OTC Commentary: How digital technology is transforming oil

By Ahmed Hashmi

Fourteen years ago, at its 2003 annual energy conference here in Houston, Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) presented a bold vision of how digital technology might transform the world of oil and gas production. “The industry,” it declared, “is standing on the crest of the digital oil field of the future, which will enable petroprofessionals and field workers to benefit from total asset awareness (i.e., the ability to monitor and manage all operational activities in real time or near real time, regardless of location).”

At the time, the vision was compelling. Today, this vision is a reality.

Indeed, the oil and gas industry now uses data and high-speed telecommunications to help increase production, grow reserves more rapidly and make cost and capital inputs more efficient. My company, BP, has long been at the forefront of digital oilfield technology, thanks to a program known as Field of the Future®. Many of the digital technology building blocks needed for a Field of the Future® did not exist in 2003, which meant we had to create custom-built systems and solutions.

In the years that followed, BP invested heavily in infrastructure and capability. In fact, since the 2003 CERA conference we have installed more than 1,200 miles of fiber optic cable on seafloors in the Gulf of Mexico, the North Sea and the Caspian Sea. We also have built high-end collaboration and monitoring centers linking onshore and offshore teams, while launching a number of strategic partnerships aimed at boosting our digital capability. Thanks to these efforts, BP has grown our high-performance computing capacity by a factor of 1,000.

In recent years, we have pioneered a number of digital technologies that have enabled us to build out a massive “data lake,” which provides our engineers and technicians with real-time visualization and analytics of all our wells and plant data.

For example, our BP Well Advisor program integrates data from wells with predictive tools, to help operators improve decision-making. Not only has this made our operations safer, but it also has made them far more efficient, saving hundreds of millions of dollars by reducing unproductive drilling time.

Meanwhile, BP has discovered several hundred million barrels of resources by using advanced seismic imaging algorithms devised at our Center for High-Performance Computing. In addition, production optimization technologies have helped us increase our daily oil and gas production by thousands of barrels.

In short: Since the term “digital oilfield” was first introduced, BP and other companies have tested and successfully deployed a wide range of new technologies. We have learned first-hand how to overcome the cultural and process challenges of introducing digital technologies to safety-critical, performance-driven offshore environments.

Looking ahead, as computing power increases and sensor technology becomes more sophisticated, there will be further possibilities for a digital transformation everywhere in the upstream — from subsurface imaging, project engineering and operations, to finance, supply chains and logistics.

This is the kind of transformation that excited me in 2003 and continues to drive me today.

Waves of digital technology will keep coming at us. Pervasive sensing, high-end analytics and visualization, digital twins of equipment and facilities, automation, remote operations, cognitive computing — all of these offer intriguing possibilities and have been exciting subjects to explore at this week’s Offshore Technology Conference here in Houston.

Ahmed Hashmi is BP head of upstream technology.

SHOW MORE