Digital oilfield

Alliances Drive Upstream Digital Deployment

Partnerships with big tech, tech startups, and innovative service companies—and the merging of their data, cloud, and software applications—are proving essential for operators in the scaling phase of digital deployment. Equinor, Microsoft, and Halliburton are among those joining forces.

A drone shot of the Equinor-operated Sleipner field on the Norwegian Continental Shelf. The company in September will publish 14 years of CO2 storage and handling data from the field. Source: Equinor.

Partnerships with big tech, tech startups, and innovative service companies—and the merging of their data, cloud, and software applications—are proving essential for operators in the scaling phase of digital deployment.

Equinor has been among the first of many international oil companies to actively seek out and form such alliances. The Norwegian operator is in the process of leveraging its massive collection of data by making it accessible both inside and outside the company to improve its next generation of upstream projects—a task so big that it certainly cannot go it alone.  

“The challenge is not what data to share but to define the rules of the game for how to share [the data],” said Anders Opedal, Equinor executive vice president of technology, projects, and drilling, during the recent Halliburton Landmark Innovation Forum and Expo (LIFE 2019) in Houston.

To overcome the industry’s inclination toward data protectionism, Equinor became a founding member of the Open Subsurface Data Universe (OSDU) initiative, a global collaboration between most of the world’s largest operators and service firms to define standards for an open-data architecture for subsurface data.

The company last year also notably put itself out there by sharing thousands of files covering all subsurface and production data from the Volve field on the Norwegian Continental Shelf (NCS). Its next release, slated for September, will consist of 14 years of CO storage and handling data from the Sleipner field, a project that captures and stores some 1 million tonnes/year.

Equinor is emphasizing data access within the company as well, a challenge that involves consolidating its data from more than 3,000 different systems into one place. In another important alliance, the company partnered with Microsoft to create a cloud-based platform called Omnia that makes data available across Equinor’s disciplines and assets. Teams are using the data for predictive maintenance and production optimization.

Omnia helps fuel Equinor’s integrated operations center in Bergen, Norway, which brings together more than 90 employees in multidisciplinary teams and operational data from more than 30 assets on the NCS. In the US, Equinor has a similar center in Austin, Texas, which streams data from the company’s 1,200 onshore wells. There, it hopes to reduce commutes by personnel to the wellsite by 25%.

In the next several weeks, Microsoft will take its relationship with Equinor to the next level by launching the Azure cloud platform from Norway. Overall, the platform has a global data center presence spanning 200 data centers, 54 regions, 70,000 miles of fiber, multiple subsea cable systems, and 138 sites.

Microsoft, Halliburton Union

An existing strategic alliance between Microsoft and Halliburton has been cultivated to where the service company’s iEnergy hybrid cloud platform can now run on Azure, allowing users to provision an instance of iEnergy in 1–2 hours. Users can also provision inside their own subscription, meaning “your intellectual property is yours, that your data residency is where you wanted it at those 54 locations around the world,” explained Tom Keane, Microsoft corporate vice president.

This allows Equinor to run applications on iEnergy and then new internally built applications together on Azure.

Microsoft has also worked with Halliburton to enable the service company’s DecisionSpace Geosciences software to run on HoloLens, an augmented mixed-reality headset, allowing for geoscientists to explore data in augmented reality.

“They can understand Earth models, they can identify where oil and gas reserves exist, and they can drill in by pointing at the data and navigating using their hands,” he said. “People around the world using a mobile device, a headset, a web-based application, a PC can then collaborate without copying terabytes or even petabytes of data.”

Keane added that Halliburton’s recently released DecisionSpace 365 asset simulation program is built on top of Azure technology such as Cosmos DB—Microsoft’s globally distributed database—and batch computing. DecisionSpace 365 also can provision both as a SaaS application and within a company’s own subscription.

He noted that Microsoft is continually taking knowledge it has gained from the industry to improve its products. “When we look at our high-performance computing workloads, and the newest releases that we've made there, we've taken learnings from analyzing seismic data, from doing reservoir simulation, and changed how our platform performs to optimize it to make algorithms more efficient, to process jobs faster,” he said.

In the compute and storage space, for example, Microsoft has ensured that Azure natively integrates with Cray. “If you made an existing investment in Cray, you can seamlessly use that integrated with Azure,” he said.  

Microsoft is now advancing an initiative that assists data scientists working on oil- and gas-related problems such as full waveform inversion and then allows them to publish their learnings and algorithms using GitHub. “And then the community can continue to enhance and innovate as that platform improves,” Keane said.

Equinor’s End Game

Building on its partnerships, Equinor’s ultimate goal is to drive efficiencies from major projects such as Johan Sverdrup, one of its “digital flagships,” as Opedal called it. The company hopes to achieve a 70% recovery rate from the NCS field, which launches this year and will produce up to 660,000 B/D. “It will in many ways mark the beginning of the next 50 years on the Norwegian Continental Shelf,” he said.  

Equinor is developing a digital twin for the entire field in which real-time reservoir data will be collected from fiber cables, stretching a combined length of 670 km, within the wells and on the seabed. The fiber cables in the wells alone “produce more data in 3 months than we have in total in Equinor today,” he said.

For its drilling operations, the company in the next 2 years plans to have 30–60 offshore rigs equipped with automated drilling control. “Another area of development with high emphasis has been our ambitious digital well planning program,” Opedal said. “Over the years we have created and produced several thousand wells on the Norwegian Continental Shelf and internationally. We have been diligent in systematic capture of data, both from the design and execution of these wells.”

The well design teams will tap into this data using the cloud to improve future well designs. These processes will be simplified and improved by combining well engineering software and smart workflow tools.