Exec at OTC: For BP, big data ups production by nearly 300,000 barrels a day

HOUSTON — In an underwater oil field with 10 wells, four pipes to carry crude and three devices to separate oil and water, a hydrocarbon could take 60 million possible paths from rock to sunlight.

But which is the best way? A BP executive says lassoing terabytes of oil field data into digestible chunks can allow oil companies to reroute hydrocarbons on the fastest tracks and boost production by up to 4 percent.

That means BP, a company that produced 2.14 million barrels of oil equivalent a day last year, could goose another 85,600 barrels. And using the same big data to track the health of its production equipment could cut down on unplanned downtime and boost output by 10 percent – another 214,000 barrels in the bank for the British oil major.

“The opportunity set is enormous,” said Fereidoun Abbassian, a vice president of technology at BP, in an interview at the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston. “That capability really is in Silicon Valley.”

Over the past two years, he said, BP has built ties to a major technology company and is developing 10 major projects across the company that use big data analytics to corral the massive streams of information gushing from its oil fields. Abbassian said he couldn’t disclose the name of the company.

BP is also trying to use big data to make its wells more reliable, by keeping a closer eye on warning signs that it may go down

“We’re moving to a world where we see a lot of unplanned downtime to a world where everything is planned,” Abbassian said.

Two years after turning on its supercomputer in Houston, BP now handles enough data to fill 30 miles worth of 1-gigabyte memory sticks lined up end to end, said Catherine Hyde, a technology manager at BP. The effort helps the company predict what may go wrong in an oil field long before it happens.

Technology companies from GE to smaller players visiting from Silicon Valley’s plush garden of digital firms are scattered throughout the energy conference this week, capitalizing on the oil industry’s relatively recent embrace of big data. Pharmaceutical, health care and insurance companies have, for example, employed tech firms for the better part of a decade.

“To a Silicon Valley company, it doesn’t care whether the data comes from a well or a cell phone,” Abbassian said. “The question is how you mine that data. It cuts across various industries.”

During a speech at OTC earlier this week, James Dupree, BP’s chief operating officer of resource development and technology, said the oil industry is going to have to call in technology companies and academics to solve its digital problems.

The same day, a GE executive said even if analytics only delivers incremental production improvements, it could unlock 80 billion barrels of oil around the world, about three years’ worth of global needs.