Cavalry coming to digital oilfield’s rescue?

Oil IT Journal editor Neil McNaughton opines on this month’s news from Landmark, Schlumberger and Paradigm before enumerating some shortcomings of current digital oilfield ‘real-time’ offerings. To which he believes he may have stumbled across a possible remedy from the battlefield.

Landmark’s marketing machine has come back to life this month with the Diskos deal, a new ‘real time decision center’ and a deal with Pavilion that brings upstream software a tad closer to the process control ‘coal face’ of the digital oilfield of the future (DOFF).


Also of note is Paradigm’s investment in OpenSpirit. In our interview last April, Paradigm CEO John Gibson spoke of a possible evolution of Paradigm’s own Epos middleware to ‘open standards’. The buy-in suggests that Paradigm’s route to openness is OpenSpirit. This contrasts with ‘openness’ via Ocean that was the theme of Schlumberger’s Open Technology Symosium this month. But skeptics were no doubt reassured as SIS president Olivier Le Peuch and John Gibson sealed their alliance with an on-stage hug!


One of the main jobs of the editor is to peruse vast quantities of text in the search for enlightenment and new ideas. Since doing this job I have developed a kind of info-bulimia. So I try and skim through publications aimed at the explorationist, engineer and technologist. From AAPG Explorer to JPT, passing by various trade mags, company newsletters, Business Week and the Financial Times. To try and keep up with the IT side of things, I also subscribe to Dr. Dobbs Journal and most recently Computer, from the IEEE.

Info glut

All of which means that when I get home from a longish trip I am confronted by a pile of journals. An info-glut of my own making, which I deal with by a rather peremptory scanning process, perhaps watching the TV at the same time. As all this happens while recovering from my jet lag, the scanning process may be punctuated by deep sleeping and a kind of info-induced reverie which I suppose somehow ‘informs’ my editorials. The result this month is a reverie along the lines of real time, simulation and optimization, the underpinning of the DOFF.

Me too?

Reflecting on the Halliburton/Pavilion deal above, which is a bit ‘me-too-ish’ to Schlumberger’s AspenTech alliance last year made me wonder if the real time optimization of the digital oilfield is going the same way as upstream interpretation software in the geoscience space. That is to say with vendor-based environments à la OpenWorks or GeoFrame that offer a degree of interoperability so long as you stay within the framework. But which become a source of hassle and inconvenience when you try to deploy ‘best of breed’ solutions that operate across the framework boundaries.


The twin upstream/downstream deals (SIS/AspenTech and Landmark/Pavilion) illustrate two facets of the DOFF. SIS and AspenTech’s first product, Avocet combines various simulators to optimize facility design (OITJ Vol. 10 N° 4). This kind of optimization falls in the ‘front end engineering design’ (FEED) category. Such optimization may take hours or days of computer time which could be considered as ‘real time’ if you are planning next year’s project, but not if you are closing the valve on a BOP.


Landmark/Pavillion illustrates another component of the DOFF—model based controllers (MBC). These use computer models of process to identify critical situations. Certain combinations of values have been shown in offline modeling to be associated with events that require remedial action. While MBCs may run in real time, the simulations that compute each case may require hours of machine time, data mining and computing historical datasets.


While both FEED and MBCs are no doubt great tools, they are a far cry from an overreaching ‘field to facility’ real time model. The problem is that to simulate across the silos of reservoir, well bore, pipe network, facility and beyond, you need to fire up a multiplicity of simulators. Each of these may have their own notion of what ‘real time’ means. Some simulators go faster than real time. Some can just keep up. Others may go much slower than real time. Bringing them all together requires a well though out strategy and ideally, some standardized way of synchronizing the outputs and inputs.


The January 2006 issue of the IEEE’s Computer magazine had an article* on how the defense community addresses similar issues. When the army, navy and air force show up to play war games, each brings along their own toys, in the form of battle simulators. A first pass at making the ‘plug and fight’ was the 1993 Distributed Interactive Simulation (DIS) which created ‘synthetic, virtual environments by connecting separate subcomponents of simulations residing at multiple locations.’ This has subsequently evolved into the ‘High Level Architecture’ (HLA) for distributed simulations which allows slow and fast ‘subscribers’ to plug into the real time infrastructure and receive timely, appropriate information.


The only oil and gas related application of the HLA I’ve Googled is the Nork Hydro-sponsored Real-Time Simulator for Complex Offshore Marine Operations developed by the Norwegian SINTEF research organization. This integrates multiple simulators to train operators about to, for instance, install a heavy module on the deck of a floating production unit. This is not a million miles removed from the DOFF. Could the HLA, or something like it, be a way around the putative, vendor-specific DOFF frameworks? If the DOFF is driven by a future POSC/SPE HLA—remember, you read it here first!

* Enabling Simulator Interoperability. Katherine Mores (SAIC) et al., Computer, January 2006

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