BGAN portable satcoms - the 'eyes and ears' for oil rigs

RigStat LP makes systems that are the 'eyes and ears' for oil rigs and terminals, keeping a watch over them even when they are unmanned during hurricanes

RigStat LP makes systems that are the ‘eyes and ears’ for oil rigs and terminals, keeping a watch over them even when they are unmanned during hurricanes. The Texas-based company started in 2004 and has conducted most of its business to date in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM).

However, as its reputation grows, it is finding customers in South America, Australia and other regions. RigStat is now using Inmarsat BGAN to provide an always-on connection for some of its installations, sending data every hour over the Inmarsat network.

RigStat Pro is a patented system that collects data from a variety of sensors on submersible, semi-submersible, jack-up rigs, and oil terminals. It transmits data regularly to on-shore web portals, where technicians can use the information to monitor the status of the asset.

Although its reputation is based on monitoring during extreme weather, the company has many applications for year-round operation in normal conditions, such as checking on a rig’s location in relation to nearby vessels and other platforms.

The system first proved its worth in the GoM in 2005 during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita – two of the most destructive weather events ever – which caused several rigs to break from their moorings. An early version of RigStat was installed on a rig there, and it performed well, giving an almost real-time view of the location, wind speed and motion. After that, word began to spread within the oil business.

RigStat is one of the first systems to offer this level of detailed monitoring from unmanned platforms during extreme weather. It is standard safety practice for oil companies to evacuate their rigs when a hurricane is about to hit, first switching off all systems and main power supplies and taking a GPS fix on the position of the rig.
However, sometimes this is not enough. After Hurricane Andrew in 2004, one company flew over the last known location of its rig and saw that it had gone. It took the company more than a day to find the rig about 70 miles from its former location, and then about a week to tow it back into position.

It costs a lot of money to retrieve, repair and re-moor a storm-damaged oil rig, and the expense of these operations in lost revenue could be $300,000-$400,000 a day. Any system that can significantly reduce these costs by communicating the precise status and location of a rig during and after a hurricane is highly valuable to energy companies.

It might not prevent damage happening, but it will help them see what equipment and people to deploy after the storm in order to progress with remedial work as quickly and cost effectively as possible.

ROV Applications
Since early 2007, RigStat has been using Thrane & Thrane Explorer 500 BGAN terminals to provide an always-on data link from two non-floating customer installations in the GoM. One is on a jack-up rig owned by a major drilling company in the Bay of Campeche and the other is on one of the largest super-tanker terminals in the region, off the coast from New Orleans.

To enable them to function in the most extreme maritime conditions, the pole-mounted BGAN terminals are permanently housed in purpose-built protective cases. Both installations collect location, motion and weather data every one to five seconds. The terminal installation also sends images of both the platform and the super tankers using it.

Before adopting BGAN, RigStat used non-Inmarsat terminals to send data via Low-Earth-Orbit (LEO) satellites.

However, the LEOs only supported low bit-rate ‘switched’ connections, which took a long time to transfer data and could be unreliable. They were also charged on a cost-per-minute basis and so were expensive to use.

After Inmarsat launched BGAN in 2005, RigStat President Russ Roy quickly saw the potential for his company. He liked the broadband data rates and the fact that BGAN operates on geostationary satellites (the Inmarsat-4s).

He also thought the terminals were very competitively priced and welcomed the fact that customers only pay for the data they send, not for how long they are connected. BGAN’s two-way data capability gives RigStat’s engineers the capacity to communicate with RigStat installations from the shore.

Another key consideration was BGAN’s low power requirements (0.8W standby and 14W transmit). During a hurricane, RigStat may have to operate on battery power for 8 to14 days, so it is essential that the whole system, including the satellite component, consumes minimum power.


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