The long-held theory of ‘digital oilfield’ truly has an opportunity to deliver results for oil and gas operations now. It’s not just a promise of the future. Two equally powerful market forces are creating this opportunity for the industry to step up and change the way they operate in the field.
Key disruptive technologies are making the data infrastructure cheaper and faster to bring the latest automation and AI-driven functionality to the field. Other consumer-driven industries are ahead in trialing the financial viability of these technologies for almost a decade now. Mobility, Cloud, and to some extent even machine learning and AI are ready to tip oil and gas over the paper-pushing, human labor-intensive data cliff.
At the same time as technology is creating faster inroads to data, leading companies are rapidly evolving their lean operations. In spite of rising oil prices, the market is less forgiving of companies that cannot identify and solve for production challenges more efficiently. Oil and gas operators cannot go back to throwing more people at the problem. Instead, they are now turning to technology to drive down costs while meeting production targets.
Four relatively underplayed technologies combine to create a digital oilfield that collects data, mobilizes workers, then processes and produces intelligence. This data machine now promises to propel the oil and gas production planning into the 21st century.
Oil and gas companies seek out the scalability and ease of innovation that Cloud Computing promises. The reality is that many are weighed down by existing investments in on-premise datacenters and also security concerns.
Instead of looking at cloud as an all-in option, begin to review possible business applications that provide the most value and least business disruption. On-premise technologies cannot keep pace with cloud providers’ capacity to innovate, scale for data-intensive environments. And we haven’t even broached the headache of managing hardware, personnel, customization that cloud computing takes off of customer’s shoulders.
The cloud provides oil and gas industry a formidable time machine to level up on functional innovation in areas that on premise solutions have failed them, such as field intelligence and production planning. They can now do so without the need for capital expenditure and compromising security.
As computing power became ubiquitous in the past decade, so has mobile platforms. The proliferation of superior mobile devices among service, maintenance and inspection roles has been staggering over the last decade. In comparison, the oil and gas industry, who run space age drilling and pumping technologies, have actually been slow to adopt above the ground production-based field intelligence technology in this regard. Much of the slow pace is exacerbated by the lack of innovation among incumbent production software vendors. Incumbents have traditionally built field “mobility” with back-office production accounting requirements in the forefront. The lease operator and field personnel operational goals are much more nuanced that just capturing production volumes. The field is also accountable for every compliance activity, expense category and lift methodology that goes into producing oil and gas.
This mobility revolution is not about providing the field with a phone, so the office can get in contact, nor is it about providing a tablet just so they can log data. Lease operators, for example, sometimes have to drive an hour and a half between wells. However, knowing the status of wells in real-time allows them to prioritize the locations they are needed most. Also, infrequent events such as environmental compliance inspections influence who goes where and in what order. Today’s oil and gas field software systems must provide dynamic route-planning for operators, taking production targets, inspection duties, and environmental issues into account. Positioned at the intersection between cost and production volume, these systems create new levels of efficiency, allowing operators to do more in less time.
While cloud and mobility ease the computing and generation of data, Big Data analytics addresses the process by which the digital oil field truly comes of age. These powerful number-crunching engines feed on continuous streams of data from all areas, then provide trustworthy, actionable intelligence to support better decision-making across all areas of the oil and gas lifecycle.
Like any engine, big data processors depend on quality fuel. Inaccurate data is useless and even harmful to companies, basing decisions on incorrect information may lead to misallocation of resources and costly delays. Trust is also fundamental when deciding who handles your data. To maintain trust it’s essential that the oil and gas company have total ownership over that data.
Many service companies imprison oil and gas field data under the promise of better intelligence, but you don’t have to give up ownership to get the most from your data. The best cloud software providers create clear designated access points to the analytics, so oil and gas firms own and have access to their data anytime.
Another area of ownership challenge is SCADA. Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) has created powerful access to Big Data. The real data integrity issue occurs when 3rd party vendors become default managers of a company’s data. Often this leaves companies without full ownership, control or sometimes access to their data. Companies must strive to own that data from collection to analysis to delivery.
As Big Data initiates automation, AI turbo-charges it. Especially when it comes to production planning, an area ripe with opportunities for the Digital Oilfield. Today often the manual, paper-based data logging and input is slow, irregular and error prone and therefore unsuitable to fuel the analytics engine. With AI and deep learning more accurate and continuous streams of data from across the operating landscape becomes a real possibility.
AI self-learns using the data available and focuses on functions that are mission critical in order to make intelligent decisions and prioritize tasks. Applied to heavily labor-intensive processes such as paper run tickets and pumper routing, companies can cut much of the process and effort. That means the field can get to solving high-value problems faster.
Not all automation systems are created equally, however. Many of the systems making their way into oil and gas operations require constant monitoring by a team of people, defeating the point of having an intelligent system. A highly-manned command center is not the same as an elegant highly-automated AI system. Leading AI systems focus on specific high-value problems to solve. They turbo-charge data entry type work, allowing us to solve the critical thinking issues.
Solution is Ideal When the Timing is Perfect
Leading companies continue to look for ways to adopt underplayed technologies. They do so with specific use cases that are timely, thereby making the solution ideal. Oil and gas firms have traditionally hired more people to account for those inefficiencies. This approach will define the underachievers of the next oil boom. The future belongs to those who rise above the conventional way of dealing with scale problems. The digital oilfield success stories will come from companies who embrace the age of automation to buck the tight grip of fluctuating oil prices.