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LEADER - How oil and gas digital technology changed at EAGE last week

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

An executive forum at the EAGE (European Association of Geophysicists and Engineers) event in Copenhagen last week gave a remarkable insight into how oil and gas digital technology changes when senior managers take an interest in digital technology and the value it can add - they push for a better working relationship between people and machine.

For many years, senior managers of oil companies didn't care much about digital technology, beyond recognising that in some situations they needed to sign cheques for it. The "IT" world became very insular, referring to the world beyond it somewhat disparagingly as "the business" or "the users".

The weakness with this approach is that to get the most benefits from digital technology, you need an outcome which works well for both machines and people. This is illustrated by stories about the best chess player being not a machine alone, but a machine and person working together - see this interview with Gary Kasparov . The situation is probably similar for interpreting seismic images.

You can guess at the reasons, but IT people are usually more interested in developing the IT itself, rather than thinking about how people should work with the software. It probably takes a senior manager involved in the customer organisation, more interested in results than technology, and with power to do something about it, to get this people + machine thing working in oil and gas.

Senior managers are also more likely to be interested in what technology can do for their results, rather than get excited about technology itself, and so likely to take a more sober, results driven approach to advanced technologies like AI and analytics, once they start to understand it.

And this is what we saw in the EAGE discussion. Ashok Belani, EVP technology with Schlumberger, said that it is the "passion of geoscientists" which lead the oil and gas industry to find new reserves - not machines. The question is whether machines can make them more 'performant' and make their work more enjoyable, by creating better visualisations of the subsurface and helping them test out their hypotheses.

John Etgen, distinguished advisor seismic imaging with BP, said that ideally people should be doing more than just 'quality control' of what the machines do, because QC "is not so satisfying as an occupation." Computers should be presented to people in a way which maximises the brain bandwidth. "Do not underestimate the bandwidth of the human eye brain system," he said.

Total's SVP for E&P North Sea and Russia, Michael Borrell, (a powerful individual when you consider Total recently acquired Maersk Oil), said that Total recently undertook a "data analytics value exercise" called Dave (Dave is also the name of one of the asset managers involved). It found that there was a fast payback in using analytics on predicting "cyclic wells".

Repsol's director of geoscience and digitalisation, Francisco Ortigosa, quoted figures saying that a computer can diagnose cancer with 30 per cent accuracy, the best oncologist, 70 per cent, but put them together and get 90 per cent accuracy, and we could expect to see something similar in geoscience, "empowering people with machines".

Employees of (smaller) IT companies will be thrilled to hear John Etgen say that big oil companies should be careful about only working with big IT companies. "There are things they have knowledge and capability in and have a track record," he said. "But if you only look at big companies you are going to miss stuff. There's a whole ecosystem (of IT companies) out there.

The full 2.5 hour session can be viewed free on YouTube here.

Or you can wait for a shorter report in the next Digital Energy Journal.

Karl Jeffery

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