New Consortium Seeks RFID Standard for Oil, Gas Industries

By Mary Catherine O'Connor

The Oil & Gas RFID Solution Group, made up of petroleum companies, RFID vendors and an academic think tank, hopes to develop a common approach to deploying RFID across the industries.


Retail, supply chain, health care…now add petroleum production to the list of industries turning to RFID technology solutions for operational improvements and competitive advantage. A number of leading petroleum companies have joined with RFID vendors and a think tank comprised of professors and researchers from Texas A&M University and the University of Houston to form the Oil & Gas RFID Solution Group.

The consortium’s goal is to develop a common approach to deploying RFID across the oil and gas industry. This will entail creating best practices for such RFID applications as tracking and maintaining oil-drilling components, as well as a standard RFID tag-numbering scheme, protocols and form factors.

Professor Ben Zoghi

The group is working closely with RFID standard-setting organization EPCglobal to create a passive RFID tag standard for the industry. It also aims to create standards for using active RFID tags with integrated sensors to monitor environmental conditions at drilling sites, to ensure optimal machinery operation and soil chemistry.

The RFID vendors involved in the project are hardware manufacturers Avery Dennison and Motorola, software provider Shipcom Wireless and Merlin Concepts and Technology, a systems integrator focused on the oil and gas industry.

The petroleum companies involved in the project have not yet been revealed. However, says Konrad Konarski, a founding member of the Oil & Gas Solution Group and VP of Merlin Concepts and Technology, these firms have already begun work on a number of proof-of-concept projects in which passive RFID is employed to track assets or sensor-based tags used to monitor environmental conditions.

Some of these projects have been completed and others are still ongoing, Konarski says, with additional projects currently being planned. Several have been completed within laboratory settings, while group members have taken other projects into the field to test the technology in a real-world setting.

While lab work is important, professor Ben Zoghi of Texas A&M University—who oversees the school’s Sensors and RFID Technologies Laboratory (see Texas A&M Senses New RFID Apps) and also serves as the director of the Oil & Gas Solution Group—says that getting out in the field enables the consortium to implement scalable pilots that can illustrate, for instance, how petroleum companies could use RFID to improve asset visibility and utilization. What’s more, he adds, it also will allow the group to later roll out the RFID system in the field without having to start from scratch. The group has posted schematics describing its roadmaps for standard-setting and proof-of-concept projects at its Web site.

Konrad Kanarski

The role of the group’s university members will be to develop applications that take into account the physical requirements of RFID tags and interrogators in the harsh environment of oil and gas exploration and drilling sites. The consortium is also working with petroleum companies to determine the benefits that using RFID technology could provide, Zoghi says, and to figure out how the technology might impact a firm’s bottom line and its ability to produce product quickly and efficiently.

“Energy prices are impacting every aspect [of business],” Zoghi says, “and the petroleum companies are trying to streamline their processes so that they can get everything they need on demand. If a drill component breaks, they need to replace it ASAP.” According to the consortium, using RFID to improve an oil company’s asset-tracking practices—which Konarski says are often rudimentary, based on “pen and paper”—can help optimize production.

“When we say RFID, we mean passive, active, Wi-Fi tags, GPS-enabled tags, etc.,” Zoghi says. One of his main goals, he explains, is to educate the group’s industry members about the potential bottom-line benefits and show how the systems work. He adds that the group is also working with IT executives from the oil and gas industry to help the consortium to understand the informational technology architecture used in that industry. Zoghi’s plan going forward, he says, is to complete a number of proof-of-concept projects slated for the remainder of this summer, and then to begin adding additional members to the group.