There is currently considerable activity focused on implementing computing technology in the petroleum industry. In drilling, projects have included real-time field data acquisition for enhanced operations monitoring, databases for management of drilling information, drilling accounting systems for better cost control, drilling simulation for performance optimization, advanced numerical techniques for specific problems, office automation for personnel efficiency, and expert systems for solving rule based problems.
Priorities in these areas vary between operators. As a result, much more technology exists than has been implemented by any single operator. Because costs for these systems are substantial, most majors are incrementally building drilling computing systems on a priority basis that will ultimately address the full scope of the above functions. This paper reviews general background and current technology for drilling computing and details ARCO's current drilling computing environment and its visions for the future in the area.
Most large corporations first installed centralized mainframe facilities to conduct fundamental accounting tasks. These computing environments were batch oriented, not interactive, and many end-user needs were overlooked. Despite their shortcomings, mainframe based facilities still attempted to serve all computing functions in many large companies, as late as the early 1980s. Several problems resulted from the mainframe background. First, programming practices were geared towards supporting a single program source, so that transportability has not been a priority. Second, interactive qualities are lacking in mainframe software. The evolution from mainframe processors to more distributed processors has caused transportability and interactiveness to now become major concerns. Finally, organizations were not setup to deal with responsibilities related to these and other problems resulting from distributed processing.
Steadily increasing price performance has resulted in the availability of substantial computer systems at greatly reduced costs. Available options range from personal computers (PC's) to multi-user machines such as supermicros, minis and super-minis. Despite hardware advances, computing benefits will still be limited by the functionality of available software. Hardware and software must both be suitable for the need and compatible with the other. Software prices are low for mainstream volume items, such as PC spreadsheets and word processors, but sophisticated drilling software is available from limited sources and remains expensive.
From a personnel perspective, the PC revolution has resulted in much higher computer fluency in the workplace, with end-users comfortable using computers and familiar with how computing can help their job execution. Users who previously would have resisted using a computer are now more likely to expect it in their workplace. Thus, both technology and personnel conditions are ripe for proper computing application.
Economics make it critical that personnel be used as efficiently and as productively as possible. Although computing costs have been decreasing by more than 20% annually, personnel costs increase by about 7% annually. Relative to the cost of computers, people are now at least 20 times more expensive than they were 10 years ago, and 400 times more expensive than they were 20 years ago.
As an example, a typical drilling organization at a major oil company of 70 engineers serving the domestic U.S. incurs about $5 million per year in expenses.