The Digital Oilfield Is Here…But Which One?

Last week I was fortunate to attend the Digital Oilfield Innovation Summit in Houston. The presentations were excellent, from both end users and vendors, and the networking discussions I had alone were worth the time and expense of attending. And although you could throw a dart at the agenda and find a presentation worthy of an entire blog post of analysis, I want to focus here on the wide range of perspectives on the “digital oilfield” and what it means, as expressed in the first four presentations:

  • Digital Oil Field (of the Future): A Case Study,Shakir Badami, Enterprise Architect and Advisor, Digital Oil Field, BHP Billiton
  • Fundamental R&D: Providing a Springboard for Innovation in Today’s Digital Oilfield, Rustom Mody, VP, Technology, Baker Hughes
  • Drilling Faster and Cheaper Wells by Efficiently Aggregating, Analyzing and Interpreting the Data Available to Us, Olu Adedipe, President, Effidrill Solutions
  • Challenges in Building Predictive Analytics for Big Data in Oil and Gas, Dr. Satyam Priyadarshy, Chief Data Scientist, Halliburton

At a high level, Shakir Badami’s presentation focused on what happens above ground, i.e. the processes involved in operating a production well; the next, by Rustom Mody, focused on what happens below the ground, i.e. the drilling and production activities down-hole; while Olu Adedipe and Dr. Priyadarshy each took more holistic approaches, addressing both above- and below-ground activities.

Over the course of these four presentations, I was struck by how differently they each approached (and even would define) the digital oilfield.

For Badami, the “digital oilfield” meant digitizing the data that operators need to safely and effectively operate a well, then automating core tasks so that either a system can perform them or an operator can perform them remotely. It wasn’t so much transforming how the oilfield works as it was applying some basic digital capabilities to it – all of which delivers significant benefits to the organization, despite being an incremental gain, rather than a step change.

For Mody, it was all about transformation: in how drilling technology works, in the data it can gather and report, and in the ways it can enable new modes of working. A lot of this was cutting-edge, “NASA”-type technology that most of the audience members were not yet likely to be leveraging, but it was great to see where these same folks will be 7 to 10 years from now, when these innovations will be less bleeding-edge.

For Adedipe, the key was process analysis and improvement. The “digital” in the digital oilfield was more about reporting good old-fashioned metrics electronically, then crunching them to identify the areas of waste that can be optimized. Most interesting was that the optimizations he discussed didn’t rely on an oilfield being “digital” at all. Rather, they were the kinds of things that folks familiar with LEAN principles would find familiar, the most compelling of which had to do with flat-time variances – i.e. the waste associated with non-drilling activities such as tripping in and out of the hole, changing bits, etc. His case study showed that the savings to be had from improving flat-time variances were far greater than from trying to drill faster.

Finally, Dr. Priyadarshy spoke from perhaps the widest, most transformative perspective of all: big data. For him, the digital oilfield brings together all available data about the well(s), both internal (corporate data) and external (publicly available), to enable innovative insights and actions that are transformative for the organization. In a way, the big data perspective he presented was a way to draw together above-ground and below-ground data, marry it with all other relevant corporate data, then connect it to whatever information is available outside the firewall to provide data scientists the raw material for developing a deeper understanding of the well(s) in question.

I could write a post dedicated to each presentation, but I’m hoping this overview gives you a sense not only of their quality, but also the diversity of their viewpoints and perspectives. And I’ll end by asking all of you out there: What does the digital oilfield mean to you? Is there one of these approaches you gravitate toward? Or do you have another perspective you’d like to share? Or simply thoughts on my take on these four approaches? Whatever the case, jump in, and let’s get the conversation started!

Rich Medina
Joe Shepley
I’m VP and Practice Lead, focusing on developing Doculabs’ InfoSec practice and its applications in a wide range of industries.