The upstream petroleum sector appears to be at a crossroads. Today's uncertain and volatile crude prices coupled with a more complex global business environment and an aging workforce are changing industry dynamics. Shareholders are becoming more demanding, looking for increased production and underlying reserves growth, and also demanding a return on their investment that keeps up with long-term market performance.
The upstream industry has long advocated and depended on advanced technologies, both in the oilfield and information technology (IT). In the case of IT, technologies such as high performance computing running sophisticated algorithms coupled with terabytes of storage have helped the industry be more successful in both finding and extracting oil and gas deposits through applications such as 3D seismic processing, resulting in dramatic reductions in finding and lifting costs. This will continue. When considering the future, five key areas will continue to add business value.
High performance computing
The industry goal of being able to model, monitor, and manage reservoirs in real time requires superior reservoir models that can, for instance, provide more accurate modeling of horizontal multi-lateral well effects and near well bore effects. These and other specific model characteristics require high-fidelity subsurface definition, implying more complexity with better accuracy and faster processing. Linux clusters and blade centers that support large simulations are multi-threaded and will continue to provide the upstream industry the necessary computing power and the right price-performance point.
Visualization and collaboration
Reservoir characterizations are as much an art as a science, using the insights and experience of a range of professionals. The ability to share a common view of the reservoir, together with the assumptions used in its characterization, leads to better decision-making about the likely behavior and optimal way to maximize production. Real-time and remote visualization will be critical to the success of any collaborative environment. IBM's research teams are currently working on scalable graphics engines that will facilitate complex remote visualization, ultimately over bandwidth constrained networks. These visualization technologies will greatly assist the industry as it continues to explore in more remote and inhospitable regions around the world.
Intelligent oil field
"Smart wells" and "electric fields" are currently being piloted by a number of oil companies. The goal of these initiatives is to link the field development process, i.e., the subsurface characterization, to actual production to maximize business value. Using existing sensor and automation technologies, megabytes of data can be collected from the well bore and other production facilities. The challenge is to turn this stream of data into meaningful information. Information that improves asset and portfolio knowledge and supports accurate and timely decisions will help to improve recovery while reducing operating costs.
With the variation of workload due to fluctuating oil prices, do you invest in IT for peak production or for a smoothed demand profile from users? Grid computing techniques help to address this problem. Grid is distributed computing using the Internet as a platform, linking servers, clients, and storage to dynamically form virtual servers and storage pools, supporting the creation of virtual organizations, both ad hoc and formal. Grid is based on open standards such as Linux, which help protect infrastructure investment from shifts in technology and changes in business models. In the upstream environment, grid can deliver uniform computing systems and optimize IT assets for all sites currently performing geoscience, engineering, technical, and traditional back office business computing.
We are entering a new era in business – the "on demand" era. All the technologies detailed previously can be offered "on demand" to help organizations to become responsive, variable, focused, and resilient in meeting challenges such as new and ongoing exploration and development projects, supporting project teams in remote locations, and increasing productivity requirements to meet first-oil targets.
These new IT technologies are offering a way to transform the industry and meet the challenges of production growth, the "big crew change," and the consequent need to institutionalize and share knowledge.
Global Marketing Manager, Petroleum
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