Change is the new normal, keynotes declare at Data-Driven Production Conference

“Change” was the word on the lips of speakers at the Data Driven Production Conference this week, with many leading operators speaking candidly about the challenges of transitioning to the digital era.

Jim Claunch, VP Operations Excellence at Statoil, was the second speaker on the floor on day one of the two-day conference on Tuesday, and he acknowledged that the transition to data-driven operations had been “a painful journey for us” but that the speed of change was only going to get “faster and faster”.

This theme was echoed by other speakers, including: Murphy Oil’s Fred Clarke – “Change is disruptive, but it’s the new normal”; EMC’s Chris Lenzsch, who called on the industry to follow the example of the late Muhammad Ali and “lead change, embrace change, be change”; and Marathon Oil’s Andy Flowers, who said, “It never ceases to amaze me the distrust that people have in their IT department… You’ve got to have a dream that one day you will have a digital environment and it’s not us vs them.”

Steve Schmarzo, Chief Technology Officer at EMC, said one single word summed up why oil and gas businesses need to be focused on integrating big data into the businesses: economics. He explained, “Big data is an economics play. It’s 20 to 50 time cheaper to store, manage, analyze data than it was just a couple of years ago using traditional technologies. That’s the equivalent of going from the abacus to a laptop.”

Giving example of other technologies that cut costs 20-fold to 50-fold throughout history – such as the printing press, steam engine, and the Internet – he said, “the challenge you’re going to face is to go through that looking glass and think differently about what you can do with data and analytics - things you could not do before, things that allow you to take that data and analytics and use it to power the business.”

Sebastian Gass, Regional IT Manager North America at Chevron, opened proceedings by observing, “Anything that can be connected will be connected. Anything that can be automated, will be automated in the future.” He said Chevron had identified four broad areas of interest: unconventionals, remote operations and monitoring, data science and execution, and personal productivity.

Unconventional or shale operations share many things in common with repetitive manufacturing that they do not share with capital-intensive offshore oil projects, according to Gass. Giving a scenario in which there is disruption on a pad, he said the operator must identify and simulate the disruption by combining drilling information, financial information, facility and engineering information, and GE data and “combining all that in a repetitive manufacturing flow and being able to query and replan continuously”. This was difficult three years ago, he said, but Chevron has addressed and continues to address this.

Chevron is “not there yet” on remote operations and monitoring, Gass said. In the event that a storm or other surprise event causes damage to a deepwater platform, he said: technology would be needed to detect the damage via remote vehicle or video feed; engineering data would be needed to understand what was broken; and the part could then be replaced, potentially even by a 3-D printer. The challenge, he said, “is around engineering data – actually understanding what is out on platform, understanding what is in the CMMS [computerized maintenance management system], understanding what is in the inspection management systems, understanding what is in the operating procedures system and how that ties together is complex."

Data science and execution was initially concerned with increasing recovery and production, Gass said, but has since evolved. From a technological perspective, he said operators need a lot of information that then gets placed into a “data lake” that provides a convenient one-stop shop for data scientists to obtain and process that data in the format they want.

The concept of personal productivity has changed radically in oil and gas in the past three to four years, Gass said, and is now about knowing who is in the field, understanding and quantifying their skillset, and using this information to organize them around specific tasks.

Remote operations centers (ROCs) featured heavily during the conference, and the audience was even polled for their views on the topic. Some 87% of audience members said the current industry climate was causing them to accelerate rather than decelerate the scope of their focus on ROCs. The greatest challenge to operating ROCs was found to be “people and process-related” rather than data- and information related or technology-related. And a majority of respondents said the scope of work determined the quantity of staff needed for an ROC, with well count, geography, and type of well proving less important.

And on a non-ROC note, audience members were asked what they drank before arriving at the conference. A majority (57%) said they drank coffee, while 20% said water, 11% whiskey, and 10% tea.

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