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Technology’s impact on coal seam gas

Published by
World Coal,

Geoffrey Cann.

Technology is advancing at a great pace. But some, perhaps more than others, are likely to have an outsized impact on Australia’s coal seam gas (CSG) to LNG sector. The unique features of the CSG sector provide a good jumping off point on technology futures across three areas in particular.

Immense size: the state of Queensland’s coal measures cover an area the size of Finland. What technologies can impact the tremendous cost and logistics problems of building and maintaining a constantly growing road network, gas wells, flow lines, telecoms and a power grid at declining cost?

People movement: the industry is spending a huge amount of time and money moving expensive people around, to the, at times, distress of local communities. What technologies can replace some of the work (and visibility) of people (building and delivering equipment, providing services, repairing and maintaining kit), or can help move that work to a place where people are more conveniently located?

Skills shortages: the skill level required to maintain gas wells, pumping equipment, processing plants, pipelines and LNG facilities is demanding, and Australia is a big nation with few people. What technologies can help someone unfamiliar with a task or asset become quickly and safely competent?

Five technologies worth watching

These five technologies can help address these key challenges of distance, logistics, complexity, people shortages, and skill needs.


Autonomous equipment is the way of the future. The likes of driverless trucks will make a positive impact on the logistics problem and costs of building out gas infrastructure. Building a gas well requires dozens of trips by light and heavy-duty trucks to the drill site to inspect, plan and execute the work. Same thing for well work overs, repairs and maintenance, and plug and abandonment.

Another development with great promise is of aerial variety. Drones can fly at night (and not spook the neighbours), inspect gas fields far more efficiently than a person in a van, map out flow lines and routes, measure up the contours, look for rogue emissions, check vegetation growth, and even penetrate soil depth to see what might lie beneath.

We’ve even seen proponents developing an almost autonomous drill rig (with a single operator).


3D manufacturing is advancing rapidly, and pipe manufacturing is a prime candidate for 3D printing. A machine that can manufacture pipe from advanced materials could eliminate the need to ship manufactured polyethylene pipe. Queensland’s eventual 30 000 gas wells will need up to 30 000 km of flow lines, which is thousands of truck loads of pipe, not to mention acres of lay down yards. Additive manufacturing could reduce this to shipping the machine and the required raw materials.

3D printing could also print replacement parts, such as gaskets and seals, or broken pipe joints. Printing larger repair items will eventually be feasible – aircraft makers, for example, are already printinp some of the more challenging pieces of jet engines, so surely some of the parts in downhole pumps or drilling equipment will also be printable.


The internet of things is about making things visible on the internet. The oil and gas industry is already expert at making its kit visible (you only need to visit a control room for proof of this). As technology costs come down, anything can become an addressable thing on the net. The big kit in gas is on the net, but it's now time for smaller things.

A key first use will be just to find equipment and parts. The tool sheds and cribs, laydown yards and warehouses holding parts are so huge that finding things is difficult. Lots of company-owned equipment goes walk about and requires costly replacement. If those doing the walk about know that everything it trackable and traceable, petty pilferage should disappear practically overnight.


Wearables are information delivery systems. Even the first generation of watches and fobs are useful for dispatching instructions, short messages, maps and drawings, voice communications and training. Virtually anything that can be digitised could be sent to a wearable device.

The first applications will be on the safety front to help keep track of people in the field and among equipment. But workers will soon be using technology-equipped headgear or eyewear that will provide fully two-way communications to anyone anywhere. Imagine a field worker confronting an unfamiliar piece of kit being able to call up diagrams, instructions, real-time peer coaching and video chat with an expert.


Asset owners with underutilised assets are making them available for short-term rental (think Uber and Airbnb). The oil and gas industry could be a big beneficiary of the sharing economy. There are plenty of assets that command high day rates but are also subject to spotty utilisation. Rigs, frack spreads, yellow goods, trailers, pumping units, and other specialised kit, if more effectively contracted, could be ‘Uber'd’.

Work in the industry could also be more fully optimised, with benefits for both asset owners (higher utilisation) and customers (higher availability and shorter downtimes on their assets).

Edited by .

About the author: Geoffrey Cann is Deloitte Australia’s National director, Oil and Gas. He is based in Brisbane.

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