Digital Technologies for the Next Trillion Barrels
- Ted Moon (JPT Online Technology Editor)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- September 2008
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 58 - 64
- 2008. Copyright is held partially by SPE. Contact SPE for permission to use material from this document.
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Technology will continue to play a vital role in the E&P sector’s quest to satisfy global energy demand, and digital technologies will no doubt make the most significant impact. The term “digital oilfield” has emerged in the last decade to describe using information technology (IT) to monitor and manage all operational activities in real time or near real time, regardless of geographical location.
Subject matter experts representing operators, oilfield services providers, and IT developers recently described how the digital oilfield will evolve in coming decades to help find and produce the next trillion barrels of hydrocarbons. According to Don Paul, President and Managing Director of Energy and Technology Strategies, the industry has made a great deal of progress in a relatively short period of time.
“A few years ago, people were talking about the digital oilfield in a conceptual way, such as how to put more sensors in the field to gather more data and how to integrate subsurface and operating measurement. Now the industry is moving fully into implementation, and companies are redesigning their workflows and organizations around the flow of digital information. Ten years from now the situation will look radically different, because the technologies powering our processes will be much more powerful, providing more data and the opportunity for true real-time optimization of production operations.”
Before postulating on the changes in 10 years and beyond, Paul put this timeframe in the proper context. “Projections for oil and gas demand and supply growth are often estimated in timeframes of decades, which is an eternity from a digital technology viewpoint. If you believe in the Moore’s law effect [the 40-year old concept stating that capabilities of digital electronic devices improve at roughly exponential rates, doubling every 2 years], then in 30 years you are talking about a growth in computing power of 2 raised to the power of 15.”
Furthermore, technology development and implementation follows cycles, and in Paul’s experience as the former Vice President of Technology with Chevron, a new cycle starts when there is about a factor-of-10 change in the capability of the underlying technology. “That factor-of-10 jump in computing capacity is sufficiently large to enable shifts in the technical base and the work processes around the technology,” Paul says. “In 30 years we are looking at five factor-of-10 changes if Moore’s law holds. To put this into perspective, this is greater than all the change capacity we have had since the advent of digital computing.”
This vast transformation in computing power will significantly impact and transform the energy system along several fronts.
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