Crossover Technologies Enhance Innovation in Oil Industry
The challenges facing the oil and gas industry require crossover technologies from other industries such as aerospace, automotive, and medicine to help drive efficiency, boost productivity, and optimize performance.
The challenges facing the oil and gas industry require crossover technologies from other industries such as aerospace, automotive, and medicine to help drive efficiency, boost productivity, and optimize performance, a summit panel said.
At the recent Chief Technology Officers Summit held in conjunction with the Abu Dhabi International Research and Development Conference and Exhibition, the panelists concurred that while off-the-shelf solutions are often used to solve problems, bespoke in-country research and development (R&D) solutions will become more important in reaching production targets in the coming decades.
The theme of the event was “How Can Innovation From Other Industries Play a Key Role in Enhancing Performance in the Energy Sector?”
Alain Guenot, senior vice president of Total Exploration and Production in the UAE, said Total has established five laboratories covering robotics, big data, nanotechnology, and enhanced oil recovery to develop bespoke R&D solutions. “We also have laboratories that are established only for short periods, a maximum of 2 years, to solve the challenges we face,” he said.
Managing Big Data
A key issue facing the industry is the management of big data, an area of expertise more commonly associated with companies such as Google and Microsoft. “Big data has been a problem in oil and gas, especially in the seismic data, as the whole industry has been involved in trying to manage it properly,” said William Coates, senior vice president of technology and marketing at Schlumberger.
The digitalization of operations has created new challenges in terms of managing and analyzing the seismic data in order to optimize resource extraction, manage well operations, improve reservoir performance, and avoid disruptions.
Big data may affect the skill sets required in operations and how petroleum engineering is taught in universities.
“Of course, we need to continue teaching petroleum engineering, but we need to introduce new courses to match the ongoing developments facing the industry,” said Thomas Hochstettler, president of the Petroleum Institute University and Research Center in Abu Dhabi. “The big data became a more important part in the industry, and we need to introduce it in courses that cover this sector. In the long term, we need to keep our eyes open to this and we should work on how we incorporate this.”
The technological advancements prove that we are living in the information revolution, in which big data has become an integral part of forecasting and planning. “Data mining became a critical part, which is considered a cross-industry issue,” said Arif Sultan Al Hammadi, executive vice president of Khalifa University in the UAE.
Interaction with people from other industries is critical to learning about the ideas and technologies that may be applicable to the oil and gas industry. Innovation may mean finding solutions in unexpected places.
“We have people who constantly interact with people from other industries to look for ideas that we can use to solve the problems we face, and then we investigate these ideas and see whether we can deploy them to solve our problems and challenges,” Guenot said.
An example of such collaboration is the Pumps & Pipes program, which was started as an informal partnership by the ExxonMobil Upstream Research Co. (URC), the Houston Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center (MDHVC), and the University of Houston. In 2007, Alan Lumsden, a cardiovascular surgeon and the medical director of the MDHVC, struck up a conversation with Bill Kline, a drilling and subsurface research manager at ExxonMobil URC, during an overseas flight.
As they discussed the challenges they face in their work, many similarities became clear, for example, the principles of fluid flow and material science are common to exploration and production and cardiovascular medicine. The program has grown into an international forum for transferable ideas and technology.
Though coincidence plays a role in some innovations, industry players want to establish clear mechanisms to foster crossover technologies between different industrial sectors. “In the Middle East, we need governments to do their work in terms of encouraging collaboration between industries through decrees as the majority of big companies are owned by government,” Al Hammadi said.
With information and communications technology (ICT) evolving as the critical operational architecture in many sectors, including oil and gas, the industry should be propelled to accelerate the pursuit of crossover technologies as the hardware, software, processes, and skills deployed are essentially the same.
“We need to look at the fundamental of our industry in order to find ways to use these resources,” said Guenot. “We should always aim for the best.”
Identifying the type of crossover technology for adoption as part of the innovation process is important. Should innovations aimed at improving safety and security be adopted over others given the rising concerns about cybersecurity?
“Prioritizing should depend on the challenge we face, so for every problem, we need to look for a particular solution,” said Al Hammadi.
Hochstettler said that being selective in safety and security is important. “Safety and security are important, but safety comes first,” he said. “You have to select what you need, and then you improve efficiency and the environment. Safety means investing, and it is a key element for us and security is also important for us.”
The security issue facing the industry is completely different from in the past. “The main issue now is the physical security of the assets, which is a problem that we didn’t have 10 years ago mainly in the Middle East and North Africa region,” said Coates. “But when you do things online, you should make sure that the cybersecurity aspect is well under control, as it is of paramount importance in the industry, where most companies are well aware of the challenges and taking it seriously.”
Silicon Valley Model
Panelists were asked whether it is the time for major international oil companies and national oil companies to open innovation centers in Silicon Valley, an area in southern California that is home to many of the world’s high-technology companies, in order to tap into the best ICT engineering talent pools to build up a 21st century workforce.
Although there was a consensus that such talent is important for the industry and that Silicon Valley is a successful model for innovation, risk taking, and creativity, the panelists differed in their opinions.
Guenot is against the idea of a Silicon Valley model for the oil and gas industry. He said it is the time to restructure the way the industry does its R&D and that it should be more open in terms of people and technology. “It is critical to be able to source the right talents and technologies as these are the key for success in solving the industry challenges,” he said.
Coates said that Schlumberger has reopened its technology research laboratory in Palo Alto, California, which was closed in 1988, and is looking for talented people. “We reopened our tech center in Palo Alto because we believe that there is something interesting that’s worth tapping. There is something we need to discover there: How does it work? We don’t know yet, but we are working to find out; we hope to find something important,” he said.
Other panelists said that the industry has its own Silicon Valley. “Houston could be considered as the Silicon Valley for the oil and gas industry, given the number of universities and companies operating tech centers covering industry-related challenges,” Hochstettler said.
The industry’s movement toward data science obliges companies to use it in their business models. “The data became an integral part of the industry, and that’s why companies need to move to that environment,” Hochstettler said.