any pipeline integrity management program, providing distribution operators with the tools they need to identify threats, evaluate and prioritize risk, and record and report results. Consider the following…
- Network Planning: Apart from the many benefits, it offers to the existing distribution assets, GIS can also prove strategic for the expansion of the network, allowing companies to understand if the existing pipelines are operating at full capacity or if new pipelines are required. Using tablet devices to assess the GIS software, field technicians can also swiftly compare engineering designs with on-site progress and flag any incorrect positioning of fittings.
- Leak Management: In case of an emergency, a map of key valve locations is one of the first things an operator would look for. Based on the leak history, a GIS platform would also help to identify brittle pipes or other materials unsuitable for gas service. And with historical data available at one-click, operators can easily monitor any portions of the system experiencing recurrent leakage more frequently.
- Corrosion Management: There are instances where the system contains non-metallic pipes but includes metallic fittings or connectors that are not protected from corrosion. In such a scenario, the operator would be able to identify them easily using the GIS platform.
- Risk Identification: Gas distribution companies have to consider both the relative likelihood of an accident occurring and the consequences that would result if it did. So, if there is an area in which more people would be present near the pipeline at most times, such as a retirement centre, that area can be marked as a ‘higher consequence region’ on a map for easy visibility.
- One-Call Notifications: Governments and regulatory bodies such as Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board (PNGRB) want to deploy an integrated system for One-Call notifications wherein operators will get a means of receiving and recording notifications of all planned excavation activities. When an operator proactively maintains a GIS record of the location, size, and type of pipe, along with other critical information such as the depth at which the pipeline is buried and which valves need to be closed to isolate the region, a full-scale report of potential impacts of any excavation activity can be easily obtained.
- Integrated Enterprise Solution: A GIS software can easily integrate with third-party applications to streamline core business operations and increase general network efficiency. For example, with the help of GIS software, job cards from SAP can be sent directly to field workers, and real-time vehicle tracking can validate if workers are navigating to the correct location. GIS data can also be synchronized with hydraulic modelling and simulation software, such as Synergi Gas. Similarly, SCADA information can be displayed directly on a map using a robust GIS solution.
Common Framework for Data Integration
In conclusion, with GIS technologies advancing continually, the oil and gas industry is slated to become much more modernized in the times to come. To achieve transformative changes in safety and efficiency, an increasing number of distribution companies are turning to a common framework or data model provided by a single-vendor based system. GE’s Smallworld Gas Distribution Office (GDO) is one such pre-configured and pre-integrated GIS solution that supports small to very large local distribution companies.
Trusted by more than 120 gas utilities across the world, the Smallworld Gas Distribution Office suite empowers gas distribution companies to document, plan, operate, and manage their networks with unparalleled ease. The single-user environment solution comes packed with 21 business, analysis, data quality, and user productivity tools to support engineering, asset management and operational business processes. Allowing operators to enable standardization utilizing an industry data model that supports fundamental gas distribution operations and integrity work processes, the GE grid solution leads to a significant reduction in implementation time compared to traditional customized solutions.
If you also want to benefit from up to 15% increase in inspection and maintenance productivity or up to 10% reduction in planning time through accurate and complete documentation of asset network, Click below to discuss.