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COVID-19 prompts digital technology use on offshore oilrigs

A pandemic was always going to be a particular challenge for the cramped working and living conditions of the North Sea’s offshore rigs, but operators are reporting an accelerated shift towards the use of so-called “digital twins” to minimise the number of people that need to be physically present.

Oil and lubricant producer Royal Dutch Shell has recognised the urgency of this. Speaking to Bloomberg, Shell’s Chief Technology Officer, Yuri Sebregts, said that having accurate virtual representations of oilrigs enabled the company to train staff in a faithful facsimile before posting them to the actual rig.

Sebregts added that engineers also benefitted from this by being able to better prepare in advance of a maintenance intervention. This all helps reduce the human presence needed and the scope for COVID-19 infections.

Serica Energy is also using a similar system at one of its assets in the North Sea. Its Chief Executive Officer, Mitch Flegg, said:

“Covid-19 has been a catalyst for this type of digital innovation. The demands of operating with social distancing measures have made the value of digital surveys even more apparent.”

According to Sebregts, the use of technology to enable onshore experts to guide offshore rig workers has also increased exponentially during the pandemic. Such setups typically involve cameras mounted on helmets, possibly with the inclusion of some form of augmented reality, with communication happening in real time.

While the ideas are hardly new, Sebregts says the pandemic has increased the sense of urgency and openness towards them.

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