The oil industry has been slow to wake up to the opportunities of digital technology but this is changing. Major energy companies including BP, Shell, Eni and Statoil amongst others, are employing Digital Oilfield (DOF) technologies in their offshore drilling and production operations, for many years. As a result, DOF spending is expected to reach $17.8 billion by 2022. [i]
What are Digital Oil Fields?
Essentially DOF technology enables the processing, integration and analysis of data transmitted from sensors in offshore wells to the wellsite and control centres including purpose- built data rooms, the company’s HQ or even a consultant’s office, which are connected by digital communications such as video conferencing. This technology is set to drive new levels of performance in operational processes and decision making, since data transmitted from the intelligent oil field, guides well drilling and post-drill analysis.[ii] Therefore, the purpose of the digital oilfield is to maximise oil recovery and increase profitability through the use of modern sensing technology, advanced software and data analysis, reservoir visualisation and well performance evaluation.
How DOF is used?
DOF technology has demonstrated its value in exploration. Eni used big data to find the super- giant Zohr gas field in the waters off Egypt [iii] and Anadarko discovered the Rovuma Basin off Mozambique.[iv] DOF tools such as down-hole multiphase sensors are used by geoscientists to analyse dig-data generated by oilfield equipment monitors.[v] DOF technologies come into their own in complex geology such as in the deep waters of the North Sea or Gulf of Mexico. Here, DOF technology is used in the early stages of drilling to optimise the identification of the most productive and economically viable reservoirs in complex subsurface geological strata.
There are many benefits in using DOF including, improvements in operational efficiency, productivity, greater multi-disciplinary collaboration and better quality decisions derived from real-time, integrated, analysed and interpreted information. For instance, GE Oil & Gas sensors placed along the length of marine drilling risers, equips the driller with databased diagnostics and insights in real- time, thereby optimising drilling.[vi] DOF tools facilitate performance measurement of drilling rigs operating in similar conditions thereby, identifying the team that reaches the target depth most efficiently and at minimum cost.
“Big data is revolutionising big oil” said Bernard Looney, director of BP’s exploration and production business in a recent speech.[vii] The digital oil field represents a major step forward in drilling and the production of oil, soon to be joined by the uptake of artificial intelligence (A1) to reach even higher levels of performance. However, widespread adoption of these technologies requires companies to take parallel measures in boosting their cyber security in order to protect their critical infrastructure from hacking or industrial espionage.
In an era of low oil prices, the pressure is on big oil to reduce costs and increase efficiency whilst maintaining dividends. The oil industry may have been slow to wake up to the opportunities of digital technology but is now making up for lost time.
— By Nicholas Newman, energy writer