April 2019

Executive viewpoint

Searching for answers: Are oil and gas technologies truly integrated?
Jim Lenton / Worley Parsons

Most of the time, I view the oil and gas supply chain from the engineering contractor point-of-view, as this is my home turf. But, it is important, if not essential, for us all to take in a much wider perspective. At a time when unprecedented change is happening in our industry, no one organization knows all the answers.

It’s encouraging that good business leaders are onboard with today’s practices of standardization, collaboration and technological advancement, to produce oil and gas more responsibly, and with greater efficiency. We have borrowed techniques and tools from adjacent sectors, such as manufacturing, and adapted our approach across the entire lifecycle, with mixed success.

However, are we truly using “integrated technologies” in oil and gas? This term can be defined as the seamless connection through digital means that are used to drive positive outcomes. There has been a tendency toward creating bespoke technologies to find the next breakthrough and gain competitive advantage. This has caused issues, with the result that standardization is still relatively fledgling.

As an engineer, I’m aware that the industry has seen a vast range of individual solutions put on the table. We always find ways of joining them together to create an answer.

Real value comes when we use that wider perspective. Instead of retrofitting the integration of technologies, we can create a concept for an end goal and work toward it, with the manufacture of many in mind.

This is what we see when an aircraft is designed. Despite ideas development involving hundreds of designers and suppliers over a defined timeframe, a repeatable, cost-viable product is created. In oil and gas, we are not building airplanes, but we are, no doubt, guilty of losing benefit from what we have done before.

Making integration work. Oil and gas has shown real impetus in integrating digital solutions into operations, to optimize data and make the most effective real-time decisions. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning came into our industry around 2010. At the time, cleaning up data sets enough to allow AI capabilities to function was an issue. The way data were collated and stored was typically not standardized, with every department or company using their own systems. Now, systems can interact and deal with broader forms of information; that’s quite intelligent. This allows companies to decide on a single source of truth in their data, and use this to enhance accuracy and create efficiency.

There are operators that have captured the most from technology integration. Worley Parsons works with a large IOC that has an operations center integrated into their offices. This center captures real-time operational information, and uses it to optimize offshore operations, before problems happen. Logistics are managed through an integrated team with real-time vessel and aircraft data, and video capture. A control room has been established that manages permitting and has access to the latest asset digital information through touchscreen technology. Onshore operation is a realistic prospect in the future. This is like Star Trek, but it’s here now!

We are now able to test concept hardware in software systems. This removes huge cost and time pressures, as it allows planned changes to be de-risked to a certain extent. A good software system can mirror the oil and gas asset or process, incorporating new developments. We’ve seen control rooms tested before they are ever built, building confidence and allowing operators to experience full functionality. Operators and service companies have shown they are open to connected technology.

Alternative future. We’re picking up the pace in the adoption and creation of integrated technologies. All businesses want to see efficient, predictable operations. If you have a picture of what is going to happen tomorrow, or in the next hour, you can make better decisions. I think that’s the game-changer. This is about meeting promises.

Integration of technologies will be a major theme at this year’s SPE Offshore Europe, which is taking place in Aberdeen, UK, Sept. 3-6, 2019. This will bring together thousands of technical, business and industry professionals under one roof in the new TECA (The Event Complex Aberdeen) facility. I will be co-chairing the Integrated Technologies keynote program session with Colette Cohen, CEO of the OGTC.

There are ways to reduce costs, improve production, or increase safety, and, in some cases, you can do all three. This will be explored and shared at the event. Most of the time, technologies have to be put into a good business case for leaders to properly understand their value. Leaders must be visionary, forward-looking and communicate their messages throughout their workforces and the industry. Staff have to be onboard with change and should be rewarded for trying something that’s going to push the business in a new direction.

Over the next few years, we’re going to see a much greater uptake of integrated technologies, because we’ll be able to combine data systems much more easily than we can today. The challenge will be when “disconnects” occur in the data. This is what we need to fix by increasingly standardizing how we work.

The risk isn’t on the technology or the data, the biggest challenge is the behavioral change in the way that we work. Individuals and companies are embracing digitalization and integration, and there is a broad understanding that data capture and analytics can drive better outcomes in our operations, but more can, and should, be done to remain sustainable. WO

About the Authors
Jim Lenton
Worley Parsons
Jim Lenton has a background in chemical and process engineering, and has built his career in oil and gas globally over 25 years. He is a Fellow of the IChemE, and a previous IChemE UK Board member and co-chair of ECITB’s Offshore Project Management Steering Group. He recently moved to Houston, where he runs the global integrated solutions business for WorleyParsons.
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