SCADA’s New Role Looms Large In Future

By Thomas L. Frobase, Boardwalk Pipeline Partners, Houston | February 2012, Vol. 239 No. 2
Buyer's Guide

Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (“SCADA”) systems have matured over their 20 years of mainstream use in the oil and gas industry. This article will take a look at the current trends and SCADA’s future direction as perceived by the writer.

U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (“PHMSA”) control-room regulations have caused many companies to re-evaluate their control-room strategy. Requirements for fatigue mitigation have required operators to predefine the criteria of screen design and alarm management. Compliance to industry-generated guidelines such as API-1165 and API-1167 will no longer be considered to be voluntary.

SCADA systems were only tangential to pipeline regulation in the past. As we move into the future the SCADA system will be a major factor in the measure of how pipeline systems are operated. The stability and accuracy of SCADA systems will be even more important in the future. The ability to transparently operate through system failures or natural disasters will be required to be the norm, not the exception.

Tools to provide a statistical assessment of the frequency, volume and recurrence of alarms have been added to many control systems in order to simplify reporting and compliance with the control room rules. Change documentation and management are being provided by controller notes applications being linked to individual field locations and, in some cases, individual safety-related points.

The multitude of location-critical alerts and events that were formerly passed through the control center and back to the field personnel by the controller has presented another area of focus. In many cases, this additional interaction with the control center must be eliminated or routed from the SCADA system directly to the personnel in the field.

The ability to use the SCADA system to deliver a set of alerts and events will require the SCADA system to support overlapping areas of responsibility which would allow the system to route safety-critical alarms from a specific device to the control room while routing location-critical alerts and events from the same device back to the field without the knowledge of the control room. The granularity of the location-critical alerts and events would be designed to direct the alerts to the appropriate technical resource for remediation, enhancing the efficiency of the workforce.

As the mobile workforce phenomenon proliferates, workforce requirements for casual access to SCADA will become mandatory. No longer can we afford to have field personnel call the control center for operational information. Many of the local alerts and events will be routed to the field personnel directly by text, e-mail or through a casual user device. Programs such as Citrix and Microsoft Remote Apps running on iPads and Android tablets provide secure access into the corporate network environment today.

Casual SCADA is just one more application in the suite of business applications that most companies currently provide to their mobile users. The vision of having field operations personnel with access to real- time data wherever they are located is not too far from becoming a reality.