Big Data in Big Oil: How Shell Uses Analytics To Drive Business Success
The oil and gas industries are facing major challenges – the costs of extraction are rising and the turbulent state of international politics adds to the difficulties of exploration and drilling for new reserves. In the face of big problems, its key players are turning to Big Data in the hope of finding solutions to these pressing issues.
Big Data is the name used to describe the theory and practice of applying advanced computer analysis to the evergrowing amount of digital information that we can collect and store from the world around us. Over the last few years businesses in every industry have enthusiastically developed data-led strategies for overcoming problems and solving challenges, and the oil and gas industries are no different.
Royal Dutch Shell is one of the largest oil and gas companies – one of the “supermajors” which also include BP, Chevron, Total and ExxonMobil – and the world’s fourth largest company by revenue. For some time now it has been developing the idea of the “data-driven oilfield” in an attempt to bring down the cost of drilling for oil – the industry’s major expense.
A recent survey by Accenture and Microsoft of oil companies and those involved in the support industries found that 86% to 90% of respondents said that increasing their analytical, mobile and Internet of Things capabilities would increase the value of their business. The search for new hydrocarbon deposits demands a huge amount of materials, manpower and logistics. With drilling a deep water oil well often costing over $100 million, no one wants to be looking in the wrong place.
Surveying of potential sites involves monitoring the low frequency seismic waves that move through the earth below us due to tectonic activity. Probes are put into the earth at the spot being surveyed, which will register if the pattern of the waves is distorted as they pass through oil or gas.
In the past this would involve taking a few thousand readings during the typical survey of a potential drilling site. But in the past few years technology has advanced to the level where it could involve more than a million – vastly increasing the amount of data gathered during exploration.
Shell uses fibre optic cables, created in a special partnership with Hewlett-Packard, for these sensors, and data is transferred to its private servers, maintained by Amazon Web Services. This gives a far more accurate image of what lies beneath. Data from any prospective oil field can then be compared alongside that from thousands of others around the world, to enable geologists to make more accurate recommendations about where to drill.