SPE Digital Energy Panel

Total, Schlumberger, Maersk and Saudi Aramco on the niceties of digital oilfield deployment.

The Digital Energy panel session at the SPE ATCE in Florence last month was poorly attended (40 in the audience and another 7 on the panel). Total’s Philippe Malzac set the scene noting that the digital oilfield (DOF) can mean different things in different circumstances. In a brown field, communications may be ‘good to non existent.’ Pilots may be successful in a specific context but disappoint elsewhere and be viewed as expensive IT ‘gadgets.’ DOF deployment may need organizational reshaping, requiring sponsorship and demonstrated added value—even though a comprehensive business case may be hard to make. DOF deployers may have to include trades unions in their plans. One of Total’s DOF attempts was thwarted by union opposition!

Meyer Bengio (Schlumberger) has been doing key word search across the SPE’s Intelligent Energy/Digital Oilfield library to find that ‘data management’ is down, ‘smart iron’ (intelligent completions) is up and ‘production optimization’ is stable. DOF stakeholders often have different viewpoints and may ‘pull in different directions.’ While IT may be looking for a ‘reference architecture,’ such an objective may be ‘far removed from the asset manager’s viewpoint.’ R&D may have a new algorithm and want a field test. But engineers have a daytime job and may be unavailable for such work.
How do we create an environment where new technology can be tested? For Schlumberger this poses existential questions like ‘who are we selling to?’ Some clients have a ‘big brother’ mentality and are resistant to data transparency. Perhaps industry needs a ‘test field’ along the lines of Schlumberger’s own test well.

Peter Kapteijn (Maersk Oil) admitted surprise after early DOF events demonstrated an average 20% hike in NPV. He expected all to rush home and proselytize. It did not happen. He has since quizzed colleagues to find a lack of clarity as to what DOF actually is. While the theory of ‘smart’ is fine, while closed loop optimization is a done deal and IT’s value is accepted, it remains hard to communicate to an asset what it is all worth. There are also concerns on software reliability and system complexity and some are reluctant to share information—particularly with remote operations. One possible explanation of this is the DOF’s ‘risk profile.’ The DOF is a high profile activity and while it should be a ‘no brainer,’ people shy away because of the potential for a failure. There is a tension between individual outcome and business value. Kapteijn suggests that management should ‘de-risk’ the DOF for individuals and their projects—perhaps with a DOF sandbox (like Bengio’s test field). Maybe we should stop communicating the ‘big vision’ which is too complex and long term. It would be better if ‘leaders were leading!’ But you can do DOF yourself. Although you do need to ‘make the right choices regarding architecture and infrastructure.’ Kapteijn did not say what these ‘right choices’ were.

Muhammad Saggaf noted that, for Saudi Aramco, the DOF goes back 30 years with the introduction of SCADA systems in 1982. Today, half of Aramco’s fields are DOF and the others are being retrofitted. The 1.2 million barrel/day Khurais is the largest DOF in the world. Following analysis and intense reservoir simulation, a three month water injection campaign was initiated to boost reservoir pressure. Real time isobaric measurements tracked progress. All this was done before a single drop of oil was produced. The DOF is not a collection of ‘gadgets,’ rather a stack comprising surveillance, integration, optimization and automation. The future is the ‘autonomous’ field combining data collection, simulation and action that produces an optimum strategy at any point in time.

In the Q&A some reported skepticism as to the DOF’s added value. This may be partially due to the fact that many projects are successful but appear outside of DOF scope. An instrumented gas lift optimization exercise may not be called a ‘DOF.’ Others wondered if the NOC culture, with its long term view, was more conducive to DOF projects. There was general agreement that domain/discipline silos remain a barrier to DOF roll-out. Kapteijn warned of projects being hijacked by ‘fundamentalists,’ ‘If you wait until you have solved everything, described all workflows in detail you’ll never get started. You need to start with the basics of a workflow described at the highest level.’ Reporting from an existing DOF, an Aera Energy representative stated that Aera had now automated 90% of its engineer’s repetitive workload, leaving them free to working on ‘investigative stuff.

This article originally appeared in Oil IT Journal 2010 Issue # 10.

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