Oil IT Journal interview—Satish Pai, Schlumberger

We spoke to Satish Pai (President of Schlumberger’s Europe & Africa Oilfield Services division) in his role as organizer of the upcoming Intelligent Energy conference. Pai sees other industries (automobile, manufacturing—even the downstream oil industry) as ahead of the upstream in digitization. But Pai has faith in the new ‘Nintendo’ generation and in automation—up to a point.

OITJ—What led to your involvement in the Intelligent Energy* event?

Pai—I see the conference as an opportunity to take stock of where we are as an industry in relationship to digital technology, automation and information management (IM), a kind of ‘reality check’ - no more hype, no more ‘what’s the vision?’ A lot of us are convinced that technology for the digital oilfield exists but that the bottleneck now is people and process. The theme of the conference is to see how we can take the processes and digitally enable them with existing technology. Other industries are way ahead of oil and gas in digital enablement.

OITJ—Could you give some examples of industries that are ahead of the oil and gas vertical?

Pai—Manufacturing, aeronautics, automobile—a modern car assembly line is all robotics, all computerized. Airline pilots are trained on simulators—oil and gas is way behind here. Even though everybody want to hire folks with 15 years experience—maybe simulators are a way to accelerate this.

OITJ—Although operator training simulators are widely used in the downstream.

Pai—Yes it’s interesting that downstream is ahead of the upstream in automation—although I’m not sure why. Perhaps a low margin business makes for more tuning of processes and automation. I was discussing this with Don Paul (Chevron CIO) who confirmed that downstream is ahead of us.

OITJ—How is the conference addressing these issues?

Pai—We have a great opportunity to benchmark the upstream in this context at the ‘scene setting’ session. Here there will be a live real time line link to BP’s center in Baku. We will then be moving over live to a Shell facility in Holland. Next we’ll make a virtual visit to a StatoilHydro platform in the North Sea and finally back to our own real time operations center in Aberdeen. All this in real time with live data links. We really wanted to go beyond the PowerPoint presentation!

OITJ—Since production platforms are more like refineries, that makes them closer to the process control community than the upstream?

Pai—That’s why we want to go see what’s happening in Baku and Snovhit where by the way, StatoilHydro has been automating and moving people onshore for safety reasons.

OITJ—What is the conference doing to address the people challenge you mention?

Pai—We have tried to make the show attractive to younger engineers—with a ‘young professionals’ track where the event will be blogged in real time. This reflects a generational change, contrasting the apprehension of older engineers with the ‘Nintendo generation’ which has no fear of technology. This is a real ‘fault line’ in the industry where new technology is enabling new ways of working for those who are familiar with the tools. We also want to find out what you people think of the industry—especially regarding automation—and the fact that there will be less people doing more with technology in the future.

OITJ—What do you think the answer is?

Pai—It’s a big question! People today attribute a certain number of failures on rigs because of inexperienced people on the rig. We need to take advantage of the new technology and make it more amenable to young engineers.

OITJ—But surely the issue is more with engineering knowledge than a ‘Nintendo’ interface...

Pai—Yes, but in the old days a driller would work with four or five or parameters, now there are many more.

OITJ—So we automate?

Pai—I am wary of automation—especially of the kind that leads to stock market crashes! Wee need automation combined with human intelligence. I’m not in favor of total automation. Mother earth is too unpredictable. Today real time sensors offer data at your fingertips—automating routine tasks.

OITJ—So you still need the experts?

Pai—Experience is important but we need to achieve the 20-25 years experience level with 5-10 year people. This could be achieved with more automation and feedback—but I don’t believe that even a 90% automation level is appropriate for the upstream.

OITJ—If you go stand on a platform and look around, you see stuff built by EPC**s like AMEC and KBR and instrumentation and control systems vendors like Emerson or Yokogawa. There really isn‘t much of a contribution from the upstream. Are the EPCs and process control folks who build the digital oilfield at the show?

Pai—I’m not sure that they are and I agree that you have a point. Maybe subsea facilities are a better example of upstream-focused engineering. These guys really are ‘linked-in.’

OITJ—What about standards like WITSML and PRODML, are they a help or a hindrance?

Pai—They are a tremendous help. XML data streams have greatly improved data sharing. A byte has a hard time getting from well to workstation—crossing firewalls and bypassing incompatible standards etc. Bytes lead miserable lives! Data standards are a big help.

OITJ—To what extent is the upstream digitally enabled today?

Pai—You have to put all this into context. High tech still has limited penetration. Rotary steering makes up maybe 15 to 20% of the market and intelligent completions as little as 1%. To get to the level of integration I’m talking about we need more intelligent completions (or vice-versa!). Clients are still concerned with what goes downhole.

OITJ—We’re back to the old ‘No jewelry in my well’ syndrome!

Pai—It’s still a problem. I would love to know how many intelligent completions there are in the world today!

OITJ—Are we really drowning in data?

Pai—Some seem to think we are. In process control, the data historian already filters data before storage. This contrasts with the seismic industry that has been crying for more and more data for years—and managing it successfully. There really should be no complaints about ‘too much data.’ Let’s just focus on turning data into high value actionable information. A terabyte is no longer a big deal. .

* www.intelligentenergyevent.com

** Engineering and procurement contractor.

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