Considerations for Hybrid Communications Network Technology for Pipeline Monitoring

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1 Considerations for Hybrid Communications Network Technology for Pipeline Monitoring Craig Held White Paper April 2012

2 Abstract The concept of automation (and its corresponding technologies) is a primary driver of competitiveness for all types of organizations, but, increasingly it is critical for energy and pipeline companies looking to improve upon their pipeline monitoring efforts. Energy pipeline companies have faced countless regulatory compliance issues, especially due to recurring accidents and events that have made front page news. This has elevated concerns to the extent that government entities across the world continue to produce legislation directed specifically toward improving safety standards in regards to corrosion and cathodic protection (CP) practices. In an industry saturated with many pipeline monitoring solutions, it is critical for operators to understand which technologies are best suited for their pipeline infrastructure and its impact on their CP efforts. Sometimes, it makes the most sense to take a hybrid approach and leverage several solutions for a company s asset monitoring needs. For the purposes of examining a hybrid network approach in this paper, pipeline corrosion and CP remote monitoring applications will be considered, even though hybrid communication networks can be leveraged in numerous other industrial applications. Introduction Automating processes and key business functions enable organizations to improve operations and make procedures more streamlined, cost-effective, safer and robust. Obviously, the key building block to a costeffective, pipeline integrity, corrosion protection program is vital, timely monitoring and reporting of CP data. Historically this activity has been a manual event, but over the past decade or so, owners and operators have been looking to automate these processes and implement real-time monitoring of their critical pipeline assets. Reliable and efficient data communication technologies are key considerations under these circumstances. There are several data communication technologies available today to help automate key functions within an organization, including, cellular, satellite, licensed and spread spectrum wireless data radios, fiber and wire. Traditionally, companies with large geographically dispersed communication networks typically have selected one technology, one source, one vendor to collect, retrieve and report data to assess the health of their pipeline infrastructures. However, there is a new paradigm today in which organizations are breaking away from tradition and deploying multiple communication technologies to create a hybrid communications network that can better serve an organization s needs. Why is this important? Because now we have many different technologies available to us that we can utilize to: Drive maintenance/monthly costs down directly impacting the bottom line Decrease polling cycle times and reducing the time needed to identify and remedy problems within the network Eliminate system pinch points or single points of failure Considerations for a Hybrid Network The days of building large, single technology communication networks are likely behind us. If you are collecting data from multiple locations and delivering it to offices over a widespread area, no one technology will be able to accomplish all your objectives. However, by combining technologies, you can create a seamless data stream from several locations and share data over a Local Area Network (LAN) or Wide Area Network (WAN) with multiple users. The end result is more effective and efficient management of the communications network and increased reliability through reduced downtime all at a much more affordable price. A relevant Company Confidential April 11,

3 application to consider is cathodic protection monitoring systems that travel along oil and gas pipelines. For example, if an operator wants to automate rectifier management, they must drop a remote monitoring unit every 10 miles (at each rectifier location). Using a single source or technology for remote monitoring, for example cellular or satellite technology can be very costly given the large number of connection and data transfer fees charged. Instead, operators can deploy a relatively inexpensive technology, such as a wireless data communications along the pipeline path, reducing the number of cell or satellite modems used and thus reducing the fees that will be charged. A proprietary radio network combined with a cellular bridge capability can alleviate cost issues and provide a reliable and secure data communications network. Here is an example of how it could work: Operators looking to remotely monitor corrosion and rectifier locations would install a wireless data radio along the pipeline path to limit the number of cellular or satellite connection fees incurred. Along the pipeline and rectifier stations, this technology is proven to be one of the most cost-effective solutions on the market today. However, when running into a line of sight issue where a radio tower or repeater station might need to be installed, operators could instead turn to a different modality, such as cellular or satellite communications. Operators would want to install a cellular or satellite modem at a few specific access points (where line of sight would be lost along the pipeline) and as a result would spend much less on connection fees to get the data back to the host server at the WAN or LAN location. Questions to ask during network design that will help determine the need for a hybrid system: Is this link worth the monthly fees required by a cellular system? Can I afford the lower prioritization a non-proprietary system allocates to my data? Does the radio link require a tower infrastructure to maintain line of sight? Would an existing network be a better decision? If properly evaluated and combined, hybrid technologies can create an extremely effective and efficient management of a network, as well as increased reliability through reduced downtime. Here is an example of a hybrid network comparison: Company Confidential April 11,

4 Other Considerations for Selecting Multiple Communication Technology Options: Data reliability, network security and other demands at various levels of a large communication network are also changing the game. For example, cathodic protection remote monitoring also requires the pipeline operators and companies to review issues, like network security, automation network expansion and the reliability of data retrieval/delivery when reviewing technology options for a hybrid network scenario. Security When considering various communications system solutions, it is critical to understand security threats and features before making a purchasing decision. With threats to our information infrastructure and data communication networks (including Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) networks responsible for critical infrastructure) increasing in both frequency and sophistication, it is no wonder that many organizations, and even branches of the government, are looking at addressing this issue with new policies and security standards. The two most common threats to data communication networks are Denial of Service (DoS) and Intrusion. Companies also will want to review other access control and privacy issues to make the most informed decision about their communication technology options. It is essential to use communication network solutions that aren t easily accessed by hackers or intruders. DoS attacks can range from something as simple as jamming the signal, to completely preventing access to the data entirely. The consequences of intrusion range from spying or stealing information to corrupting data or taking over an entire network and/or computers and control systems. Proprietary systems and devices offer a higher degree of security, but even those devices can be penetrated if you know how and where to get access. A good network security strategy should go even further and protect data in transit as well. Even if an unauthorized device manages to gain access to the network, it won t necessarily gain access to the actual data without passing yet another layer of security. Company Confidential April 11,

5 Expandability Expandability considerations for network automation activities also need to be considered, because as a company evolves, so must its communications network. Adopting an expandable platform often is essential because of additional monitoring needs, new process technologies that require more points for monitoring and control, and for peace of mind -- knowing that more points are easy to add no matter what the future brings. Keep in mind that the early adopters of automation expansion have faced security issues and are working toward reducing the number of access points in general, leaving them less vulnerable to network disturbances and cyber security threats. Today, proven wireless I/O technologies can effortlessly interface with SCADA systems. One the main benefits for introducing wireless I/O is the capability of providing operators with additional conditionbased monitoring techniques. When considering wireless I/O expansion modules for CP remote monitoring, it also is important to understand how I/O expansion might be an optimal choice. An I/O expansion module offers a scalable solution to meet the demands of an operator s automation requirements. These options today can either be stacked on an applicable I/O wireless data radio or can serve as expandable remote I/O modules through a serial connection. Data Reliability It sounds obvious, but data reliability is actually a much bigger issue than pipeline operators and technicians think. Ask this question: what good is any of the data if people can t access or receive it to make real-time and well-informed decisions? The answer is also obvious, but it emphasizes the need to explore the specific data features for each communication solution, especially when implementing a hybrid network. For example, the ability to confirm the receipt of accurate data (both distributed and Company Confidential April 11,

6 received) isn t always offered as part of one solution by communication technology vendors. In fact, there may only be one or two options today can provide this confirmation to the end-users. In large energy infrastructure projects, such as a network of oil and gas pipelines, reliable data retrieval and delivery for process automation and remote command and control of assets in the field is especially important. Further considerations for data reliability include the speed and distance of data transferring, as well as the noise immunity of the communication solution (how well a solution performs in a congested network environment). Operators and technicians should inquire about the versatility of each option as well as the potential for error in the communication link. Some wireless data radio providers even offer error-free communication features as well as enhanced diagnostic tools that enable real-time diagnostics without disrupting or tying up the communication link. Operators should also inquire about the network design and network management support that communication technology provider s offer as part of their solution. A network is only as strong as its weakest link and critical infrastructure automation relies heavily on support from each technology vendor that is part of the system. Summary With so many communication options to consider when implementing a remote monitoring solution, it is critical for utility operators to ensure they have selected the best communications network for their organization. Taking a hybrid approach not only can provide better results, but, also has a positive impact on reducing an organization s investment, operating costs and more. Companies with large communication networks and automation need to break away from thinking of communication needs in vertical silos. With a hybrid approach, a company can use the least expensive modality available until they run into a barrier. Organizations should review the idea of combining several communications technologies into a hybrid network, especially when confronting the challenges of operating a large network infrastructure. Due to the need for expanding automation across large networks, certain communication expansion technologies will be required and security threats must be considered and mitigated. A proactive approach, with the help of reputable communication technology manufacturers, enables decision-makers not only to implement the best solutions for their organizations, but helps have a lasting impact on the integrity of their critical infrastructure projects. Company Confidential April 11,

7 FreeWave Technologies, Inc Pearl Parkway, Suite 100 Boulder, CO Company Confidential April 11,

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