Cambridge Energy Research Associates came out with their ‘Digital Oil Field of the Future’ study in 2002. A lot has happened over the last ten plus years, some of it very impressive, some of it not. This seems like a good time to assess where the industry is at and where is it headed with their Digital Oil Field/Integrated Operations (DOF/IO) investments. The assessment of progress for DOF/IO programs are given in the backdrop of Gartner's familiar Emerging Technology Hype Curve.
The challenge is to figure out how to get more value from your Digital Oil Field investment. In each petroleum engineering and earth science discipline there are a number of significant opportunities including: drilling (monitoring of real-time drilling status, geo-steering and the prediction and mitigation of unplanned events, especially well control); completions (analysis of hydraulic fracturing operations, including microseismic and multi-stage fracturing); operations and maintenance (equipment health, well integrity, reliability analytics, and tank monitoring); production engineering (surveillance of oil, gas and water production, and virtual metering) and reservoir engineering (real-time reservoir management).
But barriers to adoption of DOF/IO solutions do exist. They include: 1) the “Integration challenge”, 2) the “Innovation challenge”, 3) the “Complexity challenge”, 4) the “Data Foundation challenge”, and 5) the “Knowledge Exchange challenge”. Here are a few observations: 1) the trend of field automation, real-time systems and earth & reservoir modeling suggests that the Digital Oil Field has become a reality, 2) new engineers and earth scientists are entering the workforce with high digital literacy from lifelong experiences with consumer IT and with some training in programming from graduate school, 3) more ‘intellectual property’ from petroleum engineering and earth science comes in the form of software, but 4) significant gaps continue to surface (lack of reuse, fragile integration, poor data foundation, lack of end-to-end system design, unclear support). The ultimate goal of the Digital Oil Field is to make better, faster decisions but to that end, the focus is on analytics, and in order to support analytics, you need to have a strong data foundation.
Looking back on nearly a dozen years of activities by operators, service and technology companies can provide insight for future investments. The Digital Oil Field has been one of those initiatives that many in the industry have, at one time or another, considered or actually worked on the development and implementation of specific solutions. Some companies can take a look at the vision of the Digital Oil Field and conclude that they are not too far away, and they would be right. Other companies will view that same vision with skepticism and conclude it is too expensive, too risky, too much change to their current operations, and they would also be right. Has the industry reached a plateau, a trough, or at just at the beginning of an exciting new future?