How the Oil Industry Can Benefit from IoT Technology

Underwater IoT could mitigate ecological disasters

  • IoT Underwater is a system comprised of unmanned, submersible vehicles that communicate with underwater sensors
  • IoT UT could potentially alert oil rigs and engineers of structural inadequacies before a catastrophe occurs
  • Challenges such as background noise, poor signal transmission underwater, and the ever-changing nature of the underwater ecosystem have proven difficult for scientists and engineers to overcome

The benefit of the Internet of Things (IoT) lies in the ability to remotely monitor machines in real-time, while ensuring safety and anticipating breakdowns. Though use of IoT has been around improving how humans interact with above-ground infrastructure, some are now looking at applications that will prevent undersea ecological catastrophes.

IoT Underwater is a system comprised of unmanned, submersible vehicles that communicate with underwater sensors. These sensors send information regarding shipwrecks, crashes, salinity and temperature changes to the surface. One of the most beneficial aspects of IoT Underwater, however, could be reduction in the likelihood of oil spills such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill and the 2004 Taylor oil spill.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill, according to the Smithsonian Institution, deposited 200,000,000 gallons of oil along a 1,000 mile coastline that stretches from Texas to Florida. A September 2018 filing from the U.S. Department of Justice regarding the Taylor oil spill noted that anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000 gallons of oil continues to be deposited off the Louisiana coast per day.

It remains unclear how officials plan to address the damage caused by the Taylor oil spill. IoT UT may however provide a means to prevent a similar incident.

IoT UT, according to researchers at the National Taiwan Ocean University, relies on underwater sensors with acoustic modems that are distributed in either shallow or deep water. The sensor nodes can detect, relay, and forward data which can then be transferred to components on the surface of the water that have both acoustic and radio modems. Data is carried to the components acoustically, and then forwarded to a remote monitoring center by radio.

The oil industry has put many safeguards in place since Deepwater Horizon including new equipment that allow rigs to communicate with plans and ships more freely and remote operated vehicles that can assist crew members in the event of a disaster. However, IoT UT could potentially alert oil rigs and engineers of structural inadequacies before a catastrophe occurs.

Many companies are already looking for solutions to these challenges. To be sure, there are underwater robots and prototypes that are now being created to test how to circumvent these roadblocks and improve signal transmission from underwater to onshore devices. Still, as it’s a step in the right direction, and one that the oil & gas industries should consider when looking at innovative and safe ways to protect oceans and humans.

IoUT is in its relative infancy as challenges such as background noise, poor signal transmission underwater, and the ever-changing nature of the underwater ecosystem have proven difficult for scientists and engineers to overcome. Moreover, the high cost of sensors remains a hurdle.

However, the technology promises to yield a number of practical applications including environmental monitoring, underwater exploration, and disaster prevention.

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