Report from the future

The trouble with our industry at the moment is the plethora of conferences and events that go on. The FT reported on Thursday that our industry is 40% less productive than the rest of the economy, is there a connection?

Last week there were, at least, four separate events happening in Europe. I didn’t manage to attend the Future Oil and Gas conference in Aberdeen, but it seems that I may have missed a rather good one. I’ve been asking around and receiving reports on the discussions and topics.

My informal word-count revealed some key themes: Open platforms, leverage of diverse data sets, generating insight (whatever that really means), data silos, collaboration, machine learning and AI.

Where are all the young people?

First the bad news. This conference seemed to have a definite bias towards the fourth industrial revolution and the future of innovative technology – but no-one arrived by skateboard. In fact, my sources indicate there were more suits and ties on display than at a moss-bros Christmas party and Grecian 2000 narrowly avoided being the main sponsor.

Where are all the young people?

When I go to a tech conference in the South East or in Silicon Valley I’m positively jumping out of the way of hover boards, unicycles and tattoo artists. I may appear flippant but I’m not – the great creative and innovative minds of the future seem to be missing from our conferences. If we are going to succeed we need to be able to form teams that embrace diversity and create energy. We need people like this and we need to provide an appealing set of challenges to keep them motivated.

Equinor supports entrepreneurs

Now onto the good stuff. Einar Landre from Equinor (the artist formally known as Statoil) told how they supported small vendors – while being careful to explain that they were not offering blank cheques, he recognised that procurement processes could be slow and risked pushing suppliers to the wall. I heard they claim to be actively promoting ways to engage with innovation and to create disruptive business models where they pay for outcomes rather than for inputs. Separately,  I  picked up on an announcement that Equinor plan to release all the operational data that was gathered on the Volve field to be used to test algorithms and find new ways of working. Well done chaps, I think that’s a very collaborative and welcome move.

Chrysaor integrates a new asset

I also hear that David Edem from Chrysaor gave a lively presentation where he told the gathering about the recent experience of taking over an oil field from another operator. How explained that first problem is to get hold of the data to understand what it is that you’ve actually bought. In the middle of all this their organisation head count grew 20x in a year and, for them, it is clear just how much time and effort had to be invested searching for data. David told us he was keen to address this early in the company’s life and highlighted one case where a simple change in data-handling practice is already producing savings of $1M pa. He said that we should consider carefully the value that is embedded in the data that comes with a platform and treat this as a capital asset.

Ithaca understands the tension between IT and OT

I also heard that Malcolm Brown from Ithaca was keen to share his experience regarding the tension between IT and OT. He brought a key insight that the perception of risk is different – IT believe that the more you leave a system alone the more vulnerable it becomes (because of the evolving security threats and the lack of patching), whereas OT believe the opposite – each time you touch a system it is more likely to break than get better (i.e. don’t fix what ain’t broke).

Of course, both viewpoints are valid and have merit. Reconciling these is going to be important for us all, so it sounds like formal risk-management processes with OT are going to be required to enable safe innovation.

Fail Fast and Learn

Another theme that emerged from the conference was Agile development of systems and processes. This is important, because Silicon valley has proven that Agile methods can increase the rate of value creation. They also establish competitive advantage and lead to unimagined breakthroughs. How can we integrate the “fail – fast & cheap – and learn” methodologies with our industry and still keep everything safe.

Keith Wildridge from Eigen brought this topic into his talk and was keen to share experience engaging in collaborative development with ENI making safety systems and using methods such as SCRUM and SPRINTS.

Event Format

The format for the event – that of discussions and panel sessions – was warmly received by everyone I talked to. They all said they were fed-up of boring people with boring powerpoints standing up and lecturing at an equally bored audience. This was much better.  They were also happy that the representations were not all from Vendors trying to find a way to dress-up a blatent sales pitch as some form of case study. Exploring broad themes in an open environment went down really well – so this conference seemed like a welcome boost and I think it will stand the test of time and become a feature in my diary for 2019.


I’ll leave it to the words of Esa Jokionen from Rolls Royce who apparently summed up the industry approach to AI and Big Data. I’m told he said it was like teenage sex. Everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, everyone wants to say they are doing it – but, truth be told, there is not much of it actually going on, no one knows how to do it properly but everyone’s keen to try.

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Learn to share nicely!

I had a number of responses to my comments about the main export pipelines from the North Sea – such as CATS – and the tariffs that are charged. A member of the network (senior SPE member who would rather not be named) pointed out that the “arteries” such as CATS are not such an issue as the “capillaries” – smaller interconnections – used in the gathering networks. Things like pooling of processing capacity (to remove water), compression (to build gas pressure up to enable it to be injected into the export pipes) and power (needed to run equipment) require a series of bi-lateral agreements. Smaller operators are heavily dependent on the reliability of big-players’ infrastructure. Sometimes alignment of incentives to operate effectively are missing and are, apart from oil price forecasts, the biggest economic blockers for marginal development.

The chairman of a large service company, and member of the Bestem Network, pointed me to a story by Robin Pagnamenta of The Times newspaper [Link] (Sept 9th 2015) explaining how the “great and the good” were meeting to discuss a proposal to pool infrastructure including, warehouses, subsea equipment, support vessels and other facilities. What I found interesting was, that while there was agreement that cost could be saved by pooling (non-core) operations, there was no talk about how to share the offshore installations and associated processing capacity.

Sharing bases and logistics will make things more efficient but won’t address the issues surrounding reliance on infrastructure operated by others. I can see how this will delay the inevitable slow down but not how it will facilitate drainage of marginal areas. It will not tackle the thorny area of non-common interest involved in sharing primary core assets nor maintaining shared operational schedules.

Further I can see that implementing shared arrangements for support logistics will take time to sort out, give the impression of progress but ultimately fail to unlock the opportunities that are present. Of course, go ahead and do it, but don’t think that this is all (or even the best) that can be done. Fundamental changes to the operator processes and license management in the UK sector is required, pretending that there is no problem with operator behaviour and narrow commercial interests as the JOA level cannot be avoided if we are to save this opportunity for the nation.

What do you think?

Interview with Short Allerton


On the 10th of Sept 2015 I caught up with one of my earliest mentors, Short Allerton. Short is well known in the Oil and Gas industry. For those who have not met him yet I highly recommend you find a way to. Among Short’s many achievements he was BP Exploration’s Planning Manager and their Chief Geophysicist in the 1980’s, he was a co-founder of Dragon Oil and has been an independent advisor to service companies and the boards of various VC backed ventures. He is one of the most inventive people I have had the pleasure to know and he has no fear of telling it like he sees it. I sought out his opinion on what we can do to fix the North Sea basin and below are some of his thoughts.

Gareth: So Short, you’ve forgotten more about the North Sea than most people have ever known. What do you think about my stance that draining the North Sea should be a priority for the nation?

Short: Your article caused me to recall when I first went to work in Russia in the mid-90s for Schlumberger. The oil companies I met had no word for ‘profit’. They only talked about ‘revenue’. After all, who needs to be concerned that producing 100 barrels of fluid to extract 1 barrel of oil was ‘unprofitable’ if the barrel of oil could generate ‘revenue’, and that was what the oil men were measured on, while the means of production (pumps, electricity, separation) was just a ‘cost’ to the centralised ‘command-and-control’ system. You must remember that, to achieve your aim, commercial realities must be met.

Gareth: OK, I understand that we need to be commercial about it. Although we must be careful to consider a national, rather than company, accounting point of view. What do you think is necessary to do this?

Short: I think both perspectives need to be respected. If your vision is to find ‘smart’ ways to extract more hydrocarbons at these low oil prices, it will require more than new technologies. To be commercial will mean more than squeezing the profits of service companies. You seem to imply in your article that the biggest gains (both in production and thus in revenue, even profit) will come from savings made by owners of assets working in a different way to take advantage of each other’s infrastructure. I think you are probably right.

If you are trying to generate momentum behind interested oil companies working together to come up with win-win schemes through cooperation, then I can admire your initiative.

Gareth: OK, thank you for your support. What do you think the keys to success will be?

Short: To do this will need someone with a near total ‘overview’ of what those assets are and how they might work together.

In my experience, most oil company personnel are focused on their own assets, and it’s rare to come across anyone with the wider perspective. It was true back in 1985 and I’m pretty sure it is now. Perhaps the best people to be in that position are the O&G experts or the industry advisers to the Government. Perhaps this is the role of DECC or even the OGA? I know they publish some data on their website about the infrastructure installed, but I am not sure how useful this information is.

Gareth: So, what you are suggesting is what I’ve been taught to call an information gap. You’ve been in this industry for longer than most, do you have any experience in a situation where an overview of information was valuable?

Short: 30 years ago, I happened to be in a position to grasp a reasonably complete picture of the North Sea oil business. I was able to use that grasp to ‘map out’ a future timing of when the various gas discoveries industry-wide would come on stream, based on an analysis of the gas demand growth in the UK, the impact of Norwegian sales to the UK, the decline rate of existing producers, the price per therm to bring on new discoveries etc, etc, etc. This analysis shaped our exploration and production strategy in the North Sea for the next several years.

I was able to do this because I was in charge at the time of the subsurface exploitation of 25 BP fields spread throughout the Southern, Central and Northern North Sea and Western Margins and I had a great team working with me. I’m sure our analysis did not work out as I predicted – that isn’t my point. However, it gave us a ‘direction’ – when and how to invest, and where (and why). I had an overview of the data and could see the connections. I am sure that with all the small discoveries and interdependent satellite sub-sea developments it’s much more complicated now.

Gareth: So what do you think it will take to “make it happen”?

Short: I have the feeling that to get this off the ground, someone has to come up with a ‘killer app’ – a scheme that brings the assets of two companies together in a win-win solution. Once it’s been shown that it can work, hopefully more of the rest will be tempted to follow – or at least to talk, listen and think – and see the potential.