BEACON WEST ENERGY GROUP – Reliable communication is essential for safety, efficiency and productivity on offshore oil platforms.
From the mid-late 1960’s through today, several oil companies have been working to safely extract oil and gas from several platforms just a few miles offshore of some of California’s most beautiful stretches of coastline. At the height of offshore operations, 27 platforms were constructed with many of these still producing oil today
Beacon West Energy Group (BW), a progressive company skilled in platform management, decommissioning and well abandonment took over Operations on Platforms Gail & Grace in 2018 to assist with the decommissioning of the facilities. Platform Gail is located about 10 miles off Carpinteria, California and Platform Grace sits about 5 miles west of Gail. Additionally, BW also manages three other platforms in the Santa Barbara Channel – Platforms Holly, Hogan and Houchin along with associated pipelines and onshore facilities such as the pier in Carpinteria – performing engineering, regulatory compliance, maintenance, and monitoring services to ensure public safety and environmental protection. .
Operating platforms means dealing with a myriad of issues including an aging communications infrastructure with outdated and unreliable two-way radio communication systems. Two-way radio communication is incredibly important on these platforms for the safety of personnel to be able to talk to others that could be scattered across multiple deck levels. From crane operators to boat captains to supervisors in charge of various areas of the operation, they all need to be in constant communication to keep operations efficient, reliable and most importantly, safe.
Rob Williams, Beacon West’s IT Manager was new to the oil industry and had little experience overseeing two-way radio operations. “Shortly after I started my job, I began receiving inquiries about problems with the radio equipment,” Williams said, “I knew we needed new radios and maybe an upgraded system.” The radios in use at the time were Motorola ht750 analog radios. A work horse to be sure, but well past their prime.
A major concern on oil and gas platforms is highly flammable gases that are part of oil production and processing. The radios had to be Intrinsically Safe (IS) to allow the personnel to move from accommodation and office zones to hazardous areas without endangering the operation and the lives of the crew. The decision was made to upgrade to Motorola XPR 3500e intrinsically safe radios. These digital radios, when configured in IP Site Connect mode coupled with digital repeaters provide wall to wall coverage with crystal clear audio. Complete coverage on the platforms required repeaters to broaden radio coverage from the crane operator to the control room and everywhere in between – even between platforms. The effort was worth it.
Securing approval for the capital investment in new radios turned out to be a simple proposition for Williams, “Radios were breaking down and being sent out for repair at a cost of around $450. It didn’t make sense to continue throwing money at old radios. We needed a solution and my boss agreed.”
Williams’ neighbor had been a Motorola dealer and recommended a few companies for him to talk to. “Frankly, said Williams, “I spoke with several companies and Anthony at SJM Radio had better answers to the questions I asked than any of the others.”
Anthony Doukas, Sales Manager for SJM recalled, “When I first spoke to Rob he was interested in new radios. “Then I learned that the long-term goal was not only to provide seamless coverage on the platforms but to allow the two platforms Gail and Grace to communicate with each other.” “Sometimes customers don’t know exactly what they need. It became clear that they needed a custom system that could expand as their needs grew.”
“The old repeaters were no longer working properly causing dead zones on the platform themselves,” said Williams. “At that time, the platforms could only communicate with each other from one spot on the corner of the top decks, we needed a better solution.” Doukas added that, “Some of the other companies Rob had spoken with had told him that connecting the two platforms five miles away couldn’t be done. Motorola IP site connect was the solution they were looking for.”
“I began by having Rob look at the XPR3000e series radios.” said Doukas. “Eventually he settled on the XPR3500e, a powerful IS radio that provides enhanced audio. The XPR3500e has lots of advanced features like integrated Wi-Fi to download software remotely, Bluetooth for wireless accessories, text and email capability, work ticketing, lone worker and many other features that can be utilized as needed.”
SJM also recommended a solution for the crane operator using a radio paired with noise canceling headphones allowing the operator hands free communication. It replaced the old base station that was distracting for the operator. Communication between the crane operator, the deck and the supply boat are critical. Every piece of equipment, supplies and workers are lifted off the boat by the crane and set on the deck of the platform. The crane operator is well over a hundred feet above the boat which in heavy seas becomes a moving target. A single missed communication could have significant undesirable safety impacts.
Oil platforms are made of concrete and steel, two materials that greatly diminish radio waves. In that sort of environment, you not only need powerful radios, but also strategically placed repeaters in order to have 100% seamless coverage. “We recommended Motorola SL5700 repeaters that provided extended coverage from the top deck all the way down to the lowest levels on the platform,” said Doukas. Motorola SL5700 repeaters boost the radio signals and clean-up static providing reliable, crystal-clear audio in any environment.
The next challenge was to connect the two platforms that are five miles apart. “There was only one solution I recommended,” said Doukas, “and that was Motorola’s IP site connect. Both platforms already had data connection capability, so IP site connect was the stand-out solution and it worked beautifully. This technology was made for a situation like theirs.”
Motorola IP Site connect uses existing internet to provide the connection between any two points regardless of how far away they are or what barriers to transmission exist. So, whether the issue is a large coverage area, structural or geographical barriers or linking remote locations across town or across the country, IP site Connect is a scalable solution for any environment.
Since the completion of the upgrade, every night, crews on both platforms walk the operation to perform safety checks. The two crews can communicate with each other regardless of where they are on the platforms allowing them to communicate about problems and solutions in real time. It really provides a tool for the crews to feel safe on either platform in any situation due to the seamless communication capabilities.
“Working with Anthony and SJM Radio was great. They are always responsive and do what they say they will do,” Williams explained. “Having a reliable communication system made the entire operation more efficient, increased productivity and enhanced the overall safety of the working environment. We are very happy with SJM’s work and the Motorola products they recommended.”
Beacon West is doing important work in decommissioning platforms, keeping the crew safe and productive and protecting the California coastal environment. “Each well has to be properly abandoned meeting all the stringent regulations by strategically placing cement into the well at several depths before removing the steel pipe.”
Williams mused that some of the current crew members have been part of the operations team on Platform Gail for over 25 years. The decommissioning will take several more years to complete and during that time, the ultimate fate of the facilities will undergo an environmental review process.
The future of the platform is yet to be decided, but whatever the final purpose for these platforms, SJM Radio’s Motorola MOTOTRBO two-way radio system solution will be there until the job is done.
SJM Radio – Experience You Can Trust
In 2018, SJM Radio was contracted to design a custom two-way radio system for Beacon West Energy Group. This powerful communication system designed by SJM Radio saves both time and money, while increasing safety and security.
The project has evolved over time and in the future will provide communication between the platforms and the Carpinteria Pier. Part two of this story will focus on the pier to platform connection.