Using space technology to monitor offshore oil and gas fields

02/06/2009 1325 views 0 likes
ESA / Applications / Telecommunications & Integrated Applications / Technology Transfer

With the help of ESA technology used in the monitoring and control of satellites, a start-up company at ESA’s Business Incubation Centre has developed a system to monitor offshore oil and gas installations.

“Our Remote Intuitive Visual Operations System (RIVOPS) is based upon years of ESA experience in the monitoring of satellites and the handling of emergency situations. It is an alarm monitoring system that sits on top of conventional distributed control systems used by offshore oil and gas exploration companies,” says Alexandre Van Damme from the French-Dutch start-up company EATOPS.

Offshore oil rig
Offshore oil rig

In an offshore installation, thousands of parameters have to be monitored continuously. By combining them into clusters, and applying a series of filtering algorithms, RIVOPS provides a clean, graphical and intuitive overview of all emergency situations that can occur in an oil rig or similar offshore structure.

EATOPS’ RIVOPS adds functionality to the monitoring systems already in use to supervise the installations, and helps oil and gas rig operators to spot and identify problems more quickly and efficiently.

Space technology increases safety

Satellite control
Satellite control

At ESA, the concept of grouping parameters into major clusters which are then monitored has been developed and refined during years of satellite control. The way of organising the monitoring of the satellite parameters and using intuitive visualisation techniques has proved to be a safe methodology that ensures faster decision-making.


This has made it possible to handle and continuously monitor a large number of parameters with the help of relatively few operators. For Envisat, Europe’s largest satellite, operators have to monitor over 20 000 parameters, which is comparable to that of a large offshore oil and gas installation.

“Within seconds, the operator can identify where alarms originate and, more importantly, how they are related. RIVOPS can constantly supervise large installations, such as the ones for oil and gas fields, and provide the operators with a sharp understanding of the emergency scenario in real time, which increases the overall safety on the rigs,” explains Van Damme.

RIVOPS operation
RIVOPS operation

Van Damme is the co-inventor of RIVOPS. This system was developed using proven ESA technology to display the control of its satellites, consisting of a console that provides an intelligent overview of the alarm situation. It was developed at ESA’s Business Incubation Centre at ESTEC in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, with the support of ESA's flight controllers, as well as expertise from the North Sea offshore oil and gas control centres in Den Haag and Den Helder in the Netherlands, and Stavanger in Norway.

Novel 3D display for improved overview

RIVOPS presents status on 3D displays
RIVOPS presents status on 3D displays

Another innovative aspect of RIVOPS is that, compared to many conventional industrial monitoring systems, it uses 3D representation to display the status of all parameters. This was developed for satellite control in order to improve visibility. Transferred to RIVOPS, a whole range of features designed specifically for offshore oil and gas rigs was added.

RIVOPS is under evaluation by several North Sea installations in Norwegian and Dutch waters. Van Damme foresees that it could provide additional safety for future exploration planned for the Arctic area, where the fragile polar ecosystem and extremely harsh conditions call for extra careful monitoring, such as the vast Shtokman gas field in the Barents Sea, estimated to be one of the world’s biggest unexploited gas reserves.

Offshore oil rig installations
Offshore oil rig installations

“Located 600 km north of Kola Peninsula, icebergs, 27-metre waves, and temperatures down to -50°C, pose extreme requirements on the technology and systems needed to extract gas and transport it to the shores of Europe, Russia and North America,” says Van Damme. "For such installations, our RIVOPS could provide extra safety."

Spin-off through ESA’s Business Incubation Centre

“This is an excellent example of how space technology can benefit society,” explains Bruno Naulais, ESA Business Incubation Manager.

“EATOPS based their system on well-proven technology we use at ESA to monitor all our satellites. Located at the ESA Business Incubation Centre in ESTEC, EATOPS has been able to accelerate the spin-off to the offshore business. Our specialists in satellite monitoring have helped EATOPS to transfer proven functionality from our applications to their novel system.”

ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme Office (TTPO)

The main mission of the ESA TTPO is to facilitate the use of space technology and space systems for non-space applications, and to demonstrate the benefits of the European space programme to European citizens. The TTPO is responsible for defining the overall approach and strategy for the transfer of space technologies, including the incubation of start-up companies and their funding.
For more information please contact:

ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme Office
European Space Agency ESA - ESTEC
Keplerlaan 1, 2200 AG, Noordwijk ZH
The Netherlands
Phone: +31 (0) 71 565 6208
Fax: +31 (0) 71 565 6635
Email: ttp @

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