Tech is making the hunt for oil more efficient

Fuel Fix:
A pump collects data about the oil it is hauling to the surface and re-configures its operations to handle the crude more efficiently. A roughneck tripped up by a repair job logs into a mobile device from the rig and downloads a training video. Drones fly out to remote locations to inspect oil field equipment and scour the best places for new well pads.

This is the digital oilfield, as envisioned by Houston-based oil producer Occidental Petroleum.

As oil companies hunt for new ideas to save money amid a global crude slump that’s dried up revenue and forced a retreat from once-booming shale plays, they are increasingly turning to the tech industry for nontraditional ideas that could help them operate faster and better than their competitors.

“I think there’s a tremendous amount of technology that’s currently in our pockets and in use in the consumer world … that are improving not only the way we live, but could also impact the operational inefficiencies that we have a challenge with in the oil field,” Yanni Charalambous, vice president and chief information officer at Occidental Petroleum. He shared the company’s vision about the future of the oil industry Tuesday with an audience gathered in Houston for an annual innovation expo hosted by software company Landmark, a division of oil field services giant Halliburton.

Falling oil prices may be battering exploration and production companies and forcing industry-wide cutbacks and layoffs, but the downturn hasn’t curtailed the appetite for sophisticated technologies that promise to transform the old school oil patch where reports still get jotted down on paper and workers waste huge amounts of time traveling between corporate offices and remote drill sites.

Oil companies have long struggled to capture and process the vast amounts of information collected from the oil field in part because some of the reporting continues to be done on paper, but also because the industry has been overwhelmed the by the sheer amount of data to crunch, Charalambous said.

Lower oil prices intensify the industry’s scramble to figure out how to unlock the secrets buried in reams of data gathered during exploration, production and drilling to be able to operate faster and better, Landmark’s vice president Nagaraj Srinivasan said in an interview with Fuel Fix.

“If prices stay lower for longer, the only mechanism to keep a sustainable low-cost view is to invest in technology and innovate,” Srinivasan said. “Because at the end of the day, that’s what changes your fixed cost structure.”
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This technological innovation is something OPEC and the Saudis did not count on when they decided to increase production and compete for market share in hopes of driving the US producers out of the market.  While these investments in technology may be costly they pay for themselves in the long run.  In the process of cutting back on jobs, the production from wells has actually increased.

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