Would an offshore worker from 1995 recognize the central control room of an offshore facility today? Would they have imagined that control room operators could be sitting hundreds of kilometres away remotely operating an offshore platform? In Atlantic Canada’s offshore industry, digital innovation is transforming offshore operations.

Hebron is an offshore oil field estimated to contain more than 700 million barrels of recoverable resources. It is Canada’s newest offshore oil project and began producing in 2017. The Hebron control room is located onshore and directly connected via fibre optic cable to the offshore platform it supports. It provides identical functionality to what you would typically find offshore.

“I am truly an integrated member of the offshore team interacting and working with them for my 12-hour shift. The only difference is I am also able to go home after my shift and be with my family.” – Neil King

Neil King, control room operator for Hebron, is from Perry’s Cove, Newfoundland and Labrador. He had been working as an offshore operator for about four years when the position was transitioned onshore. “I can close valves, send an operator out to check on equipment, make platform announcements and shut down the facility if need be. I am truly an integrated member of the offshore team interacting and working with them for my 12-hour shift. The only difference is I am also able to go home after my shift and be with my family,” says King. “People who, for family reasons, can’t work offshore can now see a path to working in the operations side of the business.”

 

A Digital Opportunity

“Having the vision and the determination to invest in the infrastructure is why we have so much opportunity in the digital space today,” says Laz Cosma, president of ExxonMobil Canada (EMC), operator of the Hebron project. “We see digital innovation as a game changer making our operations safer and more efficient. The potential exists for the NL oil and gas industry to become a global leader in terms of digital technology, automation and remote operations.”

The new ExxonMobil building on Hebron Way in St. John’s, NL, is now being referred to as an onshore support and control centre, using digital and advanced technology to support all aspects of its offshore operations. The digital capability in the new building includes the onshore control room for Hebron, as well as a logistics control room, drilling support centres and engineering support rooms. All of these offshore operations have specialized facilities and direct access to the offshore – drilling, logistics and production operations.

Hibernia Management and Development Company Ltd., as operator of the Hibernia project, joined ExxonMobil in the new building and the Hibernia platform is also connected by fibre optic cable.

“Having the vision and the determination to invest in the infrastructure is why we have so much opportunity in the digital space today.” – Laz Cosma

Digital Transformation Contributing to Lowering Carbon Intensity

During Hebron drilling operations on the platform, the Measurements While Drilling (MWD) Engineer works from the Drilling Support Center (DSC) in St. John’s, another position that would have previously been done offshore. The MWD Engineer monitors well position and rock evaluation to ensure the well is drilled to the right location. The MWD Engineer is an active member of the offshore Drill Team providing real time guidance and support through digital technologies, including telepresence in various locations around the drill rig.

The pandemic provided an opportunity to illustrate just how valuable digital technology is. “When people were being discouraged from travelling and the team was trying to reduce personnel offshore, to allow more physical distancing, they looked to the onshore control rooms and saw the opportunity to have vendors undertake inspections, reviews and software upgrades from onshore,” says Ryan Noseworthy, Vice President & Development Manager, EMC. “This was just the start of our journey to greater digital and automated operations. This industry has always heavily invested in technology and innovation and ExxonMobil believes that accelerating our digital transformation is paramount to supporting the dual challenge of meeting societies’ future energy needs, while lowering the carbon intensity of our operations.”