Evolving RTU capabilities facilitate expanding oil and gas production

With the growth of unconventional sources, more production assets are being created and put into production. Monitoring and integrating thousands of sites requires a high level of sophistication.


About 50,000 oil and gas wells—around 40% of the world’s total—are drilled in the U.S. each year, and of these, approximately 10,000 wells are in shale. Increased shale oil and natural gas production is having a ripple effect throughout manufacturing, pushing industrial users to consider natural gas in a different light.

With unconventional exploration, drilling, and production becoming more cost-effective, a large number of assets are being purchased and consolidated. Shale operations are also becoming more mature, shifting from the pioneers to the oil majors, who are bringing standardization of assets, as well as a higher level of sophistication and automation to the process. These initiatives are intended to optimize management of upstream and midstream facilities.

Along with the development of the oil and gas market, RTU (remote terminal unit) technology has advanced to offer enhanced communications, database, and signal transmission capabilities. RTUs serve as bridge points to sensor networks as well as access points to mobile users in the field. They also respond to users’ queries and collect data from specific sensors.

Today’s RTUs help oil and gas companies effectively deal with large distributed operations encompassing hundreds or even thousands of remote production assets. These operations involve complex remote automation and control applications such as gas flow metering, data concentrator and communications integration, wellhead control, pump and compressor control, block-valve automation, and gas stations.

In addition, integration of RTUs with SCADA systems allows operators to visualize what they need to know to simplify management of pipeline and upstream assets while integrating wellhead and production data with refinery-side controllers. With the latest RTU solutions, users are realizing the production potential of distributed assets through efficient remote monitoring, diagnostics, and asset management capabilities. A key feature for these applications is built-in, onboard HART I/O with integration of field device management for interrogating smart instrument diagnostics through the RTU.

Suppliers have made significant strides in improving the overall user experience with RTUs. For example, incorporating removable, plug-in terminal blocks—which simplify wiring and shorten the time required for cabinet assembly—eases installation and configuration requirements.

Additional improvements include modular designs for future expansions and bulk replication capabilities. For example, robust batch configuration tools allow a user to copy the configuration from one template to multiple RTUs, as well as create multiple RTUs in one task. Unique RTU parameters can then be updated from a single page across all copies.

At exploration, drilling, and production facilities, the ability to perform backup data log collection and interrogate field devices over radio-based networks that may not always be reliable, is particularly beneficial. This helps eliminate on-site trips for troubleshooting and maintenance, and enables better decisions around the health of a wide range of remote assets.

Senthil Balasundaram is a product manager for Honeywell Process Solutions.

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