You are Home   »   News   »   View Article

Oil and Gas IM - a long way from maturity

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Whilst oil and gas information technology is getting quite mature, information management is at very early stages of development, reckons Neale Stidolph of AMOR Group. Do you know anyone who likes their IM system?

He was speaking at the Digital Energy Journal Aberdeen conference in May 2013, ''improving IT and IM infrastructure decisions''.

Information management, the discipline of keeping this information well managed, is still in an early stage of development, Mr Stidolph believes,when you compare it to the IT business, where computer hardware is becoming a commodity, and there are no great advancements happening in (for example) IT helpdesks.

Most companies have a standardised way of doing IT, but IM is often set up on a project by project basis, for example when one project team develops its own way of exchanging data with vendors.

Companies are not even sure where IM should sit in the organization - some companies put it under Health, Safety, Environment and Quality (HSEQ), others put it in the business improvement or IT department, he said.

IM is very different to IT because it calls for an understanding of what the company is trying to do with the information, what it needs and whether certain information can be trusted, he said.

There is a growing demand for IM managers, and salaries are increasing too. ''The pool of these people is relatively small there is not a lot of new ones coming in,'' he said. ''The demands for the projects are huge.''

One of the biggest drivers for information management projects is the growing threat of criminal action.

''I talk to operation directors, project managers and managing directors because they are worried about what they have to sign off, and whether they can trust it or not. If things go bad everything points to them. So some of these boring sounding IM projects, which have not moved in years, are moving really fast.''


One thing we can nearly all agree on is that our information management systems aren''t good enough.
''People are waking up to the fact that we can be lot more effective and efficient,'' he says.

''Wherever I go, people say ''the [IM] system we have is rubbish''. [but] it can''t be the case with everybody, because usually people are about to move on to system of someone else, which someone else just said is rubbish.''

It can''t only be the systems. Probably it''s the information in them, and the way people are working on them that is at fault,'' he said.

Information technology people like to buy something, turn it on and let people use it, and then they wonder why it doesn''t work as planned. ''Changing people''s behavior is very difficult, especially when you are talking about engineers, they like a certain way of doing things,'' he said.

Many IM systems are too complicated. ''Don''t show people hundreds of fields when they only want to see half a dozen,'' he said. ''What we [often] find is you need some sort of translation in there to give people information the way they want to handle it.

Many people are installing ''enterprise search'', where you have a tool which can search all company documents like Google does. Enterprise search is ''technically easy to do'', he said. ''The problems tend to arise when you are not sure who gets to see what.''

Company information might include disciplinary records, salary information and health information, which all needs to be kept confidential.

A good IM system

A good IM system will enable people to find the information they need and do what they need to do with it. There are systems for how information is managed and labelled, and people comply with the system.

The system can manage the flow of different types of information around the company -
engineering data, geoscience data, legal contracts and corporate information.

It can also handle the way information is used through the lifetime of an asset, from design, commissioning, operations, acquisistions, divestments, modification and decommissioning.

The information management system needs to manage the version control, so you don''t get lots of different versions of the same document being e-mailed around, and people aren''t keeping out of date versions of a document because they don''t want to walk to the control room to get the most recent one.

The IM system also needs to work with data, rather than documents. ''Contractors tend to just give you nice PDF drawings and say there we go,'' he said. ''It be nice if they gave Auto CAD drawings that you can modify, or even better, get the data itself.''

Business reasons for IM

One company needed to find a seismic survey from many years ago. It was eventually found in a cardboard box under a desk. It would have cost £10m to reproduce the survey.

One company said that it could not find the certificate for a piece of subsea equipment and risked having to raise a piece of subsea equipment off the seabed and re-certify it if it could not find it.

Another company received a letter from DECC saying we don''t believe we have given you permission to abandon the well, can you provide the note we sent you giving you authorization. The company said it had lost the note, and asked DECC to resend it, and DECC said, no we don''t keep them, you need to produce it because it is your liability.

Another company had just done an acquisition and ended up with 2000 boxes of documents with no records of what was in them. They have to find someone to go through every box and work out what is in it, if it needs to be kept, and which version of the documents it is, an enormous amount of work.

Sorting through a million documents manually could take one person a decade; but it is hard to sort documents automatically, with many of them very old and hand drawn. Doing it with an offshore agency can also be fraught with problems, he said.

One operator operator in Aberdeen currently has 210 terabytes of data in shared folders, Mr Stidolph said. ''The company says, it''s all there, its secure, we know how to handle it, but we don''t actually know what it is, who owns it or what we do with it,'' Mr Stidolph said.

Engineers can spend 25 per cent of their time searching for information. ''If you have 80 engineers and 25 per cent of them are idle, that''s costing them three, four, five million pounds a year.''

Companies have to manage data when assets are bought and sold. ''I''ve got a client with a million documents from an acquisition,'' he said. ''Some of them will be canteen menus from five years ago, some of them will be vital P&IDs or cause and effect diagrams.''

''If you want to be able decommission you need to be in control of information,'' he said. ''If you don''t know how things are built, they can''t be easily taken apart, not without going out and re draw and built everything from scratch again, which you can do but will cost lots of millions.''

Another problem is disposal of information. ''Getting rid of electronic information is very difficult it has incredible persistence,'' he said. ''How can you find every copy of an e-mail in your archives and kill it for sure? If you get involved in an incident in you are obliged to legally disclose''''.


In the Flixborough disaster (UK, June 1974) which killed 28 people and injured 36, a temporary bypass pipe had ruptured. The bypass pipe had not been pressure tested and had been built by staff who were not experienced in high pressure pipework. There were no plans or calculations.

The oil and gas industry also has a lot of equipment built in the 70s still in operation, he said.

There was another fatal incident in 1998, where company had a system with a 3 stage separation, with the first separator built to hold 95 bar, the second to hold 35 bar and the last was not a pressure vessel at all and had no pressure release valve,, but this was not widely known because there had been no drawings. If the valves were configured to send the high pressure stream through the third separator here would be an explosion.

In another example, a pipeline had a let down valve (to release pressure), a safety relief valve and a check (one-way) valve to stop pressure going back up the system. Unfortunately the check valve was hidden behind the installation and people forgot it was there. At some point in the future, there was a blockage downstream, which meant that pressure backed up the pipeline and hit the check valve, and there was no pressure release. ''Bits fly everywhere and it''s not pretty,'' he said.

A further example was a system which had a unit with a 5.5 bar supply of nitrogen. It needs a downstream pressure of above 2 bar to make sure the gas flows through the system. Someone added an additional gas processing unit which meant that the outlet pressure would fall below 2 bar. Subsequently the downstream gas was sucked upwards, which meant that the unit contained the wrong gas and there was an explosion.

Moving outside the oil and gas industry, the Mars Climate Orbiter disintegrated due to poor information management in 1999. As it approached Mars, the ground based computer software was producing output in pound seconds, instead of Newton seconds. ''If NASA can make this mistake, then so can the oil and gas industry, he said.

AMOR Group

To help train a new league of information managers, Amor Group formed a partnership with Robert Gordon University of Aberdeen to build a foundation course in oil and gas document control.

In the first course a year ago there were 30 people - subsequent courses had 60 then 80 people, and one starting in May 2013 had 1114. ''This is the fastest growing, most successful launch of a new course in RGU business school history''.

It is a distance learning course, with 40 hours of training, costing £400. It has students in Australia, Norway, Nigeria and the US.

There are also company IT managers going on it, to learn about the different documents and what they mean, for example piping and instrumentation diagrams (P&ID).

Next year it will start a project document control course, covering subsurface documents, topside models and green field data, 7 different categories of information altogether.

AMOR Group has created a forum for Aberdeen operators to try to develop standard ways to do information management, which has been running for 3 years. Operators are able to compare their progress with others.

AMOR can provide members of staff on loan for a period of time, or it can completely take over your company''s information management - it has done this for Total in Aberdeen, with 30 IM staff on site, and it has taken over IM for Britannia Operator. It also has teams embedded in Centrica and Maersk Oil.

Dr Laura Muir from Robert Gordon University will be joining joined Amor group in August on secondment for a year to help with the development of the new foundation course.

AMOR Group does information management in energy, transport and public services, air traffic control and aviation, including managing information in 46 Norwegian airports.No index entries found.

It has 600 staff, and revenues of £60m, expected to grow to £250m in the next 3 years. It has offices in Dubai and Houston.

Associated Companies
» Amor Group
comments powered by Disqus


To attend our free events, receive our newsletter, and receive the free colour Digital Energy Journal.


Latest Edition Jul-Aug 2022
Aug 2022

Download latest and back issues


Learn more about supporting Digital Energy Journal