Unmanned platforms

The autonomous future of offshore platforms


Nov. 6 2019 - 5 min

Bureau Veritas is helping the offshore industry to develop a safer, more productive future with updated guidelines and cyber notations, some of which apply to autonomous offshore platforms.

Operations on oil and gas platforms are changing. In February this year, Norwegian energy giant Equinor launched the world’s first fully automated oil and gas platform. With no living quarters, the North Sea rig is entirely unmanned and requires only one or two maintenance visits a year.

As the industry continues its march towards ever greater digitalization, this kind of remote-operated platforms clearly represents the future of offshore drilling. 

The promise of unmanned fields

Unmanned offshore platforms are designed to be operated remotely without onsite personnel. The day-to-day operations of these platforms, which are smaller than manned platforms, are controlled either by onshore teams or via a neighbouring platform. While some semi-automated platforms already exist, the complete automation of platforms is gaining traction, and industry players can look forward to a day complete fields are uninhabited and controlled remotely.

The benefits of automation are myriad and indisputable. Removing personnel from a rig reduces human risk and significantly lowers the cost of managing offshore gas or oil fields. Remotely managed platforms also have the potential to increase efficiency and generate savings, reacting more quickly than humans and reducing the chance of unproductive shutdowns.

Rising to the challenge of autonomy

Every innovation brings new challenges, and unmanned platforms are no exception. Firstly, operators need to ensure the reliability of communications between the unmanned rig and remote teams to limit the risk of communication breakdowns. Cybersecurity is also a key concern, and proper data management is of the utmost importance for the safety of employees and installations.

Operators also have to make sure all monitoring technology is 100% secure and reliable. Sensors installed on rigs to capture data must withstand harsh conditions and be properly fitted to protect them from exposure. These sensors, which replace humans on the platform and feed information to remote teams, must also be incredibly accurate.

Environmental impact is also a key concern with unmanned rigs, since the very autonomy that improves worker safety can create other risks. In the event of a malfunctioning oil platform, for example, the lack of directly available personnel could increase the time it takes for maintenance to be undertaken and environmental damage to be controlled.

Bureau Veritas supports safety and compliance

As a forward-thinking classification society, Bureau Veritas is already working to get the offshore industry to a place where autonomous offshore platforms are the norm.

Last month, Bureau Veritas released a new version of guideline NI 641 for autonomous shipping, covering all types of surface-propelled units. Many of these guidelines and recommendations are directly relevant to autonomous offshore platforms, including topics such as degree of automation and control. NI641 also looks at risk assessment, adopting the approach of segmenting a unit into groups of functions, then identifying and assessing risk frequency and severity.

Our updated guidelines are complemented by two cyber security class notations issued in January, CYBER MANAGED and CYBER SECURE. These notations support the data security aspects of autonomous offshore rigs, and are part of Bureau Veritas’ commitment to helping oil and gas clients protect their operations.