After the oil and gas industry emerged ‘leaner and meaner’ from the oil price crash of 2014, it is increasingly adopting digitalisation and advanced technologies in its ongoing efforts to boost efficiency and cut costs, improve management and reduce downtime.
Digital innovations and the digital transformation help energy companies reduce operational expenses, optimise production flows, cut downtime, extend the life of the oil and gas assets, and increase the safety of operations.
Predictive analytics, wearables, robots, drones, automation, smart sensors, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), augmented reality, digital twins, digital oilfields, machine learning, AI, and blockchain are just some of the technologies and solutions that oil and gas firms are increasingly putting to use in their operations. According to a 2017 global survey by Accenture and Microsoft, upstream oil and gas companies see faster and better decision-making as the top benefit of digitalisation. Faster time to produce oil and gas jumped to second place, from fifth in the 2016 survey, with 19 percent, while reduced risk enabled by real-time decision support was the third most important benefit, taking 12 percent of the votes.
“Most of the respondents expect their companies to realize value from digital technologies and 73 percent said most of their oil and gas fields will become fully automated using these technologies in three to five years,” Accenture said. Many major energy companies use increasingly sophisticated technology in their everyday operations, while many start-ups develop innovative and creative ways to harness digitalisation in the oil and gas industry.
The Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), for example, has identified advanced technology as one of the key enablers in its 2030 smart growth strategy to boost upstream profits, create a more valuable downstream business, and ensure a more economic and sustainable supply of gas. ADNOC invests in AI and big data and is developing specialist workforce to that end.
Shell said in September that it had picked C3 IoT as its AI platform to enable and accelerate digital transformation on a global scale. Shell will be deploying the C3 IoT Platform globally on Microsoft Azure, and expects to realise substantial economic value “By rapidly scaling and replicating AI and machine learning applications across its upstream and downstream businesses and by improving operating performance, with an emphasis on health, safety, security, environment and asset performance,” the supermajor said.
BP uses a small robot, the size of a small dog, to inspect the Thunder Horse platform in the Gulf of Mexico. The socalled magnetic crawler is equipped with strong rare-Earth magnets and a high-definition camera. The inspection work is also complemented by drones with cameras that capture the smallest details. BP is exploring how to use new technology and tools to improve ways of working and enhance efficiency, while reducing operating costs.
In In 2017, BP invested US$20 million in Beyond Limits, an AI and cognitive computing company. BP expects the investment to “Accelerate the delivery of industrial-grade AI software, previously used in deep space exploration missions, to combine human knowledge with machine learning and provide the energy sector with new levels of operational insight, business optimisation and process automation across all operations.”
In October 2018, BP and Aker BP signed a deal to explore possible venture capital investments in technology and innovation improvements, including developments in digital twins, advanced seismic techniques and processing, and subsea and robot technology. BP and Aker BP also aim to identify and assess innovations which could improve the environmental performance of offshore oil and gas production.
France’s Total is investing and working in robotics—inspection robots, autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), submarine robots, and seismic drones. With robotics developments and use, Total boosts safety and targets cost reductions by 20 percent. Total is also working with Google on AI technologies to improve efficiency in geoscience and seismic interpretation, with the goal to accelerate data treatment and shift the workload to high-value tasks. Total is also deploying remote control and monitoring with ‘smart rooms’ across its assets and is studying blockchain applications in trading. Total is also part of a world-first project from the Oil & Gas Technology Centre and taurob, in partnership with After Technische Universitaet Darmstadt (TU Darmstadt). The project aims to develop and trial a mobile robot for autonomous operational inspection of facilities on Total’s onshore Shetland Gas Plant and offshore Alwyn platform.
The Oil & Gas Innovation Centre (OGIC) of Aberdeen is supporting three new research projects by three companies who have teamed up with Robert Gordon University’s (RGU) School of Computing Science and Digital Media to carry out research into the digital transformation of the oilfield.
“Digitalisation is key to a sustainable oil and gas industry. Successful automation and integration of a huge range of tasks across many aspects of the exploration and production cycle, are now possible through the ability to rapidly process vast quantities of data in very short periods of time,” Ian Phillips, chief executive officer of OGIC, says.
In the US, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Stanford University’s Natural Gas Initiative invited earlier this year 11 organizations with 12 different technologies to test advance mobile methane monitoring technologies at oil and natural gas facilities. The challenge aims to have by 2019 oil and gas industry leaders piloting the most promising technologies, potentially leading to broad commercial use.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Italy’s Eni develop IoT-connected wearables that workers wear in extreme work environments.
The energy industry is also looking to put blockchain technology to use in electricity distribution and payments, as well as in commodity trading.
In September 2018, major companies from the energy and banking sectors launched a blockchain-based open platform to digitalise and facilitate commodity trade. The founders of the new venture, komgo SA, include Shell, commodity traders Gunvor, Mercuria, and Koch Supply & Trading, as well as banks ABN AMRO, BNP Paribas, Citi, Crédit Agricole, ING, Macquarie, MUFG Bank, Natixis, Rabobank, and Societe Generale, and inspection, verification, testing and certification company SGS.
As global energy demand continues to grow, energy companies already use new technologies to make the most of their business and operations in today’s increasingly digital world.