The room’ s Big Data elephant
It’s just over a year since Intelligent Energy was staged in Aberdeen for the first time, it being a consolation prize for the loss of All-Energy to Glasgow.
However, intelligent energy per se is not new to the North Sea audience; one way or another it’s been discussed in a high profile way for more than 20 years.
And, believe it or not, digital has been applied in certain sub-sets of the industry for more than 30 years.
And yet some of the conversations I’ve witnessed treat it as a new topic and, by the way guys, we’re told time and again that the sector is way behind some other industries when it comes to Big Data.
Well, perhaps it is in production optimisation terms. Call it the digital oilfield for convenience and it really is the elephant in the room, or is it the fridge?
I think I prefer the fridge. You all know the joke: How can you tell if an elephant’s been in your fridge? Answer: Coz it left footprints in the butter.
But the elephant in the room is at least equally relevant. But do you actually know what it means? In short, it’s all about an obvious problem or difficult situation that everyone goes out of their way to avoid.
They’ve been talking about the digital oilfield/production optimisation elephant for a very long time and, to be fair, a huge amount of work has been done to address this Big Data management challenge.
As far back as 2006, Shell first applied what I understand was proprietary smart field technology in the Champion West asset, offshore Brunei in the South China Sea. It utilised sensors with fibre-optic cables to relay digital information on temperature, pressure and other field conditions to the field’s control centre.
In 2008, analysts Booz & Co (now PWC) published the report ‘Unleashing Productivity: The Digital Oil Field Advantage’.
This says in its opening lines: “Despite record oil prices and increasing demand for crude, the oil & gas industry will be inhibited in reaching its full potential for value creation unless it can solve its dilemmas regarding human capital and resources.
“Closing the labour and skills gaps represents one of the industry’s major – if not the primary – factors in sustaining growth and maximising profitability against a tide of rising capital and operating costs.”
Nine going on 10 years later, the situation is no different except that the oil price is one heck of a lot lower, the industry is older and the elephant is still there.
Let’s turn to those footprints in the butter.
Digital has in fact been part and parcel of the offshore industry since the early 1980s. Just think in terms of 3D seismic and steerable bottom-hole drilling assemblies. And there’s the commercial advent of horizontal wells and multi-laterals too. Digital data feed and management systems are crucial to each.
According to the Booz & Co report, among the technologies receiving “universal industry acceptance” by 2008 included:
• Remote real-time facility monitoring and control. The off-site control of facility process systems through the networking of SCADA (systems control and data analysis) and its transfer to onshore control rooms, enabling field data capture, set point control, and valve/pump manipulation.
• Real-time drilling. The collection and integration of real-time drilling data such as RPM, circulation solids, downhole pressures captured through MWD, and remotely steerable down-hole tools.
• Real-time production surveillance. The utilisation of advanced alarm systems to trigger analysis of important production integrity trends to help optimise and maintain installed capacity levels.
• Intelligent wells. Surface-controlled, down-hole equipment, enabled by fiber-optic sensors, allows for continuous monitoring of conditions and response.
• 4D visualisation and modelling. Successive 3D seismic surveys track fluid movements, allowing for additional insight into production enhancement and redirecting enhanced recovery mechanisms.
• Remote communications technology. Off-site facilities with realtime visual, voice, and data communication with the field allow more rapid, analytical responses by a mix of off-site and on-site staff.
• Integrated asset models. Applications that model complete production system performance from the producing horizon, through the well-bore, through the production facility, and onto the export/ sales point across disparate data sources and multisite work teams.
• Workflow and knowledge management systems. Robust historical data and document-management solutions that allow assets and functions to quickly execute workflows and routines by calling up complete historical analyses quickly and accurately.
• Production volume management systems. Standardised production data and production allocations, allowing more efficient real-time production decisions that result in reduced deferment and improved operational integrity.
Booz & Co reported too that some industry analysts suggested an improved net present value of up to around 25% from digital oilfield– related implementation. A not inconsiderable gain.
And yet, in August this year at the Halliburton Landmark Innova- tion Forum and Expo (LIFE) in Houston ... so just before Offshore Europe ... it was reported: “The oil and gas industry has the data and the drive to pursue digital technology, but lacks a coherent strategy to fully digitalise its operation.”
That strikes me as an indictment on the abilities of the top bosses of Big Oil to manage their businesses.
On the other hand, perhaps it has taken the advent of the Intelligent Cloud to start to open the door to full application of digital in oil & gas.
After all, large players are said to generate a staggering 1.5 petabytes a day of data, and even mundane operations such as transporting hydrocarbons can generate a terabyte of data for every 15,000km.
Jason Zander, a VP at Microsoft Azure, said at LIFE that a strategic alliance formed recently between Halliburton Landmark and Microsoft would speed digitisation. “We think that’s going to actually enable the connected oilfields, the connected workforce, and the predictive analytics and things to come together. [In] places where you might have centers of excellence in each, we can actually look for the next ways to connect them together to get even more out of those,” said Zander.
Also speaking at LIFE, Dr Sean Gourley, CEO of Stealth Machine Intelligence, reminded delegates just how far behind other leading industries Big Oil was by citing a 2015 study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan Management Review and Deloitte, which gave the sector a score of 4.6 out of 10.
Halliburton Landmark states in its still fresh white paper What It Takes to Leverage E&P Big Data that Big Oil “generates value from a mere 1% of all the data it creates”.