Levels of Automation in Oil and Gas

One of the aspects of the 4th Industrial Revolution [LINK] is automation.

I am often asked if automation could ever add value to oil and gas? I contend that there is a good reason to think it will because benefits could come from:

  • accurate control and adjustment leading to higher throughput;
  • self-repairing (or self-scheduled repair) leading to higher uptime;
  • more accurate execution of plans by reducing manual error; and
  • less distracted management leading to higher-value decisions;

Many people are sceptical that we can ever “automate” an upstream oil and gas production facility.  I agree that “full” automation is unlikely, but I would argue that partial automation is already present. What we need then is a way to describe “levels of automation” so we can define what we are talking about and reach agreement about what to do.

Autonomous cars are in the news for good reason right now, and are making great progress. Perhaps we can create a common language for “level of automation”. The SAE introduces itself as:

SAE International is a global association of more than 128,000 engineers and related technical experts in the aerospace, automotive and commercial-vehicle industries

It has defined 5 levels of automation that has now been adopted by the US Department of Transport. Here’s an explanation from wired magazine [LINK].

What dimensions could be used to classify degrees of oil and gas production automation? My definition of the process of automating is: “Reducing the friction between sensing what is going on and taking the right action”. This can be used to underpin a maturity matrix.

If we can sense what’s happening, reduce the friction before acting to zero and be exactly right in the actions we take – then this achieves perfect automation. Of course this then leads to the need to define in more detail: sense, friction and right.

Some of the steps that can lead to more automation are:

  • Improved sensing of the environment;
  • Distribution of sensing data;
  • Transformation of data into information (e.g. production vs. target);
  • Exploring related information, history and context (e.g. maintenance records)
  • Understanding the consequences of the information presented (prediction);
  • Checking possible actions and their impact (simulation);
  • Delegating decisions to reduce management delay; and
  • Feeding back observed results to scientifically tune future predictions (learn)

Contact me for more information about how it is possible to incorporate the above into an assessment of your organisation’s automation maturity and readiness for change.






4th Wave Value – Upstream Oil and Gas

I’ve been engaged in several discussions recently on the benefits (or otherwise) of the 4th Industrial revolution [link] applied to oil and gas. I’ve decided to write a couple of pieces on this topic so I can refer to them with clients.

Technologies driving the revolution

I accept the WEF identification of the following general technologies that underpin the revolution:

  1. Wide-spread sensing of information
  2. Increased computing power, predictive models leading to increased understanding
  3. Artificial Intelligence leading to:
    1. Automation of actions
    2. Optimisation of whole systems
  4. Distributed, additive manufacturing

Benefits from the revolution

What will be the outcome of the 4th Industrial Revolution for upstream if we are successful?  Well there can only be three fundamental differences that can be made – I think we’ll get a combination of these:

  1. Per unit cost reduction in produced barrels
  2. Increased safety for the people involved in operations
  3. Decreased impact on the environment from activities

Items 2 & 3 tend to be driven on a compliance basis and form the requirements for permission to operate granted to companies by society using various methods of regulation, consumer pressure and protest. For my purposes I’ll assume that these are utilities [link] and that we always want more when there is no increase in cost, and that we’re unlikely to cut spending or trade down. Therefore, any cost-neutral improvement will be adopted and spending will only increase when it is mandated.

Driving down production costs

I am going to concentrate on the cost per unit production. This comes from the cost of capital used to find and develop a field, the cost to operate facilities, and provisions for decommissioning at end of life. As the owner-operator of an oil field there are distinct supply chains for each of four phases of life:

  1. Exploring, Finding and Appraising deposits of oil;
  2. Planning, Designing, Building and commissioning facilities to extract and transport it to market;
  3. Operating the facilities; and
  4. End of life decommissioning, facility disposal and restoration of the environment

Benefits for exploration

In the initial phase of oil field life I would say that we’ve already captured many of the benefits. Wide spread sensing and large computing power would be a great description of what happens with Seismic data, Geoscience earth-modelling and directional drilling.  I am sure that if I looked at the number of people employed and unit-cost of discovery of a deposit I would see a much more efficient scenario than we did in 1980. The figures are somewhat distorted on a cost-per-barrel basis as we have been finding smaller deposits (a feature of geology rather than our abilities).

Benefits for Development and Projects

In the field development phase, we have seen some ingress of new technologies – ROV, Subsea completions, dynamic positioning of FPSO’s and such has led to economically possible concepts for some small or hard-to-reach fields that we’ve found. Field and facility performance is more accurately understood through simulations and we’ve seen some benefits to designers from the use of CAD systems. There is still scope for development to reduce the cost and errors associated with Engineering, Procurement, Construction and Commissioning. There are few real-time feed-back loops here, or analysis of project simulations. The management of large capital projects is still a mine-field of risk, change orders, document control, cost-overruns and schedule blow-out. These are caused by fluctuations in the real-world vs. plan with late in-flight adjustments. More accurate planning, contingency, dependency management, construction order, logistics, pre-commissioning maintenance, start-up etc. would provide benefits.

Benefits for Operations

The revolution should be able to affect operational optimisation the most, this is an area almost untouched by the revolution so far. An OIM on a field from 1980 would recognise a lot of the technology (if not the work-practices) used today. The exception to this is the wide-scale adoption of communication meaning that the split between on-shore and off-shore is far less.

It is possible to argue that the 4th wave has enabled the shale revolution and that the operating practices from this type of development are fundamentally different to conventional offshore and on-shore fields. The operating margins are smaller, decline curves more dramatic and the constant drill-complete-operate cycle has forced change.

I may be controversial but I’d say a lot of the operational work-practice changes seen in the North Sea have majored on reducing manning offshore and increasing the safety of operations. I believe that, despite the vast increases in potential data, the fundamental way that information is gathered and acted upon has not changed much.

When I walk into a remote operations centre I see a lot of people collaborating with each other, lots of excel spreadsheets, cameras and discussion. Integrated planning and turn around planning are still being done off-line and I don’t see visibility of supply, logistics or automatic optimisation of these functions.

There is a conundrum here of course. The facilities that are in operation (and those still being commissioned) are not designed to harness 4th wave opportunities so we have (at least) two problems. Firstly we must retro-fit new concepts into facilities that will be with us for the next 30 years, and secondly we need to influence design and development so that this retro-fitting is no longer needed in the future.

Benefits for de-commissioning

It’s early days on the decommissioning front. I suspect that for operators the benefits will show up through normal procurement cycles. The smart profits are likely to accrue to those that can operate quickly and safely. Examples of clever automated technology are emerging – such as the self-levelling rams that lift whole top-sides fitted to the Pioneering Spirit [Link]

Next steps

With the current climate in Oil and Gas we’re seeing an increased interest in how to transform the operational environment and supply chain to drive out OPEX cost (development and exploration are of course now sunk [link)

Now I’ve set the context I’ll start to explore how an operator, or service company, can start to participate in these changes – what an operations business case will look like, what skills and approaches will be needed, what approaches are stopping innovation and what the risks are.

(Image source : http://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/cdfs-sed-2 )

You heard it here first folks…

I’m not normally known for left-leaning political judgement but – just in case you missed it the Scottish Government is being asked to consider a motion to fund public investment in the infrastructure of the North Sea.

“UK OIL would work with the Oil and Gas Authority to identify strategic assets that are potentially profitable. That would help to prevent platforms and pipelines being lost earlier than planned, and potentially help fund new ones for the future.

“We urgently need imaginative thinking like this now – otherwise the oil and gas sector could continue to decline due to lack of investment.”

Here’s the [link]

13 month’s ago this blog published an article which, amongst other points said:

To address this will require restructuring the way that the industry operates. If not outright nationalisation of parts of the network, this – at least – requires more control and probably limited subsidies. For goodness sake – we subsidise the tracks that our trains run on, I can’t see any argument for the creation of economic value there that does not apply to our North Sea processing and export network.

Here’s that [link]



Where’s the Delta?

On Sunday August 7th 2016 Delta airlines suffered an IT outage. Earlier in the summer SouthWest airlines suffered similar.

Delta cancelled at least 740 flights by Monday (I am sure there will be more) and Southwest cancelled 2,300 flights.  (Reference link , BBC link)

My calculation, at the bottom of the post, suggests that this cost DELTA at least 60 Million USD in lost capacity –  not counting the damage to the brand and additional costs associated with handling customer enquiries.

IT and the business are inseparable in the 4th industrial revolution. For many years there have been moves to outsource IT, drive down its cost and to make it standard and commoditised.  For utility IT this made sense. It was a cost of doing business. It was a necessary qualifier attribute but conveyed no competitive advantage.  If your copy of Microsoft Word was slightly faster than mine, it was unlikely that you’d capture more business or be able to charge more.

The outsourcing movement was used to drive this process, often awarding contracts to low-cost service centres in Eastern Europe or India.

In my view cloud based services – such as Microsoft 365 and Salesforce.com will become the norm for utility IT services and remove most of this responsibility from the IT department which will, as a consequence, go the way of the typing pool. In 25 years new entrants to the workforce will scratch their heads wondering what the point of the IT department was.

The world is, however, changing and changing rapidly. IT is becoming embedded into the core operational process of business. And executives that don’t understand IT will not succeed for long. Any company that perpetuates the phrase “IT and the Business” or any IT department that talks of “The Business” as if it were something separate from the IT function will go the way of the dinosaurs.

I don’t know if Delta outsourced its IT, or what the cause of the issue was. But it is clear that the situation was mismanaged before the outage (Reliability and resilience: no hot-backup, or hot disaster recovery ). This calls into question either the competence of those charged with planning operations or the business decision to not invest in technology and systems. Either way this is a failure of management to grasp the importance of IT in the primary operations of the business. Just because you don’t understand it doesn’t make it simple, or mean the problem can be ignored. Airlines are pretty good at maintaining aircraft, there are international standards for how it should be done and inspection audits making sure it is. Perhaps we need something similar for IT?

On this occasion it was a risk management failure where the loss of IT functionality impacted availability and utilisation of assets. My guess would be though that there are many areas where IT could be applied to the primary business to drive increases in efficiency and reliability. If management is unable to understand the business case or appoint competent management for IT resilience it is unlikely that they are exploring these more nuanced applications of IT.

The airline industry is not alone.

Put this into business context

In 2015 Delta operated an average of 5,400 flights per day, so about 15% of flights were grounded on Monday. Assuming that these planes were now in the wrong position some of them would have to reposition empty (let’s say 50%). Passengers rebooked who were scheduled to fly on a grounded flight (and Delta allowed all passengers to rebook any flight scheduled for Monday). Let’s say 30% of all Monday’s passengers (those on grounded flights and a similar number who took the precaution) took the place of fare paying passengers on later days.

Then we have a utilisation impact on aircraft of:

15% of one day capacity for cancellations

7.5% of one day capacity for repositioning

30% of one day capacity for rebooking.

52.5% of one-day’s capacity utilisation (in the height of busy season) was lost due to a systems outage.

Assuming 350 flying days this is then 0.525/350 = 0.15% capacity hit for this outage.

Last year’s revenue for Delta was 40Bln USD.

My “back of the envelope” calculation suggests that this systems outage cost DELTA $60Million USD in lost utilisation.

The brand has been impaired so future passenger numbers are likely to be lower than they would have been (at least for a while, especially as they could not even take bookings on Monday). Add to this the additional cost of media relations and customer complaint handling and we’re looking at a $100m problem.

Oh and if you are a European Union passenger you are entitled to 600 Euro’s in compensation too.

image credit Link

Innovation and productivity with 4th Industrial Revolution

This is a long post. There is a lot to understand on this topic and this is the primer you’ll need. Please do follow the links. It will take a while but it’ll be worth it.

There is much being discussed around the acceleration of technology and how exponential development in multiple areas is converging and how this will impact on industrial production. About time too really because productivity is failing to pick-up, interest rates at or below zero, cash being hoarded by companies and investment rates are low [link]. This exponential increase is actually not that new – Moore’s law’s been around since… well since Moore launched Intel, and it was a one-way flow before even Schottky was on the scene. These trends are not new and if you don’t believe me here’s a great talk from 11 years ago by Ray Kurzweil with lots of evidence and predictions [Link]. Even Bill Gates saw this in a book he published in 1999 called Business @ the Speed of Thought [link], though these days that speed would be seen as a little too slow.

In my opinion the Oil industry harnessed many of the aspects of this movement in upstream exploration during the 1990’s. It was an early adopter in the process of FINDING reserves. Then the process of adoption stopped. Productivity per geoscientist and the complexity of the information they deal with is orders of magnitude better than it was during the last oil-bust of 1986, so much so that we now have more fields and deposits than we know what to do with. We’re pretty good at finding the stuff. But we’re quite rubbish at developing and operating it at low cost – especially small deposits, which we are so good at spotting now. Development, Operations & Maintenance has ossified – contracts and work practices are stuck. From an operator approach, the production of hydrocarbons has barely moved since the early 90’s (FPSO concepts aside). In my opinion through outsourcing, procurement, short-termism and misalignment of incentives it has become positively petrified.

If the Fourth Industrial Revolution is really going to have an impact we’ll need to address development on four fronts: Economic, Social, Political, and Technical


If this is going to happen then it has got to make sense for the bottom line. That means productivity: outputs, inputs and the cost of technology. McKinsey, recently cited in Industries of the Future, by Alec Ross [Link], suggested that the manufacturing sector could raise productivity by 2.5% to 5% and save more than $1Trillion in cost annually.

In one example McKinsey says “To capture the potential, manufacturers can consider three moves. Primarily, companies can gather more information and make better use of it. An oil-exploration company collected more than 30,000 pieces of data from each of its drilling rigs—yet 99 percent of that data was lost due to problems of data transmission, storage, and architecture. The tiny trickle of data it did capture was incredibly useful for managers. But so much more can be done. The executives we surveyed said that correcting these data inefficiencies should improve productivity by about 25 percent. [Link]”

Of course some traditional economists think we’re doomed to no innovation and permanent low growth – such as Robert Gordon [Link]. There are many in the old-guard of Oil and Gas that would agree. Most of them have their secretaries print their emails out for them, and refuse to carry a smart phone. Good luck chaps, I think you’ll find the millennials don’t care what you think anymore. Others say differently [Link]

There are many big hitters with some very big numbers, they’re all pointing in the same direction. I’m backing the future, not the past. And I think that Industry 4.0 will feature in the future of Oil and Gas. There are challenges but the prize is big enough that we will overcome them.


The way that many of us work is going to have to change. Luckily the Millennials are already preparing for this shift with their search for meaningful work, emphasis on creativity and individuality; and understanding that they can blend their work and leisure time in ways that the crumbly generation see as slacking and entitled. Forbes have a top ten ways in which the work place will be influenced [Link] and Linda Grattan has her views here [Link]. For me it just seems an obvious way to work. But then I’ve never been very good at dealing with routine, structure and command-and-control. It’ll be interesting to see how we can blend the command-and-control requirements of operations with the caffeine fuelled micro-attention span of people even more “wired” than me.

We’re also seeing cyber-social developments such as the creative commons movement [Link] and open source projects like the Arduino [Link] all of which are fuelling exponential cross-fertilisation of ideas. We are witnessing the rise of the sharing economy [link] and temporary configurations of people who move about often. These are all challenging assumptions about ownership and permanence that are at odds with our current ownership-model for resources.


The Guardian in Nov 2015 reported that ” this revolution could leave up to 35% of all workers in the UK, and 47% of those in the US, at risk of being displaced by technology over the next 20 years, according to Oxford University research cited in the report, with job losses likely to be concentrated at the bottom of the income scale.” [link]

With modern communications and the ability to mobilise quickly we’ve already seen massive changes in the way the people (or, in Greek, demos) interact with conventional democratic systems and capitalism. This is very thoughtful piece by Yanis Varoufakis the recently deposed Greek finance minister [link]. Whether that’s the Arab spring, so-called ISIS, Brexit, the mass-migration of populations or the astonishing rise of Donald Trump, things are getting decidedly odd in traditional politics. There’s a lot of complaint and not a lot of traditional power that can be exercised in public anymore [link]. Just take a look at the mass-mobilisation of a Brazilian flash-mob to protest graft allegations levied against the establishment [link]

Cyber-politics is a whole new dimension. Whether cyber aggression is aimed at accessing private information, denying or altering the dissemination of information or compromising the physical integrity of machine-based systems the ability of people to alter the course of events through “hacking” has never been so great. China has its infamous PLA unit 61398 [Link] one of over 20 cyber-military units it controls, North Korea doesn’t like Sony much as the 2014 hack showed [Link], Iran might be the land of the rising Shamoon that hit Aramco [Link], Ukraine has got on the wrong side of Russian Hackers who shut off their power grid [Link], and who knows who might have written Stuxnet that took out the Iranian centrifuges while telling the control room all was normal [Link]? Now the actors are not only nation-states, but also corporations and little boys alone in their bedrooms [link]

We have the Geneva convention that is supposed to stop states shooting the red cross, bombing civilians, gassing troops and firing mercury-filled dumb-dumbs. We have the international court in The Hague (funded by Andrew Carnegie incidentally [link]) that prosecutes war criminals. I’m not sure who I should call if North Korea invades my X-Box or steals my Bitcoins. And if you are a corporation with cross-border operations you don’t either.


There are a number of technologies that are developing exponentially at the moment and they’re feeding into changed ways-of-working that will bring about the fourth industrial revolution. Ultimately this will help you plan to build better plant and it will help you operate what you have better. Optimising operations is a sense-and-respond problem. Prepare for the future, know what’s going on right now and do things to make it better. Technology that helps falls into four areas that increase:

  • learning about what’s possible;
  • what’s going on right now and situational awareness;
  • knowledge of interdependence, decision options and consequence; and
  • ability to execute quickly and accurately

Increased learning about what is possible

Big data has gained traction in the last decade. Grab lots of data from everywhere, apply some Bayesian stats, set a base-level and determine the probability of correlation. Works really well when you buy a book from Amazon and it suggests that you might want to buy some reading glasses to go with it. Works pretty well in finding potential hidden relationships and developing predictive algorithms for equipment failure too [link] [link]

Like a lot of developments, this area is moving fast. How do you know what’s even possible these days? It’s so hard to keep up. Data overload, over-stimulation, who even has time to read this stuff?

I remember Schlumberger creating an amazing “portal” called the hub [link], Other companies did similar [link]. Initiatives were started to capture the learnings from each employee and make them available to all other employees. I even heard a talk once describing the use of retiree mentors to help existing employees [link]. People were planning for “The Big Crew Change” when the aging workers retire and new low people come on board [link]. This all tied into concepts like “Hive Minds” which were popular in the 90’s [link].

Well “The Big Crew Change” became the “The Big Layoff” when oil prices crashed in 2014. All that experience and knowledge was not on the balance sheet but was on the P&L. So it was fired without financial impairment and write-off. But the fundamental problem remained, and probably got worse. So much to know, so much to learn and no time to do it. Welcome to one of the drivers that will build demand for machine learning.

Machines can analyse masses of information much quicker than humans can. Up until recently, however, doing that in context and to derive meaning from them has been hard. Development has been showcased by game-playing computers such as Deep Blue for Chess [link], then Watson for Jeopardy [link], and most recently a Google built machine – AlphaGo for GO [Link].

Combine learning algorithms with connected systems, however, and things get really interesting. Learning requires teaching. Unlike programming in Fortran, learning machines construct their own programs by being taught and from the situations they encounter. Distributed and cloud-connected learning is exponential, one machine learns something somewhere and every other machine knows it. Forever. Perhaps we should blow the dust off those long-forgotten “portal” promises around knowledge bases, institutional learning and corporate memory?

Here is a great TED Talk on machine learning [link]. Of course it doesn’t always go well as Microsoft found out with it’s recent “Hitler loving Sex-Robot” [link]

What’s going on right now and situational awareness

Machines that learn what matters and suggest how to respond can eliminate operator overload by removing the trivial and hiding noise. Automated actions can be taken to keep things running. I recently heard an analogy about the difference between the information received by a pilot of a typhoon (arguably the worlds most advanced fighting machine) and a world-war 2 Spitfire. The Spitfire pilot had dials telling him the airspeed, engine speed etc. All just data. The Typhoon pilot, however, could not possibly cope with all the data available. So this data is assembled to show him only what he needs to know in the current situation and that depends on context.

Paul Smith, former UK RAF Pilot says “Bring all these [sensor and interpretation] elements together and it becomes clear why we talk about Eurofighter Typhoon operators having the ‘Combat Edge’ – the situational awareness and a suite of flexible weapons options that offer pilots a real advantage in the battlespace.” [Link]

Building on this, if the aircraft systems detect a heat-seeking missile closing, it launches flares automatically and tells the pilot afterwards – no point in raising an alarm and waiting! Same for the oil and gas sector, why do automatic fault development detection systems write a report and wait. Why don’t they just order the parts, consolidate shipments and schedule engineers for the next maintenance activity? It’s a small example but Amazon is already letting washing machines re-order soap powder [link], Imagine what Amazon-like logistics would do for the Oil and Gas industry.

In order to know what’s going on right now requires a lot of sensors talking to each other and reporting back. Too much detail for a human system to ever cope with properly. The data needs to be reporting to systems that learn what’s important, what actions it should take and how it should present its findings to its operators. The system needs to learn how to behave. These systems need to be aware of the situation and act accordingly. Cloud computing is also an important vector this mix, where systems are connected to each other through internet, and keep each other in synch sharing learning and preparing information so that it can be shared widely, securely and scalably. Google are letting developers play with their learning platform [link]. This is an area where we will see rapid innovation that Oil and Gas can benefit from.

Of course there are some very boring building blocks that will be needed. Connecting systems together will of course require a lot of plumbing – don’t underestimate the size of this problem, here is an example of the type of architecture you might need [link]. Companies like Eigen (www.eigen.co), Tibco (www.tibco.co.uk), BEA (www.bea.com) are active in this area. And it’s important that we really know that our data is correct – as in this case when a demolition crew targeted the wrong house and blamed it on google maps [Link]. So companies like datum360 (www.datum360.com) and Informatica (link).

Decision making & Interdependence

Knowing what’s going on is great, but what do you need to do to make your situation better? That’s the question that quickly arises once teams get sight of data and information in context. Firstly it’s important to know what the options could be – but also how choices in one system effect another.

Simulation is one of the keys to understanding the consequences of decisions – that’s why chess computers work out 100’s of moves ahead and choose the best one to use now. To simulate the decisions on a plant requires a digital model of the plant and its behaviour against which to run tests. The digital model is sometimes called a “Digital Twin” and this allows you to make a change or react to a fault condition and see what the knock-on consequences of selected actions will be in the future. This can be used to test options and optimise outcomes. Hit the model with a series of possible actions in an automated way and it’s possible to uncover the best sequence of actions and back-calculate why, rather than the normal forward progression. It’s very powerful – here are some articles discussing simulation of plant [link]

Integrated planning enables you to make a decision about sequencing events in such a way as to minimise down-time by running jobs in parallel within real-world constraints. This might mean being prepared and ready-to-act when an opportunity unexpectedly arises. Understanding system-wide effects is the key to getting this right, and with more complex interconnected systems with cross-ownership (like present in the UK sector of the North Sea) it not easy – and the owner stakes in oil fields can lead to misalignment of financial interests. Bain has a good article on integrated planning [link].

So far it seems that human + machine combination provides the best mix for solving problems. The creativity of the human is key and augmented decision making with rapid feed-back loops from simulation enables optimisation of decisions. From the first simple spreadsheets that appeared in business the testing of “what-if” scenarios has meant that we have been able to tune procedures across many areas of operations. The combination is not a new concept, here is a very relevant paper from Carnegie Mellon 1998 [link]

Increased speed and accuracy of execution

One of the issues that I’ve come across is the “precision” approach of some operators in the field. The best plans are of no use if they are not executed properly, if parts aren’t damaged and if the wrong parts were not fitted. It happens. Sometimes, of course, the instructions make no sense and the field have to modify them to make them work. That modification of instruction is rarely fed back into the system so little learning takes place. Sometimes the plant is updated and records not updated. All this leads to mismatch between what is recorded and what the plant operators “know”.

Sometimes the physical effort required to perform an inspection means that it cannot be done as often as you’d like, or perhaps is skipped by a crew unwilling or unable to schedule. Autonomous vehicles are in use for inspection activities firstly replacing deep divers and latterly, as costs have gone down they are found in inspections roles as Drones taking cameras into inaccessible places. Perhaps it won’t be long until we have small UAV’s mapping plant and equipment in huge detail. Here is a TED talk that demonstrates what’s already possible [link]

On-site machining of parts may soon be replaced by on-site manufacturing. Additive manufacturing (a broader term than 3D printing) is finding its way not only into printing of small intricate parts but emerging are the start of large-scale construction. It’s not there yet, but imagine what this would mean for logistics or construction in hostile environments. Here is an example of a team in Amsterdam who are in the process of printing a Steel bridge over a canal. That could change some of our approaches to Maintenance and Modification one day. [link]

And, of course, there will always be people involved. But multi-skilled and informed. Augmented reality displays – identifying parts, performing on-the-fly risk assessments and acting as advisors. This will change the way that operators will be able to apply basic skills augmented with real-time instruction and feedback. Meron Gribetz demonstrates here a virtual reality system that could revolutionise the on-shore-off-shore interface, as well as providing just-in-time information. Here is his TED talk [link]

And if you don’t think a Robot can replace people on platforms – have a look at this [link]



ITF Aberdeen: Oil 2.5 vs. Industry 4.0

I was at the ITF Showcase in Aberdeen last week. It was an interesting event, if mildly concerning in some ways. Here is the link to the presentations [Link]. The encouraging notes were that there appeared to be some money being made available and that the industry had focussed on key themes around the MER UK forum [link]. Less encouragingly for me is the speed, energy and sense of urgency that was lacking.

I noted that the room consisted of 90% men (often in grey suits) and I reckon 75% were older than 50. So where are all the young people?

I have always been impressed with the approach of Colette Cohen [Link] from Centrica, a strong proponent of adopting technologies from other industries. Despite being a fully-fledged, dyed-in-the-wool oil and gas executive she retains an energy of purpose, nurturing of young people and a curiosity needed to drive innovation. She was on fine form and provided a welcome boost to the enthusiasm of the room while being the voice of reason when asked why wire-guided rockets couldn’t be tested on Centrica wells. Can we have more pioneers like her please?

I am based in London and the innovation and technology events I attend (and the informal networks I am part of here) feel very different. There is an energy and drive in the FinTech and internet sector that appears missing in Oil. Also when I go to events I find plenty of trendy young people brimming with ideas, and there are plenty of women there too (still not 50% but still way better than last week by a country mile). Diversity will be important for innovation. To be successful we must learn to harness the view-points that come from all sorts of diversity: racial, sexual, age, experience, industry, education – and find ways to encourage and shape ideas.

My next post is going to cover some thoughts on innovation, the fourth industrial revolution and what will drive productivity in the next 20 years. But suffice to say it will rely on data and automation, but many speakers [I’ll name no names] took great pleasure in informing the audience that they didn’t believe in the cloud and that they had piles of paper on their desk. When describing new tech there were plenty of references to “if you don’t understand this tech, then ask your kids”. It reminds me of ancient bankers who use fountain pens and a paper diary. It’s not cool it’s deliberately Luddite and crusty and an attitude that will kill our industry. Perhaps it’s time to get with the program or step aside.

One thing that stood out was the problem of accessing markets and testing new product. In my experience operators are generally not too interested in experimenting with new tech, and often their operating philosophy revolves around large frame contracts which means that they don’t really control access to the supply chain. The consolidation of suppliers, the integrated nature of their offerings and the point-nature of new technology development does appear to lead lock-outs and stifle innovation.

The Graph above is from Colette’s presentation. It’s an SPE graph, it shows that Oil and Gas has been great on innovation in the past, and we haven’t had a breakthrough for a while. What strikes me is that since 1946 all the innovation has been in finding or developing fields. My money is on operations and maintenance to join the party. And that will be driven by what the cool kids call “Industry 4.0” [link].


Headline image Link

Energy security and geopolitics

This big topic was brought to mind during a recent breakfast with Capt. Mike Paterson (Royal Navy retired). In the oil and gas industry we are often at the mercy of large political forces playing out. This shows up in both commodity prices and physical security. Employees of few other businesses are as acutely aware of this as they are in Oil and Gas.

You don’t need me to tell you the current oil price nor the speculate about the reasons, but it is clear that there are national interests at play. Is Saudi Arabia waging a price-war to drive unconventional sources of production out of business? Is there some form of cross-state agreement to undermine the Russian position? Are there ulterior motives for allowing Iran back into the market? What will be the effect on South America and African politics? What will the destabilisation of Iraq and the Levant states mean?

Here is interesting view: CNBC saudi’s and Russians game of bluff.


While it is interesting to ruminate on what the price will be, there is really nothing that I (and probably you) can do about it, and predicting which factors will combine with global economic growth and low-carbon technologies to influence Oil prices is something I’m not qualified to talk about. When I need to find an opinion my first port of call is my friend Delia Morris who is now with RigZone.

There were many theories around why OPEC (namely Saudi Arabia) would [refuse to cut production]. I am of the opinion that it was to make better sense/better predict the behavior of the US shale players (force them to consolidate, not necessarily to put them out of business). Frontier plays (like the Arctic and ultra-deepwater plays) and Canadian oil sands (which require huge upfront capital costs) I think were targets (by OPEC) to forcibly put them out of business. And we are seeing that play out now. Delia Morris quoted in Vice.Com [Link]


When Mike Paterson gave a talk on security at one of last year’s networking dinners, he provided a simple framework that every business can use to structure their thinking about emerging threats.

Where this really matters is for security of workers and assets within countries. That’s where the Oil and Gas industry and national security agencies start to align interests. There is are very intriguing analysis sets available from the military which provides many insights, this for instance:

The Baltic Sea is one of the busiest shipping areas in the world; the volume of maritime transportation navigating it has doubled in the last 20 years. Energy shipments from Russia are particularly important and the entrance to the Sea, through the Danish Straits, is one of the world’s eight strategic oil transit chokepoints. The Nord Stream gas undersea pipelines from Russia to Germany are also an important strategic element in the BSR. Energy dependencies within the BSR vary, with nations having different strategies, and most importantly, varying degrees of dependence on Russia. It should be remembered that the Russian economy is reliant on the energy market. Significant reductions in demand may, therefore, have a major effect on its economy, and potentially have a destabilising effect on regional security. “Future Security Challenges in the Baltic Sea Region” [Link]

There is a very thoughtful piece by Anusar written under the pen-name PolicyTensor which is available here [Link]. In this piece written in 2012 concerned why prices were so high, interesting to re-read this in the light of the current prices.

Oil prices will be volatile but your business may not be directly driven by them, you might be driven by the response of your customers – their response may be driven by technical or revenue-maximisation considerations – or, quite likely, financial constraints which drive decisions that do not maximise economic recovery, but do protect equity value in the face of debt covenants.

Watch out though – Mike Paterson alerted us to the correlation between grain prices and the Arab Spring. Perhaps low petroleum-state revenues will lead to reduced public spending which might lead to popular uprisings and increased instability. Unstable times ahead.