The exploration of shale gas is a trend that has emerged in the oil and gas arena during the last couple of years. For satellite players, it is another opportunity to provide state-of-the-art communications to one of its biggest customer sets, the oil and gas industry.
When two industries as large, technology-driven and global reaching as the satellite and petroleum sectors come into each other’s orbit, there are bound to be numerous business opportunities that can benefit both camps. After all, in today’s world, two of the most important capabilities that consumers are looking for are on-demand power and communications.
The growth of the shale gas sector in the United States has produced many benefits, with domestic gas prices kept enjoyably low due to the extra supply that the vast shale gas reserves offer.
The exploration and drilling techniques that are applied to shale gas plays can rely heavily on satellite technology for the deployment of networks that will support Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems. Voice, data and video recording and transfer to any location in the United States or the world is vital to keeping operations running smoothly and within budget. The good news for satellite companies is that this requires increased bandwidth demands from customers — and increased bandwidth demand is set to continue to grow as shale gas drilling becomes more widespread.
Base camps are often found in remote locations, meaning satellite communications are usually the best, if not the only means of achieving connectivity. “The oil sector has enterprise class satellite communications requirements with a strong broadband demand, an almost insatiable demand, with high throughput needs, services needs and scalability,” says David Hartshorn, secretary general of Global VSAT Forum (GVF).
The size of the company will govern its communication needs but in general shale gas plays cover very wide areas and have numerous drilling sites, creating the need for point to multi-point connectivity because all the data from the well sites has to be delivered to a single headquarter. This is also the case for voice and video connectivity. The distance between the single point and the many points also dictates the bandwidth requirements and therefore costs.
Shale gas plays have a huge real-time requirement, mostly due to simple topography and nature of shale gas drilling at many sites. This also requires the need for data acquisition and remote monitoring at all sites.
Post Macondo Onshore Surge
When the BP Macondo disaster struck the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, Washington was swift to ban drilling in the offshore region. Oil companies were equally quick to shift their attention to onshore plays in the United States, with a lot of investment being directed to the shale gas industry.
Many of the investors were foreign oil players and National Oil Companies (NOCs) and the shale gas business is continuing to grow. All of these companies need good local support for IT and communications to their teams in remote locations across America where shale gas exploration and drilling is ongoing.
Keith Johnson, president, Global Energy Solutions at Harris CapRock, says this has provided a great source of new business, which also requires a lot of bandwidth. “This will provide significant growth in North America for us,” he notes. “But we are looking at increased growth in every region.” He says Brazil was a strong growth market for Harris CapRock and that it was looking to increase VSAT teleport coverage there and in many other countries as the need for increased bandwidth continues to grow around the world.