AI moves from an objective to an enabler in the offshore industry

June 11, 2024
The hype of AI in 2023 has created a 'new' multi-billion business almost from scratch.

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the 2024 Offshore Business Strategies Special Report, which published within the May/June 2024 issue of Offshore magazine.

By Mohamed Houari, DNV Inspection


Given the term was first coined in the 1950s, the world has been relatively slow to wake up to the potential of artificial intelligence (AI)—and the oil and gas industry is no exception. It wasn’t until last year that AI really became a ubiquitous phrase, with governments, businesses and society as a whole earnestly debating its ample merits and worrying drawbacks. So why has it taken some 70 years for this concept to truly spark imagination? Why now?

After a pandemic that reshaped industries worldwide, there was a reassessment of company strategies and a shifting of the workforce. The energy sector began to properly look at digitalization and focus on "working smarter, not harder," while at the same time it was one of a number of sectors hit by a shortage of workers. It is often held up as a panacea—AI is the answer, but what is the question? There may well be a need to temper expectations around its potential, but the adoption and integration of intelligent technology can offer offshore industries a helping hand by enhancing efficiency, safety and resilience in the face of future challenges.

New ways of working aren’t quite so new

In the depths of the pandemic, when travel restrictions and safety concerns limited the number of personnel allowed offshore, AI-driven inspection technologies that allowed checks to be carried out remotely came to the fore. In part, the endurance of such practices has been limited, with many opting to return to the old ways of working, but remote inspections are no longer considered a novel concept.

As well as limiting the need for assessors to travel by helicopter offshore—a boost for the environment and to safety—remote inspections also allow companies to call on their network of employees, meaning an expert can inspect an asset thousands of miles away in real time. To support the implement of these new practices, DNV Inspection recently launched its new Training Hub for Industrial Knowledge (THInK) in Abu Dhabi, a center that is offering in-person, virtual and hybrid training sessions, incorporating virtual reality technology and AI to help workers sharpen their skills. 

Adapting to growing capabilities

In many ways, the principles of AI have remained broadly the same over the years. What has changed dramatically is the data capacity and analysis; that’s what has turned it from a program into a tool. The availability of this software means anyone with a computer can access unparalleled capabilities, enabling predictive maintenance and anomaly detection with an extremely high level of accuracy. Advanced algorithms can process vast quantities of data collected from sensors, cameras and Internet of Things devices, identifying potential issues before they escalate into costly failures. Moreover, by ranking inspection tasks based on risk assessment, operators can boost their efficiency without compromising safety. 

While there is a clear need for the energy industry to properly assess how it plans to use AI moving forward, it is also important to acknowledge the situation the industry is in. The sector is cyclical and staff shortages are nothing new, but the pandemic exacerbated issues with recruitment and retention. By automating routine inspection tasks, companies can augment human capabilities and reduce the need for people to carry out work in hazardous environments. 

The race for second

Inevitably, companies will exercise caution in adopting working practices that center on AI, while others will wait to see how others perform before making the jump themselves. It is possible that in many instances, implementation of this technology will turn into a race for second place.

For AI to truly enhance oil and gas asset inspection and the wider energy sector, first the industry needs to establish what problems it is trying to solve. It is not a catch-all solution to the industry’s issues and treating it like one would be naïve, costly and potentially damaging. AI has evolved over the years and will continue to do so. The sector must temper the hype, size up the potential and take the time to ensure this technology can act as a catalyst for positive change. 

One thing is for sure though—the hype of AI in 2023 has created a “new” multi-billion business almost from scratch. The question to be answered for many is what is the role that will be undertaken in this new market: customer, supplier, consumer or even spectator.

About the Author

Mohamed Houari

Mohamed Houari is global managing director with DNV Inspection.