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The U.S. Shale Gas Boom Is a Great Opportunity for RFID

The technology promises to make production safer, easier and more profitable, and to change the way in which the oil and gas industry does business.
By Konrad Konarski
There are, of course, already existing legacy identification technologies for equipment monitoring, and application systems that provide basic tracking capabilities. However, RFID is becoming more of a household name in the shale industry. Every major hydraulic-fracturing service provider—and, more broadly, most oil and gas companies involved in shale gas exploration and production—are evaluating this technology, and many are taking steps to deploy it as a tool to enhance shale and gas operational workflows.


Marcellus Shale well site: inspection

One of the most common applications of RFID technology is the tracking of frac-iron. In fact, this value case may well be the most palpable example of RFID's benefits compared with those of other identification systems. Frac-iron is heavy, often covered in mud and dirt, and requires careful servicing controls to assure that it is safely used. To paint the picture more dramatically, imagine having to hoist a 150-pound valve covered in mud, and continue to reorient it until you can locate an identification number etched in small print—while also making sure that the identification markings appropriately validate that part's servicing requirement. Having to undertake this task once may sound difficult, but having to do so a hundred times is daunting, and accomplishing it with a limited amount of time, so that operations are not delayed, is outright mind-boggling. RFID is delivering seamless identification capability where it was not previously possible using human-readable text or bar codes.


At well sites, RFID can be used to identify equipment.

Another use case for RFID in the shale and gas industry is managing chemical and sand transportation. The need to control these supplies is critical, not only to the respective manufacturers for billing traceability and quality control, but also—perhaps even more so—to the service providers themselves. Each well-servicing process requires a specific cocktail of chemicals and sand, in order to effectively stimulate that well.


At service depots, RFID can be employed to retrieve parts specifications and servicing records.

For example, naturally occurring sand or man-made grains, such as resin-coated sand, are carefully sorted for size and sphericalness, to provide an efficient conduit for the production of fluid from the reservoir to the well bore. These concentrations and characteristics can make the difference between success and failure. RFID technology is being utilized to manage the movements of chemicals and sand from production site to well. This includes using passive RFID tags for individual product traceability, and active RFID tags enabling what is commonly referred to as a real-time-location system (RTLS). These RTLS solutions provide the sand supply chain with the ability to track trucks and railcars throughout the loading and unloading processes, in and across the mines, at trans-loading facilities, and at the job site.

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