For better or worse, the oil and gas industry can be pretty resistant to change — and going digital is no exception. The digitization of communications, processes, and procedures can be difficult for any industry, but for oil and gas, the hurdles are exceptionally tall. Strict reporting standards and regulations slow down the change to digital and leave little time to squeeze in system upgrades.
Automation and data processing have been around for decades in the industry, but piecemeal digital upgrades don’t necessarily mean that an oil and gas company has successfully undergone a digital transformation. In fact, we would consider automation and online data processing the industry’s “base camp 1.”
For a complete digital transformation to actually happen, significant changes have to occur — and like most changes, it can feel uncomfortable at first. However, it has been proven many times over that if a company can surpass the growing pains and get to the other side, there are considerable benefits that would have otherwise been impossible to achieve.
Here are the top 7 digital transformations happening right now in oil and gas — many if not all of which we strongly recommend you consider for your operations.
First, let’s define what digital transformation actually means. Digital transformation is the act of moving processes that were previously manual or analog and making them more efficient and/or convenient through the use of digital technologies. For example, people no longer “punch in” to work using a manual time clock. Nearly everyone in the digital world uses a computer to clock in and out of work. Not only does this take less time and effort, but it’s also less wasteful as it does not require any paper. This information can then be analyzed and tracked to monitor employee time and attendance.
As this relates to oil and gas, digital transformation offers a world of potential efficiencies and conveniences that may provide them with big money-saving potentials. An example of this is real-time analytics using sensors that report information in real-time. Engineers, notably anywhere in the world, can then use this information to pivot or adjust their exploration and production strategy.
There are several more forms of digital transformation, which we will now go over in further detail.
You’ve no doubt heard the term “blockchain” thrown around in business circles, but what does it mean through the lens of oil and gas? Blockchain is simply a ledger for tracking transactions that take place, whether it’s a physical or intangible asset, such as software or proprietary technology. For oil and gas, companies are adopting blockchain in droves for this very ability to track transactions end to end.
That means from exploration to pipeline to trading and back-office payments, blockchain can be used to track an asset from inception to close much more efficiently than it can be recorded on paper or by hand. And because the ledger cannot be changed (i.e. it is immutable), blockchain increases the security of transactions by taking on the role of the independent third-party recorder of said transaction. And with the adoption of sensors and artificial intelligence, blockchain will only get smarter and faster.
Real-time data analysis has to do with the Internet of Things, or IoT, where inanimate objects such as vehicles, sensors, buildings, and equipment all have access to the internet and are capable of transmitting data in real-time to a centralized hub that collects, stores, and analyzes that information automatically.
The benefit of this innovation needs no explanation, as many companies have already begun to adopt this type of technology not only in the field but also in the midstream sector of pipelines and transportation vehicles. Inventory, flow rates, oil composition, and operations can all be monitored from practically anywhere in the world, eliminating the need to constantly monitor levels or check sensors.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are arguably two of the most overused tech buzzwords out there, but oil and gas can benefit greatly from the implementation of both artificial intelligence and machine learning into their operations. In essence, AI and ML are just complex forms of mathematics. However, their ability to decipher information similar to that of humans has utterly transformed the way in which oil and gas operates.
ML can be used to analyze data multiple times faster than a human can and provide actionable insights to teams of real humans who can make a decision based on the ML’s findings. So, rather than thinking of ML and AI as replacements for humans in the oil and gas industry, we like to think of any artificial intelligence as an enhancement of human capabilities. AI is the gas pedal for efficiency and smarter decision-making.
Seismic imaging is nothing new. The technique has been used for more than 80 years in upstream oil and gas to evaluate and visualize subsurface formations. Today’s seismic imaging, however, looks worlds different than what has previously been available. In fact, seismic imaging in 2021 goes beyond even the 3D models and incorporates production data over time. This is what’s referred to as 4D seismic imaging and is what a lot of exploration companies are considering for more accurate and efficient reservoir production.
This is made possible with the combination of the innovations above, especially the integration of real-time data sensors and the artificial intelligence that can track that data long term.
It’s not enough to read numbers on a spreadsheet about a well. You need a visual to help you best determine opportunities, risks, and hazards along the different value chains. Upstream companies can use data visualization to better conceptualize a reservoir and where to best target their operations. Midstream companies can create a 3D network of their pipeline and transportation operations to pinpoint any potential hazards or concerns that might pop up along the pipelines. Finally, downstream companies can use data visualization to better serve customers and determine where their weak points are — similar to midstream but instead of a pipe, it’s the customer experience.
These days, you can 3D print practically anything. Not only does it cut down on the effort for customized parts, but it also streamlines the production process and cuts down on capital required to create custom parts.
Humans instead can focus less on the actual building and creation of the part and instead design better, more effective parts that can then be printed and replicated many times over.
In June 2021 you may have seen when Colonial Pipeline, the largest petroleum pipeline in the U.S., was hacked and held for ransom. The cyberattack was devastating, causing gas prices to rise and people scrambling to the gas station with Ziplock baggies to get gas.
This is merely more evidence that your company must have cybersecurity protocols in place — there are no exceptions to this whatsoever. You must protect your assets not just for yourself, but for the communities you serve and, as you witnessed with the Colonial Pipeline, an entire part of the country.
Ransomware attackers are getting smarter every day, which means you must keep a tight-lipped online security system in place that puts a strong defense against these kinds of attacks. EAG actually specializes in cybersecurity for upstream and midstream oil and gas companies and has been protecting our clients from attacks like these for years.
It seems like there are so many innovations happening that it feels like you can barely keep your head above water, trying to stay abreast of the trends. However, there’s no time like the present to pivot your operations for the better. Whether you are just starting out or are well into your digital transformation, there is always something new to learn. Whether that’s blockchain today or something else entirely tomorrow.
Contact EAG today for a consultation. We specialize in the digitization of oil and gas companies and are ready to help you navigate the digital world.