February 05, 2022 | Oil and Gas
Oil and gas producers use field instrumentation to monitor and control temperature, pressure and fluid levels in processing facilities, refineries, petrochemical plants, pipelines and distribution operations.
When the pandemic struck in 2020, oil & gas producers struggled to maintain the field instruments in their facilities because of minimum workforce mandates by various governments and workers getting infected with COVID-19.
However, the importance of field instrumentation maintenance was particularly high during the pandemic as many oil & gas facilities were reconfigured to produce by-products. For example, low gasoline prices led many refineries reconfigure processes to produce other petrochemical by-products rather than gasoline.
These factors put further pressure on field instruments leading to a higher frequency of maintenance runs, equipment failures and shutdowns. Oil & gas companies deployed different tactics to overcome these challenges, some of which we will discuss in this blog.
In many labour-intensive activities, oil and gas producers widely used team rotations. This was increasingly practiced in countries such as the U.S. and India where coronavirus infection rates were high. For instance, refineries of two large oil and gas companies in the U.S. successfully managed this challenge of maintaining instrumentation manpower. Their contractors in India for two oil companies rotated in 15 day shifts for critical field instrument projects. In some countries, team rotations are still in place to reduce risks of outbreaks in facilities and plants.
Companies also redeployed their maintenance crew within the organization from non-critical field instrument operations or operations that had been temporarily shut down or were underproducing to more important operations or plants. This ensured that oil and gas companies were able to keep their critical operations and production lines running even with limited workforce.
In many oil & gas firms, onshore technicians were used to perform simple replacement, troubleshooting and maintenance tasks. The level of training was then increased during the pandemic to decrease reliance on third-party service providers. Companies in the U.S. and South Korea had an advantage over others in maintaining their field instruments due to the presence of many original equipment manufacturers and field instrument brands in these countries (for example, Honeywell, Rosemount, Autrol and Nagano). So, they faced lesser pressure, if any, to mobilize foreign service providers for their maintenance and replacement requirements.
Although the COVID-19 situation in most of the countries is in control, emergence of new variants such as Omicron has created uncertainties. Vaccination rates, especially in developing economies, have not reached adequate levels. Oil & gas industry is therefore continuing with strategies such as team rotations, redeployments and in-house capability enhancements.
We have also observed that companies operating newer oil & gas facilities have an advantage over others with regards to field instrumentation and manpower maintenance.
Newer plants with upgraded instruments and higher levels of automation and control are easier to maintain and need lesser manpower.
Moreover, strict COVID screening procedures are in place in most oil & gas companies to identify the risk of outbreaks.
Although infection rate and government mandates have varied across countries in this pandemic, the key strategies used by oil & gas companies for field instrumentation were similar and are here to stay.