More on ‘open’ publishing, software. Deepwater Horizon incident.

Oil IT Journal editor Neil McNaughton provides an update on the situation re open access in oil and gas publications and re-examines Microsoft’s upstream reference architecture. He reflects on happenings in the Gulf of Mexico, their impact on the ‘digital oilfield’ and on the industry at large.

Well, I did not heard back from the Society of Petroleum Engineers since my ‘open letter’ last month. Hmph! I sent a copy to Phil Christie (last year’s EAGE president) who offers the following, speaking as an ordinary member. ‘A new constitution is being considered for the EAGE which [emphasizes that] the association exists to serve the interests of its members and not those of the Office employees or sponsors. While sound finances are necessary, these are not the reason for the Association’s existence. It is important to remember which part of the animal is the tail and which part does the wagging.’ On the topic of access to publications, Christie pointed out that the EAGE, unlike the SPE, offers free access to members for its papers. But he is against wider public access. ‘Our members interests come before those of the general public. Access to publications is one of the reasons that someone would want to be a member of a professional society in the 21st century.’


In the January 2010 issue of the EAGE’s First Break, there was a good example of how commercial puffery masquerading as science creeps under the editorial radar in Mike Sternesky’s article1 on the Microsoft E&P Reference Architecture. A sister article2—from Mike Brulé (ex-Microsoft, now Technomation) in the SPE’s Journal of Petroleum Technology likewise praised the reference architecture. No mention of Microsoft was made although this can be explained by the SPE’s schizophrenic attitude to what it perceives as commercialization. Or perhaps the intent was for a more subliminal advertorial!

A post3 on Microsoft’s Oil & Gas blog by Chris Van Dyk vaunts the merit of StreamInsight as a component of the Reference Architecture. We asked for more and got a pointer to Microsoft’s earlier vaporware4. I fired back, ‘Thanks for the link—but we were already aware of this. I was thinking more of something that you could load in Visual Studio and get doing stuff with. Are there plans for any code/libraries?’ We are still waiting for an answer!


While many bang on and on about the importance of social networking and the like and the fact that oldies don’t ‘get’ Facebook (I don’t), I would like to offer a counter argument. Many younger IT decision makers lack a historical knowledge that might help them understand the interplay between vaporware and the spreading of fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD). A knowledge of IT history also helps to put things into context and reminds us that even big established companies with ‘unassailable’ positions can come unstuck.

About 40 years ago, there was a general belief that, ‘You will never get fired for buying IBM.’ This status quo was eventually shaken by a developers revolt—compiler guru Stephen Johnson likened programming an IBM mainframe to ‘kicking a dead whale down the beach5.’ So Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie deigned Unix, adhering to the principles of openness and ‘keep it simple, stupid!’

Today things have moved on a lot. ‘Commercial’ Unix, always something of an oxymoron, has been replaced with Linux while IBM’s market domination has been more than replicated with the Wintel duopoly. The question today for IT decision makers is ‘Can you get fired for buying Microsoft?’ For an iconoclastic answer to that I quote one ‘Macalope6’ who ‘knows a thing or two about corporate IT’ and observes that, ‘Very little of it makes any sense. You know what they say about trying to teach a pig to dance, right? It wastes your time and makes the pig implement a Microsoft-only corporate standard for enterprise-level software delivered solely on Dell hardware.’ Writing in MacWorld, he would say that wouldn’t he! In a similar vein we received an observation from a developer working at the oil and gas IT coal-face reporting that ‘scripting is back in’ with the corporate adoption of Microsoft’s PowerShell. Our anonymous contributor bemoaned the fact that ‘This is Microsoft’s copy of Perl and it will be just as good … in about 5 years!’


As I write this editorial, I am listening to the dreadful events unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico. As editor of an IT journal I hesitate to get into issues such as safety and the environment. But at Intelligent Energy (IE), BP laid strong claims to ownership of much of the deepwater drilling technology that has been so severely tested by the Deepwater Horizon. Also, it has become quite commonplace to hear from representatives of the majors, speaking at IT and data conferences, who claim that the industry has an exemplary safety record. Many do not agree with this assessment—see for instance the release from the United Steelworkers Union7, made a few days before the accident.

The debate on operator/contractor responsibilities is on. Other issues such as automation and de-manning may not be directly involved in the incident—but watching the ROV trying to grab the handle on the shear rams made me think of the IE discussions on automation, on remote control and monitoring and safety instrumentation. At IE these were intellectually stimulating debates. There was a feeling that this was work in progress and that the industry does not yet have the answer. Well we need one now. According to press reports, the rig did not have a black box. Presumably there was some onshore monitoring and logs in the ACE8 may hold the answer.

However you do the risk analysis for deepwater oil and gas, there are a lot of folks out there watching events with baited breath. It’s their hearts and minds that count. They can stop a whole industry in its tracks as Three Mile Island did for nuclear.

1 links/1004_3, 2 links/1004_4,

3 links/1004_5, 4 links/1004_6,

5 links/1004_7, 6 links/1004_15,

7 links/1004_13, 8 Advanced Collaboration Environment.

Note that while SPE’s JPT article is in the public domain, the EAGE’s First Break is members-only.

Click here to comment on this article

Click here to view this article in context on a desktop

© Oil IT Journal - all rights reserved.