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Video surveillance in the oil and gas industry

24 September 2016

Safety measures across oil and gas facilities and infrastructure must be kept as effective as possible on a constant basis. The reason for this is that the raw materials being processed at these sites are usually highly flammable and explosive. This article, from Videotec of Italy, looks into the best ways of maintaining safety and security at high hazard sites.

The challenges of maintaining safety

The oil and gas production chain goes from offshore exploration and drilling platforms to onshore oil wells, from pipelines to refineries and, where general safety is concerned, this creates many problems.

Generally, sites cover vast areas and can be found in remote, inaccessible places on land or in open sea, and are often subject to hostile environmental conditions. These facilities have many key areas which could become the targets for trespassing, vandalism, theft or, in the worst case scenario, terrorist attack. 

Given the high-risk environment, the challenges of ensuring the protection of personnel, of the expensive infrastructure and of production processes are numerous. However, the same goes for the strict and rigorous standards which outline what is required of the equipment that can be installed across these types of environments. Due to the fact that the raw materials processed in these areas are extremely flammable, toxic and corrosive, the facilities are classed as "atmosphere at risk of explosion" by international guidelines.

International guidelines

All electrical or mechanical equipment installed in a place that has been classed as potentially explosive must adhere to stringent design parameters, pass exacting compliance testing and gain certification as an "explosion-proof product" from accredited certification bodies. There are actually several types of protection techniques to prevent cameras from being an ignition source. Among others: explosion-proof cameras make sure that any sparks originating within their housings are contained and that the temperature of the outside of the device, motor or enclosure, is kept within certain parameters. Both of these factors, electrical sparks and device temperature, are possible ignition sources which could lead to an explosion.

Video surveillance: Why and How

Video surveillance, using cameras which are appropriately placed across critical points, is essential in the oil and gas industry to help operators intercept risks, suspicious events, malfunctions, accidents and thefts – all of which threaten the security of staff and facilities – in a timely manner.

In addition to this, the "virtual eye" of specialised cameras is able to continuously monitor the delicate production processes which take place in areas that are filled with gas or toxic fumes, or where the temperatures are too high for human beings to go.

Without a doubt, the most important criteria in the design of video surveillance systems will always be reliability and quality. It will also be necessary to guarantee long-term continuity and support with upgrades and new technology products as they come onto the market. 

The composition of the video surveillance system

Network video surveillance systems are now the most suitable technology for these applications providing definite advantages for Oil and Gas sites such as:

*  A higher image quality. The greater detail allows for more accurate analysis of a scene, avoids false alarms and ensures more timely and effective intervention.

*  Remote access for system management and control, even from far away. The operators can access live video streams at any time and from any authorised PC which is connected to the Internet. There is also the option of archiving recordings at remote locations.

*  Better integration with other systems. Thanks to standard protocol, these devices can communicate with other active safety systems, optimising and simplifying system management.

*  More flexibility and easier system upgrades in the future. If necessary, you can add cameras with absolutely no difficulty.

*  Generally lower installation and maintenance costs

Digital data streams – video, audio and others – are transmitted via a Local Area Network (LAN) or Wide Area network (WAN) using an IP (Internet Protocol). The H.264 encoding technology provides high-quality video while using less storage space and bandwidth.

IP management comes with a centralised remote control through specialised software applications, developed to increase response times in resolving problems and greatly reduce the participation needed for technical assistance issues, an important factor in the case of production sites located in inaccessible places. 

Also, digital data makes it easier to analyse videos and archive and retrieve recordings at any time and from anywhere, even remotely.

Which type of camera

For a camera which is to be used on a site where there is a risk of explosion, the most basic requirement is that it is, of course, explosion proof. It needs to guarantee that it can contain any sparks, ignition sources, and avoid becoming excessively hot.

As a result, these cameras usually have a housing made of material such as stainless steel, which is strong enough to contain the pressure of an internal explosion. It is robust and also resistant to corrosion caused by chemicals in the surrounding atmosphere, usually deriving from the manufacturing processes taking place or the sea mists present in sites offshore, or close to maritime areas.

To get the best out of the camera, the lens should be equipped with a built-in wiper so that vision remains sharp without the need for maintenance. Special certified explosion-proof tanks with pumps to hold the glass-cleaning liquid will also be a necessity.

Posts with static cameras have a fixed field of view and are ideal in cases where it is necessary to have a certain sensitive area under constant surveillance.

Motorised PTZ cameras are usually used to monitor large external areas. The reason for this is the possibility of remotely controlling pan, tilt and zoom, which makes it possible to track moving targets or complete a circuit of pre-set positions.

When it comes to recording capability, it is important to choose high-quality and high-resolution day/night cameras in order to capture the greatest level of detail in any scene that is being monitored.

Cameras can offer advanced features such as Wide Dynamic range, which allows you to film people or objects in detail in varying degrees of light, whether there are bright spots, shadowy areas or a strong backlight. There is also the Defog function, which uses a special correction algorithm on images to produce very sharp footage through mist, smoke or thick fog.

The Full HD technology now offered by modern IP cameras provides exceptional video quality and other interesting features such as colour precision, a 16:9 format and a progressive scan which supports up to 60 frames per second at full-frame rate. This high frame rate means that detailed images of unexpected and sudden events can be captured without issue.

Thermal cameras for monitoring in darkness

For the most critical environmental monitoring, where a constant visual coverage day and night must be guaranteed whatever the conditions or distance, the best solution is to use a thermal camera.

The thermal sensor generates images based on heat given off by objects or people, regardless of how brightly lit the scene is. It is unbeatable in detecting the presence of suspicious objects, unusual events or elevated temperatures, even in blinding light or total darkness.

Thermal cameras can help detect the beginnings of a fire or leaks of flammable substances.
To that end, there are on the market dual-vision PTZ devices which have double thermal/optical, day/night cameras. These are the perfect solution for the stringent safety requirements of critical environments.

Conclusion

A well-thought out video surveillance system, integrated with other active and passive security systems and designed with high quality and reliable products, can reduce risk in potentially critical areas, such as those found across the oil and gas industry, contributing to the protection of people’s health, assets and the environment.


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