Oil IT Journal at 25

Neil McNaughton celebrates 25 years and some 200 editorials with insights on a GIS-based ‘energy transition’, on transferrable skills from the upstream, the demise of the blockchain consortium, on fake news in B2B publishing and academia and on … gobbledygook.

It is 25 years since I started writing what was at the time Petroleum Data Manager. The newsletter became Oil IT Journal circa Y2K. That means over 200 editorials on this and that, expressing, I’m sure, sometimes contradictory viewpoints. I’d like to highlight a couple of themes that we have uncovered in our reporting over recent years. One concerns the yin and yang of GIS* vs. geotechnical software as the de facto integration tool for the upstream. Another, the portability of the oil and gas skill set to new energies. And finally, how BP has finally nailed my own bête noire, blockchain.

Back in 2014, Total’s seminal PUG presentation demonstrated GIS’ capacity to integrate disparate information in support of a new venture. Geoscience software still struggles in the integration space as witnessed by the ongoing effort in OSDU. Another theme du jour is what the geo workforce will be doing as companies transition to new energy sources. In so far as most new energy sources (wind, photovoltaic) are located on the earth’s surface, this leaves the subsurface geo/PE brigade at something of a disadvantage. There has been a lot written about the potential for re-cycling the subsurface knowledge base and workforce in geothermal and underground CO2 storage. As yet, neither of these appear to be hiring. Anyhow, it’s unlikely that either geothermal or CCS would ever pay the kind of salaries that the geo brigade became accustomed to during the fat years of E&P. Facilities engineering should offer opportunities especially in offshore windfarms, although the expertise here is shared between oils and their contractors who are already doing good business with their utility customers.

If oil country subsurface know-how may not be hugely applicable to the world of new energy, what about the surface? As the folks from Esri like to say, ‘everything has location’. Which brings me to the highlight of our virtual report in this issue from the 2021 Esri Petroleum User Group (PUG). Anne Luise Procida headed-up Ørsted’s GIS effort, back in the day when it was an oil company. Now Procida has demonstrated that GIS not only transfers well to new energy, it is, at least for Ørsted, at the very heart of the new business, the ‘spider at the middle of the web’.

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I think that our lead this month, where we learn from BP that blockchain is ‘not a great tool for tracking and tracing’, and that ‘there are lots of legacy technologies that do this better’, is one of the highlights of our reporting. A major problem of B2B communications is that the gatekeepers, the press officers and also, it has to be said, many of the company folk who are allowed-out to give presentations, are hard-wired to present only ‘success’, often before it has been achieved. Failure is air-brushed out of the picture. If pharma did its business this way, we would all be taking shots of disinfectant! When you google ‘blockchain in oil and gas’ you find hundreds of articles all saying the same thing, all reporting on the successful formation of one or other consortium that is going to fix a problem that nobody ever really thought they had. The puffery is not restricted to the marketing department or the larger B2B publications. The academics are in on the act, with rehashes of the same tired nonsense masquerading as ‘science’ in publications such as OnePetro, ACM, IEEE, Springer … this stuff is everywhere! Except that … ‘Legacy technologies do this better!’ … indeed.

A round of applause to BP’s Launchpad for telling it like it is, even sotto voce. In fact the Launchpad interview is well worth listening to* in its entirety as Scarborough provides an update on where the Ethereum blockchain is heading. In fact it should be compulsory listening for all who are thinking of using this in an industrial context. The public blockchain infrastructure, that Scarborough now favors, is built on an indescribable morass of shifting technology and gobbledygook that seems to be forever firefighting its latest gotcha!

* Geospatial information system.

* As is her talk on the State of Ethereum given at the 2021 Ethereum Anniversary Special event.

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