Collaboration, shared tools key to making Big Data actionable

Aug. 1, 2021
Offshore industry must move into a more collaborative way of working.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” That saying has been attributed to Spanish philosopher George Santayana. That idea is causing more than a few sleepless nights in the oil and gas industry.

Vital knowledge, captured in the experiences of long-standing employees, is leaving to enjoy its retirement. It is a crucial element of the impending skills crisis, and one that seems hardest to remedy, leaving younger cohorts without the institutional memory and experience needed to make light work of recurring challenges.

But it is not just about learning from the past. There are new challenges to overcome and new mistakes to avoid. The focus has to be on emerging issues: the demand for more efficient, greener operations, less hazardous working environments, and a considered look at total expenditure. Above all, the industry needs to direct effort to more sustainable and socially supportable modes of production.

The good news is that although engineers and project managers have certainly been essential repositories of problem-solving, risk-mitigating, cost-saving experience – they are not the only ones.

That information is also stored in every moving part, every maintenance record, every intervention decision of every well around the world – from reservoir to topside, and from first exploration to ongoing operation. The challenge has always been: how to access the data and how to make it usable.

Our industry has vast amount of data. But what we have not had, so far, is an open mindset to data collaboration alongside technology that is sufficiently advanced – or regarded as sufficiently reliable – to turn it into the mainstay of the decision-making process. Whatever insight it has given us has had to be checked against the experience of experts.

That is now changing. Even five years ago, true digital enablement was more powerful in its potential than in its reality. But today, we have sophisticated and advanced sensors to extract that data. We have the analytics and machine-learning capabilities that can transform it into predictive insight. And we have the visualization techniques that make it accessible to everyone outside the data science team.

That enables us to use data in new and powerful ways. Instead of collecting information about fields and how they operate as an administrative exercise – as operators have for decades – we are now in a position to turn that data into operational and management tools resulting in safety, production and CO2 reduction benefits. Gathering data from equipment around the world, we can get a really accurate picture of how it will behave in certain conditions. Going beyond predicting failure modes based on statistical analysis, or assuming a fail after 20,000 hours of operation, we can now see whether additional stresses are likely to fall within or without the operational safety envelope. We can make informed assessments on how changes to operating conditions will impact the overall business. We can switch to more risk-based management.

It is not just that important members of the workforce are reaching the end of their careers. Many fields are reaching end of predicted life. At this point in the industry’s trajectory, the cost and risks of developing new fields is increasing exponentially – just when market conditions demand the opposite.

Thankfully, we can now look back over decades to predict field activity, work with operators to develop the right solutions for those specific circumstances, optimize installation and ultimately accelerate time to valuable, viable production. Operators can pause, rewind and assess rather than galloping off into an unknown or uncertain future. They can consider the most accurate evidence they have ever had and make the right series of decisions whether for an entire field or a single asset.

We also know that data and digital expertise alone is not enough. The industry as a whole has to move into a more collaborative way of working. First of all, the data itself has to be agnostic. Aggregating and anonymizing techniques are necessary to ensure that data can be pulled from equipment manufacturer or operator without impinging upon intellectual property rights; so too can a flexible approach to building solutions based on data and managing its ownership.

That comes back to the relationship between operator and service provider. Digital enablement of subsea equipment and services is inevitable. It is no longer the capability of the technology that is holding back progress, but questions of reliability and trust. As digital technologies become more embedded – and shake off any lingering sense that they are a hype-driven gimmick – that trust will increase.

But to get there, we also need transparent relationships and collaborative development projects, and shared risk and commercial models that reflect that. We can remember our past – but we must do more than just remember. We must interpret all of its learnings to create a more informed, successful future.

Romain Chambault, Vice President Services and Offshore, Europe and Key Accounts, Oilfield Equipment, Baker Hughes

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