Guest Editorial: Upstream Business of the Future: Funneling Changes Everything
- Dutch Holland (Holland & Davis LLC)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- November 2006
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 34 - 36
- 2006. 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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While the “digital oil field of the future” is generating lots of excitement, this enthusiasm should not dominate the industry’s thinking about the real upstream business of the future. But it is, and it is time that this changed.
Although nobody knows exactly what the upstream business of the future will look like, shaping forces are already in motion. In addition to the digital oil field’s bright lights, shaping forces are coming from three other innovation areas or fronts: conventional technologies, management disciplines, and technologies from the manufacturing industry, with technology defined as any know-how vital to a business. The latter includes hardware and software.
The business problem is that innovation areas outside of conventional technologies typically do not receive their fair share of attention or funding. What is needed is a single, big “funnel” through which all technologies sift, allowing operators and service providers to choose the most promising ones based on merit rather than the newest fad, conventional wisdom, or long-followed business practices. Balance is the key.
It is not surprising that conventional technologies get the lion’s share of R&D money because conventional technology has produced a wealth of new E&P techniques over the years. Those technologies have dramatically helped companies find hydrocarbons more easily and cheaply, as well as produce them more efficiently and in greater volume than ever before. Horizontal drilling is a prime example.
Look more closely at three innovation fronts other than conventional technologies. One promising front is the aforementioned digital oil field of the future, also called the e-field or even “drilling on the computer.” It is defined as the application of information technologies and computer applications to the various upstream operations. The automated oil field might enable an individual at headquarters to monitor production wells, open and close valves, and determine when it is time for certain wellsite operations. Or it may be remotely controlled actuator valves or wireless communications with handheld devices that make invoicing obsolete. The digital oil field is a seemingly endless innovation generator.
But equally significant is the adoption of best practices and proven technologies from what amounts to a revolutionized field of manufacturing techniques that could produce increased savings and higher productivity in upstream operations. Examples include flexible manufacturing techniques that have made ultradeep offshore drilling attractive to independents, process improvement techniques that reduce downtime on rigs, and work process standardization for drilling operations that allows continuing improvement in performance and reduction of human errors.
The third innovation area outside of conventional technologies—management disciplines—focuses on more robust project and program management. Certainly, capital projects have been project managed in the oil and gas industry for decades. But at what “real” cost? Studies show that less than 5% of all projects actually meet project managers’ key objectives such as being on time and on budget. That clearly needs major improvement, and it will be necessary to shift from informal project management “on the back of an envelope” to a more disciplined approach of managing projects with their inherent risks.
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