Jim Crompton sketches-out digital oilfield IT stack

Barriers to digital energy roll out—poor change management and lack of standards.

Chevron’s senior IT advisor Jim Crompton was in a provocative mood at the SPE Digital Energy Study Group in Houston this month. Speaking on the on the topic of the digital oilfield IT stack, he recognized two barriers that emerged from panel discussions at the SPE ATCE in Denver a couple of weeks earlier. These are a) the problem of change management and b) the need for a standard infrastructure and architecture. Standards have been overlooked in the expanding scope and role of IT as it becomes increasingly important in refining and oil and gas production. Another interesting issue is the need to cater for the expectations of the new generation of IT consumers. These comprise the first generation of oilfield workers to have better IT infrastructure in their homes than at work!

In many cases, the first mile remains a problem. An offshore field may benefit from a comprehensive fiber optic network, but the link to the onshore office is still reliant on a low bandwidth microwave link. How can we leverage the hundreds of thousands of sensors on a new greenfield platform and move from a ‘run to failure’ mode to proactive failure detection and avoidance? Crompton reported on digital oilfield predictive analytics, Statoil’s experiments with injected nano sensors that report back on reservoir conditions, distributed sensors for real-time optimization and new mobility platforms for field workers.

One new idea is to borrow sensor mesh architectures from agricultural and military applications to go beyond current de-bottlenecking workflows, leveraging the advanced analytics used by electrical engineers in their instrumentation. Crompton suggested that such a robust and cheap architecture pattern might be one of maybe half a dozen that an IT group like Chevron’s could deploy to provide semi-customizable solutions.

One frustration has been that Chevron’s best Visual Basic programmers are petroleum engineers using Excel. Such folks are more in touch with Microsoft’s roadmap than the IT group. They are also upset that the next version of Excel will see the end of Visual Basic as they know it.

Chevron now has over 20 terabytes of digital data under management. Its ‘information pipeline,’ like the real thing, needs to be protected from ‘leaks’ to unmanaged environments like Excel. Digital dashboards provide a balance between real time surveillance and advanced modeling, blending mapping and reporting services, moving the organization up the business intelligence maturity model. Crompton wound up with a nod to the promise of Hadoop, ‘big data’ and a dig at ‘creative solutions that only solve when the creator is present.’

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