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Industrial Internet Driving Force Behind GE’s Oil, Gas Business

Natural gas pipeline operators may be able to better understand the condition of their critical assets through a technology that integrates networked software with complex physical machinery, today more commonly known as the industrial internet.

General Electric (GE) is credited with coining the term industrial internet a few years ago, but whatever it's called, it's a term that's used by the oil and gas industry in a variety of ways. The energy industry monitors its physical assets, such as watching remote onshore and offshore drilling rigs from offices in Houston. As technology becomes more complex, technology providers like GE Oil & Gas have begun advancing more complex solutions for a variety of applications, like the natural gas pipeline systems that stretch from coast to coast.

Its first-ever pipeline industrial internet offering unveiled this week, the Intelligent Pipeline Solution (IPS), is a partnership with Accenture. IPS combines GE's pipeline management software with Accenture's digital technology and systems integration capabilities. Columbia Pipeline Group (CPG), which operates within the Appalachian Basin, is to be the first customer to implement the technology across its network of 15,700 miles of interstate natural gas pipelines.

"We need an agile and comprehensive pipeline solution that could be delivered quickly and allows for a more real-time view of pipeline integrity across our interstate natural gas pipelines," said CPG's Shawn Patterson, president of operations and project delivery. "GE's industrial internet software platform and extensive pipeline equipment and inspection capabilities combined with Accenture' strong industry knowledge, digital capabilities and experience with business process and systems integration made them the clear choice for CPG."

CPG, a unit of NiSource Inc., is undergoing substantial infrastructure growth because of the Marcellus and Utica shales (see Daily GPI, Sept. 8; Aug. 12).

The CPG contract was but one of the new offerings that GE Oil & Gas executives discussed at the company’s initial investor day on Wednesday. The industrial internet is key to all things going forward, said Chief Technology Officer Eric Gebhardt.

"The industrial internet is something that plays well across all oil and gas," he said. "We are able to invent the sensors and the signal processing that collect data," and leverages other GE offerings, "and by doing that we get access to more information. This more information will then create the analytics and the algorithms around this based on our domain knowledge.

"And the domain knowledge is both in the equipment side or emerged in the physics of the equipment but also understanding the process and how our customers use this equipment."

The pipeline management system to be used by CPG "helps customers proactively make the right decisions at the right time to keep their assets safe," said Brian Palmer, CEO of the GE Oil & Gas measurement and control arm. "We anticipate transportation pipeline companies using the solution will see operational efficiency improvements in integrity, maintenance, safety and regulatory compliance."

GE's midstream pipeline customers in North America are "faced with aging infrastructure, faced with the safety and regulatory concerns, really faced with the challenges that that pipeline industry has around reliability, around accidents, around events," said Palmer. Some of its customers "asked us to help them integrate current historical pipeline and pipeline equipment condition data with their active demand forecasting and operating data to allow them to try to predict when they need to take a shutdown to drive normally scheduled maintenance" and how to avoid accidents.

"The oil and gas arm "is by far our largest industry," he said. "When you think about the customers challenges in their operation today you think about more remote and more complex operations, tighter regulations, tighter reporting requirements...and what we see as a skills gap in the industry.

"Frankly, in an aging technical workforce...we think the opportunity is [to take] that data from the machine in process and use it to drive reliability, use it to drive efficiency, use it to drive production optimization." The simple goal is to eliminate downtime.

Technology is the "enabler for all aspects of the oil and gas cycle," Palmer added.

An example of GE's cross technology used by the oil and gas industry is the production optimization solution created for Chevron Corp. It originally was designed for enhanced imaging technology for the healthcare industry. The software platform was reconfigured and now measures "multiple phases coming out of a land-based production well, being able to measure continuously oil, water, gas, sand mix," said Palmer.

GE is partnering with Chevron on a pilot in Bakersfield, CA, that covers 20,000 producing wells. "We've already installed 500 meters in their operations," he said. "Their target is 3% production improvement on an annual basis because of the ability to balance and optimize those wells."

GE also is expanding a pilot project with Ferus Natural Gas Fuels and Statoil SA to capture flared gas in North Dakota oilfields and use it to power Statoil ASA drilling rigs. The expansion is the first by Statoil to move into full commercial adoption of the GE/Ferus Last Mile Fueling Solution, which would enable the producer to comply with flaring regulations in the state.

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