Guest Editorial: Isn’t It Time for Our Own Spielbergian “Idea Summit”?
- Walt Aldred (Schlumberger Cambridge Research)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- June 2016
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 14 - 15
- 2016. Copyright is retained by the author. This document is distributed by SPE with the permission of the author. Contact the author for permission to use material from this document.
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Three years before the 2002 release of his science fiction film Minority Report, director Steven Spielberg brought together an ad hoc think tank to help him realistically imagine how the future might look in 50 years. More than a dozen visionaries and futurists came together for the 3-day event, an “idea summit,” which proved surprisingly prescient. Several intelligent technologies envisioned in the film have since been developed—including biometric iris scanners, robotic insects, crime prediction software, multitouch interfaces (you probably have one in your pocket or purse), and autonomous or self-driving cars.
At almost 2 years into the oil industry downturn, I believe now is the ideal time, a pivotal moment, to come together for our own “idea summit” and begin to realistically imagine the future so that we can respond to the “upturn” in the oil and gas industry when it arrives, as it inevitably will as we have witnessed in the past cycles. The seventh SPE Intelligent Energy International Conference & Exhibition will meet for 3 days this September in Aberdeen to consider how we can take emerging digital technologies, big data analytics, and intelligent and autonomous systems to create our own future. This will enable us both to survive our current challenges and to thrive in the years to come.
Consider the difference between invention and innovation. Invention develops new ideas and concepts; innovation combines existing elements and applies them in new ways. Today we need innovation to take advantage of the technological inventions that we already have, and we need inventions to sustain the future. Of course, we also need to leverage human potential, processes, and organizational ingenuity.
To shape this future vision, we will bring together the industry’s brightest scientists, engineers, and visionaries, as well as executives and decision makers who can implement new corporate strategies and business models that will catalyze technological and organizational changes.
This conference is organized to enable us to engage in candid conversation, ask one another hard questions, dream out loud, and open ourselves to fresh possibilities. Take, for example, the application of digital technology in my area of expertise, drilling: I believe one way out of the current downturn to a stronger future is to embrace digital innovation and new levels of automation. I’m not alone.
Last fall, a survey conducted at the International Association of Drilling Contractors Advanced Rig Technology Conference indicated that many of its members believe now may be the best time to adopt new technology. Forty percent said a down market encourages automation. Another 38.5% agreed, as long as automated processes are properly deployed to meet specific operator requirements. Only 17% felt a down market discourages automation, largely because companies cannot afford new investments.
This would not be the first time the drilling industry has innovated in a downturn to profit in the upturn. During a previous downturn—the oil price collapse of 1998—one major contractor developed next-generation, semi-automated land drilling rigs. Even charging a premium coming out of the downturn, these high-tech rigs lowered the drilling cost per foot by nearly “two-thirds.” They consistently drilled record wells. A second effect, revealed by a Schlumberger study several years later, found that downhole tool reliability improved almost “threefold” on these rigs.
While it took tremendous courage to innovate in such an economic environment, ultimately it paid off, not just for one service provider, but for the industry as a whole.
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