MRO Magazine

Critical Resilience

Hardening Oil & Gas and Mining Facilities

Health & Safety

May 15, 2020
By Joe Morgan


Photo Credit: Axis Communications

When access to vital energy or natural resource supplies are threatened, the impact goes well beyond the oil field and mines, and potentially affects workers and communities. The oil & gas and mining industries have a complicated supply chain. It consists of exploration, extraction, transportation, refining, and distribution, which are dependent on one another and becoming more at risk from various threats.

Facility and site automation, AI, and Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity continue to grow, and so does the use of cloud services. This means, the entire production line of these operations is susceptible to cyber security-related threats that can impact the safety of worker and machine operation, and bring complete cessation of site and company workings.

Photo Credit: Axis Communications

Securing from physical attacks
The challenge of securing oil & gas and mining installations from a physical aspect is threefold: secure the property, the processes, and the safety of personnel. It may be a threefold process, but it doesn’t mean you have to triple your investment in security systems. With internet-protocol (IP)-based technology, it’s possible to achieve all three goals with one solution.

A typical installation would combine supervised checkpoints, camera surveillance, perimeter control, access control, fire protection, and alarms into an integrated security and surveillance system. It requires labour, and trips to remote areas to monitor pipelines and perimeter fences. Today’s network IP cameras are more powerful than earlier analogue cameras, allowing for processing of data to be done in the cameras. Known as “edge computing,” this reduces the load on the network, as only relevant video is streamed from the cameras. Therefore, certain security decisions can be made in the field, rather than streaming all footage to a remote server to be analyzed.

Starting at the perimeter, network cameras can monitor and record activity, and video analytics can interpret and act on anything they detect in the captured video. For instance, if a camera detects an intruder, it can notify security staff, issue an alarm, or play a prerecorded message telling the intruder to leave the area. Analytics available include motion and audio detection; more advanced systems include camera tampering detection, people counting, virtual fences, thermal heat detection, and vehicle licence plate recognition.

Photo Credit: Axis Communications

Securing the processes and optimizing operations
Downtime is an anathema for the oil & gas and mining industries. As such, facilities must continuously monitor processes to forestall costly repairs and shutdowns. By integrating video surveillance and analytics into Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) sensors and mass communication systems, operators can remotely monitor production efficiency, and visually inspect and verify that functions and processes are running correctly. This enables personnel to predict maintenance, which is key to safety, even in areas difficult to access, and provides remote assistance with planned maintenance.

Security cameras are well suited to the task of process security. A pan-tilt-zoom camera can shift from monitoring a fence line and zoom in to read a dial on a critical piece of equipment. Armed with thermal imaging technology and isothermal analytics, a thermal camera can detect subtle temperature variances that could indicate an overheating ball bearing, a blocked valve, or a leaky pipe. With their onboard intelligence and versatility, security cameras can be used to measure tank levels, monitor refinery flare stacks, and help operators avert wide-scale electrical outages by predicting transformer and switchgear failures at power substations.

Integrating network surveillance with production monitoring systems, critical infrastructures can inspect processes, and verify they are running correctly; visually assess reported failures; facilitate predictive maintenance and trend monitoring; and provide remote maintenance assistance via integration with network audio systems.

Protecting personnel
Oil & gas and mining sites can be dangerous, and safety is paramount. Surveillance cameras can help in mitigating risks. They can trigger alerts when they detect personnel entering dangerous or off-limit areas such as tunnels, railway tracks, and bridges. Thermal cameras can detect early-warning signs; for example, self-igniting materials or equipment are about to combust. In an emergency, they can track heat signatures to ensure everyone evacuates safely. In case of harmful emissions or a chemical spill, they can identify safe exit routes that avoid the vented discharge or flow.

Photo Credit: Axis Communications

By combining network video with access control, and intelligent analytics, these sites can protect the health and safety of their workers, the public, and the surrounding environment. The technology can help management visually monitor policy adherence, and evaluate risks in real time, control access to restricted areas, and track and support rescue teams and confirm evacuations.

Reducing cyber attacks with device protection
The more Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) becomes critical to oil & gas and mining, the more vulnerabilities crop up, and the more pathways are created that can be used for unwanted incursions. According to a recent Forrester study, by 2018, nearly 60 per cent of relevant surveyed organizations had experienced a breach in their industrial control or SCADA systems. In a 2018 security survey by Ernst & Young, the survey identified that 54 per cent of mining extraction companies had experienced a “significant” cyber incident in the past 12 months.

Mining extraction operations today include IIoT monitoring of tailings ponds, and dams or gas leaks, both on location and cyber, meaning, if a criminal penetrated a system, there could be a major threat. Employees are working underground or underwater where operations such as drilling, blasting, and welding are taking place; you wouldn’t want equipment to be compromised by a cyber attack, potentially bringing employees in harm’s way.

Photo Credit: Axis Communications

Security professionals must be able to harden all video cameras and IoT endpoints, and configure firewalls around various networks. Automation ensures that cyber security best practices are done correctly and at scale, saving hours of time spent manually performing hundreds of unfamiliar security tasks. Other best practices to automate include locking down exposed network connections, implementing security configurations, and monitoring devices 24/7 for health and cyber security.

A oil & gas and mining extraction site security plan needs to address all three areas of risk: traditional physical security, process security, and employee safety security, while ensuring all devices and systems are hardened against cyber attacks. Since a network surveillance system can handle multiple duties simultaneously, it’s able to help facilities achieve superior intrusion detection, more reliable operations, and a safer, healthier environment for their workforce. It’s like getting three systems in one: triple the protection duty and triple the return on investment. MRO

Joe Morgan is the Segment Development Manager for Critical Infrastructure at Axis Communications, Inc. He is responsible for developing strategies and building channel relationships to expand Axis’ presence in markets specific to critical infrastructure in North America.