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Rugged Tags Survive Deep-Sea Test

Passive RFID tags deployed at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico for four months continued to operate once retrieved, according to the technology's developer, Wescorp Energy.
By Beth Bacheldor
For the months-long test, Wescorp attached two RFID tags—pretested to withstand 8,000 psi—to the submersible sensors of two precision sonobuoys, and placed the sensors at the bottom of the gulf. Precision sonobuoys include a floating radio transmitter, Shemwell explains, and are used to position subsurface remote-controlled vehicles (ROVs) employed in the construction and maintenance of deepwater offshore oil and gas facilities. "Wescorp had these tags specifically designed, engineered and manufactured to operate in this extreme environment," he says.

According to Shemwell, these tags were designed by an RFID engineering company for extreme environments, and were built to industry standards. Wescorp worked with the firm to seal the tags in a plastic casing so they would meet the quality standards necessary to withstand the hostile, remote and heavy-industrial environments typical encountered by the oil and gas industry. For instance, the tag would need to remain operational immersed in salt water and subjected to 8,000 psi of pressure while more than 3,000 meters deep in the Gulf of Mexico.

Prior to submersion, Wescorp employed a handheld Motorola RFID interrogator to read the tags. After a period of time, the sensors were pulled out of the water and their tags read once more. When the buoys were retrieved, Shemwell says, the tags were in "excellent" condition and readable. He claims the test results did not indicate any changes or enhancements that need to be made to the RFID tags, and says Wescorp is proceeding forward with marketing the tags and the IFRM service to track equipment in extremely harsh environments, both on land (in places such as northern Canada) and below the water's surface.

For underwater deployments, Wescorp's RFID system would allow companies to monitor the status of their equipment. An onboard interrogator would read the tags of equipment prior to underwater deployment, and again after the gear has been retrieved and loaded on board the vessel. The tags would also be read when the equipment was off-loaded on land or at another offshore location, enabling operators to track the location of the items, which can cost thousands of dollars each.

Wescorp says it already has several customers using, or planning to use, its IFRM service and RFID tags to track underwater equipment. Among them are partner Ellycrack, a Norwegian research firm focused on developing technology that converts heavy oil to a lighter, more commercially viable oil.

According to Shemwell, several other companies—which he is unable to name at this time—also utilize the service or plan to do so. These include one company that expects to employ the RFID tags to manage equipment and material in an oil sands project in northern Canada; another that intends to use the technology to better manage critical equipment utilization by assuring certifications are up-to-date and equipment is available for the job, and fit for the work expected of it; and a third firm planning to use RFID to help manage underwater rental equipment.

Going forward, Shemwell says, "Wescorp is aggressively working with a number of the major players in oil and gas offshore production to deliver these solutions worldwide."

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