Groundhog Day for semantics. Winston Churchill on shale oil.

Editor Neil McNaughton ties up some loose ends before heading off on vacation. This edition of Oil IT Journal provides a birds-eye view of many facets of oil and gas IT. The overview spans process control, data, semantic technology, GIS and more EAGE analysis of the UK’s shale gas potential.

We have been playing catch up in this issue, the last before our summer break, with reports virtual and real from various key tradeshows, user groups and conferences—some of which took place a few months ago. Such ‘management’ of the news is required because we do try to attend as many shows as we can and it takes time between visits to get down to some writing and analysis.

The spin off for us and I hope you too, is that this issue is an opportunity to take stock of the oil and gas IT landscape, to see what’s hot and what’s not, which is what I will try to do now.

I like to think of Oil IT Journal as represented by a Venn diagram of interlocking sets representing disciplines and communities. Individual readers may be more familiar with a particular set—say process control, or geosciences. But as we have seen before on many occasions, the big picture is only visible to those with a view of the whole—the familiar and the less so.

So to start with what was for us a less familiar field. Our visit with Belsim was quite an eye opener. Imagine, a whole world of process modeling churning away just to get the data points right before they are consumed by, inter alia, process models. The approach is obviously of interest in the context of data quality. There are echoes of Hess’ ‘Technically validated database’ (Oil ITJ Feb 2010). The idea is to validate data before it gets consumed by applications, databases and models.

What is interesting in the Belsim approach is that while SQL data modelers fret about the ‘fourth dimension’ (time), process modelers seem to have recognized that this is not really an issue that IT is capable of handling without help from physics. This is a theme that I will be returning to after the break. The next conference I will be attending is OSIsoft’ Users conference to be held on our doorstep in Paris.

Leaping across to another set of the Venn we have the Petroleum Industry Data Exchange (PIDX) events covered on page 6. This is a little out of my own Venn comfort zone and I find oil and gas e-business rather tricky to evaluate. While everyone seems happy enough that e-commerce is happening, it does not seem to be happening in quite the way that the original standard was sold. Instead of widespread endpoint use of the standard per se, several e-commerce hubs have sprung up—some of which share clients from other Venn sets such as chemicals. This has led to yet another layer of providers who offer mapping technology to connect clients to suppliers to hubs and so on. All very interesting and again, a field that we will be returning to with some improved coverage real soon.

A virtual visit to the Norwegian Semantic Days conference let us take stock of the semantic/ontology movement. As we have seen before, it seems to be losing momentum in oil and gas, and the 8th SemDays event seems to have less oil involvement and more from defense and government. There is also a Groundhog Day feeling at SemDays, the technology seems to be stuck in time warp. It is always full of promise and yet to deliver. One argument in support of the semweb is that SQL is ‘too hard for engineers.’ Nils Jacob Berland thinks that Sparql is easy. But there again he has a PhD in informatics, stochastic optimization and parallel computing. Your mileage may vary.

The next ‘big thing’ in semantics is the EU Seventh Framework ‘Optique’ project, which is taking semantics to another Venn set, process control. You can see why the EU puts so much faith in the semantic web. It was invented in the EU by an EU IT hero (there are not many of these) and promised the earth. That was circa year 2000. Since then it has received countless hours of developer time and millions of Euros of taxpayer money with somewhat underwhelming results.

On page 7 we have a summary report from a geographic Venn set—the Esri Petroleum User Group, the PUG. This hugely successful technology brought together some 1,700 GIS specialists from 450 companies. ESRI’s GIS continues to muscle-in on the data management arena with an impressive enterprise deployment chez Total. GIS is also great at adapting to novel data types—witness Waypoint’s spectacular drone-based video acquisition.

We had another catch up session from the European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers this month (page 7). The big theme of the London EAGE was, unsurprisingly, the shale gas potential of the UK. Here much was made of the Institute of Directors’ report, ‘Getting shale gas working.’ This is an extraordinarily detailed, if somewhat oriented report on the UK’s shale gas potential. It appears to be more concerned with promoting employment and economic activity. The IoD does not claim that the cost of shale gas in the UK will be particularly low. But what will it be? I couldn’t find any specific numbers in the report so I divided the estimated overall spend by the total amount of gas produced. This gives a figure of around $6 per bcf which may have been the number that the IoD dreamed up in the first place. On the other hand, given that it is time honored tradition in the industry to overestimate production and underestimate costs it does not appear likely that the consumer will benefit greatly from the shale gas bonanza.


Sometimes happenstance helps the editor pressed for a pithy comment prior to a holiday break. I was havering about renewing my subscription to the International Herald Tribune which, just like in the good old days, is hand delivered to my door by 6 a.m. This morning I was intrigued to read the following … ‘In the British Isles alone, twice as much oil as the navy used last year could be produced from shale.’ What, I hear you say, that’s not very interesting. Except that a) it was said by Winston Churchill and b) he said it in July 1913! My check for another year of the IHT is in the post.


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