The era of easy oil and gas is over. The 21st century frontier of the oil and gas sector is increasingly in remote, hostile, and geologically challenging areas of the world. The promising hydrocarbon areas of the world, for example, the ultra-deep offshore oil plays in the Arctic, West Africa, the Gulf of Mexico, or Brazil; shale gas and oil in the U.S., China or Australia; or oil sands in Canada, demand continuous and reliable communications technologies to withstand extreme heat, ice, snow, humidity, rain, wind, and fog.
Given the extreme environments that energy companies cope with, high capacity and reliable wireless communication are indispensable for continuity and safe operations. Wireless connection helps build a foundation for many networks of broadband speed and to sustain multiple applications, such as SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) systems, real-time video monitoring of wells and other facilities, communications and monitoring of drill rigs, surveying location of oil and gas assets, among other functions. Technology firms point out the rise in use of satellite communication in the oil and gas industry, attributing it to the challenging locations of fossil fuel drilling. Satellite companies see great opportunities in the oil and gas sector as the latter increasingly integrates video monitoring of wellheads and drilling. Fiber optic technology is also gaining a market share in the energy sector as the distributed fiber-optic sensor sector is expected to grow to $1.1 billion in 2016, 70% of which would be linked to the oil and gas market.
As the use of satellite, radio and fiber optic technologies are becoming integral parts of modern communications for all aspects of oil and gas operations, their application for some of the challenging and hostile areas of the world is still sparse, particularly in emerging markets. For example, the deepwater oil drilling in West Africa constitutes a majority of total oil and gas output for the region, but some of the most reliable communications protocols used globally are still absent in this part of Africa. The existing conventional and wireless communication in West Africa has been subject to breakdowns and stoppages, jeopardizing the safety of rigs and personnel. Remote communications are still difficult in many regions of Africa. In general, oil and gas fields that cover many miles of remote and harsh parts of the world are often short of cellular connection. If energy companies are to profit from operating in extreme environments, the 21st century oil and gas development is likely to set the level playing field for investment in state-of-the-art communications technology, whether the drilling is in Africa or the Arctic.