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RFID's Land of Opportunity: the Middle East

The region's oil and gas industry possesses a distinctive collection of traits that offer a phenomenal potential for RFID and RTLS technology adoption.
By Konrad Konarski
Sep 10, 2012Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait and Oman boast prospering economies, exquisite landscapes and pioneering metropolitan skylines rivaling those of the greatest cities in the world. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the region contains more than 40 percent of Earth's natural gas reserves, and more than 55 percent of the planet's oil reserves, while covering only about 5 percent of its total land mass. During the past few decades, the area has prospered with the help of its vast petroleum reserves, and has given birth to some of the world's largest and most profitable oil and gas companies. Saudi Aramco, Kuwait Petroleum Corp., Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. and Qatar Petroleum are all among the world's largest oil firms.

A sour-gas field RTLS application in Qatar
Always of a crucial concern to the oil and gas sector is personnel safety—or, more broadly, practices related to health, safety and the environment (HSE). There exist a variety of dangers native to the oil and gas field that demand strict safety protocols to be followed, and personal protective equipment (PPE) to be carried by field workers. Employees working in the oil fields of the Middle East can be exposed to hydrogen sulfide (H2S) emissions, fires and explosions, as well as the more common slips and falls.

The Shah Field, located in the UAE, is an example of a newly developing sour-gas field. Such a field holds natural gas containing significant amounts of H2S, which is extremely toxic, even in small quantities. This field has a daily production capacity of 1 billion cubic feet, according to the Oil & Gas Journal, with every H2S-rich cubic foot having the ability to cause accidental injury or death. Other fields across the region also produce under high concentrations of H2S and carbon dioxide (CO2). RTLS technologies provide the ability to track the location and condition of personnel across the various types of oil fields.

A sour-gas facility RTLS application in Oman
These systems are designed specifically for both the harsh oil-field environment and the use cases that it demands, providing the capability to resolve the locations of individuals moving across the field, as well as detect falls, H2S emissions and panic events. Most importantly, they transmit this information to emergency response-control centers, thereby enabling prompt visibility into the condition of each worker and his or her current location. Currently, oil fields throughout Qatar, Oman and several other Middle Eastern nations are employing RTLS technology to improve the safety of their personnel. RTLS badges are becoming a ubiquitous piece of a worker's PPE gear, just as important—if not more so—as a helmet or safety harness.

Also important is the maintenance, repair and overhaul of processing equipment, pipelines, storage units and virtually any other module or item that constitutes a facility. Highly skilled workers execute meticulous procedural steps to determine if a particular piece of equipment is safe for use or requires repair. Employees perform ultrasonic measurements and electromagnetic inspections, or other specialized tasks, to ascertain equipment corrosion levels, weld integrity and numerous other parameters.

A Middle Eastern refinery using RFID for maintenance, repair and overhaul

Upon pinpointing parameters outside of acceptable thresholds, or simply with the prerequisite of a scheduled overhaul or repair, the company can take appropriate steps to prepare an item for servicing. These can include shutting off gas or oil flow, or halting the equipment's operation, in order to make it safe and accessible to field workers, as well as a number of other preparation steps. Finally, personnel with specialized training on the operation of particular field equipment perform the required work. This can include cleaning storage tanks, welding, replacing equipment, torquing bolts, and other MRO work.

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