LIFE 2017: Data-sharing necessary to realize true value of E&P industry’s ‘digital twin’

By Alex Endress, News Editor, World Oil on 8/23/2017

HOUSTON -- Though the foundation of the E&P industry is to find and produce oil and natural gas, the most valuable resource in today’s oil business may now be the data that companies collect in the midst of hydrocarbon extraction, as postulated today at Halliburton’s Landmark Innovation Forum and Expo in Houston.

If major players can learn to share their troves of data for the benefit of the entire industry, then the big problems that have always plagued oil companies can be solved, according to a talk given by Trond Ellefsen, Statoil’s special advisor for digital transformation and strategy. Such problems could include avoiding downtime due to equipment failure, drilling wells in a safer manner to avoid blowouts, and designing wells in the right geologies to avoid dry holes. “We cannot continue looking at drilling, completion and production in isolation,” he said, noting that 99% of data collected by the industry is lost or, not used, because of disconnected silos that don’t communicate. Companies should be capitalizing on this data to create, test and build digital versions—or ‘digital twins’—of new equipment and new well designs, he suggested.

“The digital twin essentially creates the physical reality and the physical assets and puts them together in a form that is (digitally) accessible,” said Nagaraj Srinivasan – senior V.P. of Landmark and Halliburton Digital Solutions. The digital twin can be used to automate processes and operations from real-life scenarios using historical data. As announced yesterday at the conference, Halliburton is now partnering with Microsoft, connecting the computing power of the Azure platform to its physical sensors and digitally-connected equipment, and presumably, creating digital twins. Such collaboration is allowing operators to automate seismic-imaging calculations from prior experiences, to navigate around fault lines in a matter of seconds, rather than months, according to Halliburton. In a drilling scenario, a physical rig can also be connected with its own digital twin, complete with digital versions of equipment like the bottomhole assembly, allowing the rig to autonomously course-correct the well path and adjust to dangerous pressure levels, the company said.

Of course, the value in all of this data lies in how well it is connected and synthesized, Ellefsen said. Whether there are hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of well operations that are connected, it makes a difference. He compared the oil and gas industry’s digital transformation to possibilities in the medical industry. “It’s like a pacemaker. If you have the data from only one pacemaker, it really doesn’t matter, but if you have a million of them, then the data stream that is connected from all of these devices is the benefit for everyone,” he said.

Statoil is already working on the types of massive data sharing initiatives that Ellefsen references. The company is a founding member of the OpenEarth Community, which was formally launched last year at the 2016 Landmark conference in Houston, and is a network of oil and gas companies that was formed to collaborate on digital innovation. The network’s founding members also include Devon, Anadarko, CGG, Shell, Halliburton, RedHat and Dell EMC.

However, Ellefsen urges others to participate. He argues that the impediment to the industry’s realization of possible benefits from digital capabilities is no longer a matter of technological limitations. It is a matter of understanding the value, and then taking the necessary steps to collaborate and change, he said. “The digital transformational journey that you as businesses will go through over the next few years is about leadership… so we need to open our minds to what is possible.”

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