In the pipeline: 6 technologies transforming the oil and gas industry

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The oil and gas industry is shedding its yesteryear image and becoming a major adopter of IoT, data analytics and other digital technologies. As technologies to exploit previously unrecoverable assets mature, companies are also exploring ways to make their businesses more efficient and effective, too.

Oil and gas companies are adopting digital technologies at an increasing pace because they help streamline operations by making new resources more economical to recover while improving existing processes.

Successes to date with operational digitization are improving margins, optimizing worker safety and ensuring regulatory compliance in a dynamic marketplace. But what promise do the technologies of the future hold?

Quantum computing, blockchain, augmented reality…we're starting to see them pop up in other vertical sectors, but how will they help build positive outcomes in the digital oil and gas field?

Main drivers for IoT in the oil and gas industry

The fastest "find": edge computing

IoT is one of the two most important technological developments in oil and gas in the last few decades: being able to granularly monitor people, equipment, vehicles and machinery is essential to optimizing operations and is ushering in cost-saving automation, too. The second is data analytics: collecting, aggregating and analyzing data from IoT devices goes hand in hand.

But the newest development here is edge computing, which takes analytic power right to the edge of the network out in the field, where the data itself is being collected. The advantage is that when applied to detecting – or even predicting – anomalies, edge computing will "find and communicate" the issue in near real-time versus waiting for the data to be sent to the cloud or on-premise before it can be analyzed.

Digital technologies can help oil and gas

Troubleshooting from the sky

Drones are being flown by some early-adopter companies to proactively spot leaks in pipelines or be first-on-the-scene when there's an incident - eyes-in-the-sky for on-the-spot emergencies where leakage, pollution or worker safety are risks. Not only can weaknesses in the delivery chain be visualized – without the expense of sending maintenance crews out to diagnose them – but crews can use drone footage to ensure they're properly equipped to handle the exact issue before they arrive to fix it. This can save millions of dollars and make inspections far safer than before.

Constructing digital models

When used in conjunction with data analysis, digital modeling helps "predict the future" by constructing a virtual picture of field operations and using data points to assess what the likely outcome of a specific activity may be.

For example, video footage can be used to spot potential safety issues in drilling before the drill spins, using artificial intelligence to "spot" where a mistake may be made based on visual markers from previous video footage. Or, 3D digital models can be developed to visualize a new energy resource that is undeveloped and therefore under exploration. The model uses data from similar sites that have already been exploited in order to predict likely outcomes and focus effort where it's needed most for new ones.

Augmented reality

Augmented Reality (AR) has broken out of the "blue sky" consumer sector and is becoming an ideal work companion for field workers. This enables workers to visualize the job ahead of them, "see" inside equipment, streamline tasks to meet best practice, and help with troubleshooting guidance in novel situations.

AR will have concrete benefits, because it can reduce the risk of worker injury, quicken the time to successfully troubleshoot an issue, and also help teach proper procedure in the field as workers learn complex manual operations.

Blockchain

Blockchain is growing in popularity as the distributed digital ledger of choice for many vertical sectors, but its inherent data security is about to be applied in the energy industry to several different solutions.

For example, the combination of plant processing equipment, pipeline sensors and blockchain can be used to revolutionize invoicing for product: the sensors gather the data on production volumes, and blockchain is used to record, track and execute contracts, meanwhile detecting fraud instances. As soon as sensors alert the fulfillment of contract terms and a contractually agreed amount has been produced, the system executes payment.

Or, when it comes to trading energy commodities, blockchain is there, too: the amount of time spent reconciling price and volume differences among trade participants can be reduced by making the same data available to all parties at the same time.

Quantum computing

Quantum computing will be a big deal for the oil and gas industry as almost anywhere else: it promises to not just improve today's classic computing performance, but blow it away, enabling computational speeds up to 100 million times faster.

The ramifications for, say, the average oil rig where there are 30,000 sensors generating about 1.5 Terabits of data per day, are huge. Current computing is only able to analyze about one percent of that information, potentially leaving assets in the ground and the rig effectively blind to building a big data picture that could revolutionize asset recovery, worker safety and the ongoing improvement to become more efficient.

The oil and gas industry is embarking on digital transformation to exploit new onshore and offshore oil and gas assets, paving the way to streamlining existing extraction, refining and distribution operations. Find out how new data, technologies and processes can help you navigate the volatile economics of the oil and gas industry as it undergoes this change.