Oil companies joining open source world by sharing data

A new report suggests energy companies should to more to thwart attacks on critical control systems.

The oil and gas industry has long collected huge volumes of data, but it hasn’t always known quite what to do with it all. Often, the terabytes aren’t even stored on computer systems that readily talk to each other.

Industry insiders are used to it, said Michael Jones, senior director of strategy at the oil and gas software maker Landmark. But it’s not OK, he said. So, about a year ago, Jones and some of his oil industry colleagues set about to fix it.

This week, at Landmark’s Innovation Forum & Expo at the Westin hotel in northwest Houston, the company unveiled the beginnings of a collaborative its members called groundbreaking. In a move to drive technology further, faster — and, perhaps, take a bigger piece of the burgeoning big-data market — Landmark is pushing its main computing platform into the cloud, for all to use.

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Moreover, it is going to allow members of the collaborative access to the very code that creates the platform, called DecisionSpace. They’ll be able to change the platform, use it, and add to it.

“Everyone is going to use this code,” said Harold Mesa, a vice president at Halliburton, which owns Landmark. “Ten years from now, everyone will use DecisionSpace.”

Landmark’s annual Forum & Expo is both a company showcase and an industry event. Most of the conference speakers urged oil and gas explorers to shed old ways, digitize more of their operations, use data more effectively, and better streamline operations.

Big data is helping ConocoPhillips drill wells far more quickly, said Ken Tubman, Conoco’s subsurface vice president. What once took weeks now takes hours.

It’s helping liquefied natural gas companies identify plant problems and avoid shut-downs that cost upwards of $25 million a day, said Johan Nell, who leads consultant Accenture’s upstream oil and gas practice. The key, Nell said, is actually analyzing the reams of data companies collect. And it’s imperative now, with oil prices half what they were just two years ago.

“We have to find a way to do more with what we have, or even more with less,” Nell told expo attendees. “We don’t have the luxury of inefficiency.”

Wednesday morning, a panel of a dozen executives — from geoscience company CGG, oil explorers Anadarko and Devon Energy, integrated oil companies Shell, Statoil and Total, even sometimes-competitors like Baker Hughes and IHS Markit — spoke earnestly about the value of the Landmark collaborative, dubbed the OpenEarth Community.

David Hicks, senior vice president of IHS Markit, said when he started, years ago, he was given a set of colored pencils. “Things have certainly gotten better,” he told the audience. “But, really, when I look at data quality and data management, we still have a lot of opportunities here.”

Hicks said the industry spends way too much time managing data, and not nearly enough time analyzing it. “It’s an excellent time to finally bring this together,” he said of the group.

The plan is far from accomplished. Even if many companies embrace OpenEarth, it’s unclear what Landmark’s competitors will do. Schlumberger, for instance, was noticeably absent from the week’s conference. Nagaraj Srinivasan, the head of Halliburton’s digital operations, which include Landmark, admitted that its chief competitor was not invited to the collaborative.

“But we are open to having them participate,” Srinivasan told the Chronicle on Wednesday.

Jones, Landmark’s OpenEarth mastermind, figured the company had to do something bold. The industry has less money to spend to solve more complex problems, he said.

“If you don’t innovate, you’ll be gone in 10 years,” he said. “This isn’t business as usual for us.”

The collaborative’s platform, he said, will be ready for the market in January.

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