Voices OE March 2014

OE Staff

March 1, 2014

Human resources. OE asked: How far should the digital oilfield go in removing the human element?

Professor Ian Allison, head of the school of Computing Science and Digital Media, Robert Gordon University:

The challenges with the digital oilfield are not how far can technology go but how far does the business want to go? Companies are seeing opportunities from smart data technologies such as using sensor data to predict machine failure, applying augmented reality in maintenance engineering and modelling of efficient oil recovery. All these are possible – but are the people ready?

John Donachie, managing director, Omega Completion Technology:

I remember being told that the offshore platform of the future would be operated by one man and a dog. The man was there to feed the dog and the dog was there to make sure the man didn’t touch any buttons.

I just don’t see that becoming a full reality any time soon. We are dealing with an organic environment with subtle differences between each operating well and a very broad dynamic range of considerations to contend with. We can use tools such as case based reasoning, increasingly sophisticated processing power, and better data gathering to refine our modelling and interpretation capabilities but I’m not an advocate of closing the loop just yet. Human judgment and experience and interaction should continue to play a critical part in delivering field performance.

Jeremiah Wood, regional manager, oil & gas, IFS North America:

Technology hasn’t advanced to the point where we can remove the human element completely, but the digital oilfield should be automated as much as possible. Automation provides more controls and significantly reduces the risk for human error. Having a good CMMS in place combined with advanced replication will allow drillers to keep track of asset data, including asset condition, to help minimize failure, but it must be used properly. There is no doubt rigs would be a much safer and more reliable environment if we could move to near complete automation.

Paul Muir, chief strategy officer, McLaren Software:

A prerequisite of removing people from operational facilities is effective enablement of remote operations. Developing a highly available and trusted facility information system provides operators with the content and processes they need to interpret and react correctly to remote events. Making this a reality can be a challenge due to the difficulty in assembling and maintaining accurate asset information, but the goal of reducing costs and enhancing safety is worthy.

John Scrimgeour, executive director, University of Aberdeen's Institute of Energy:

Communications between the site and office have been improving continuously over the last few decades and, today, having experts monitor site operations remotely is commonplace. Where this is business critical, it often involves expensive, bespoke, satellite communications, due to the lack of reliability in commercial communications systems. If their reliability can get to acceptable levels, the scope for monitoring and controlling oilfield operations digitally will expand dramatically.

Brandon Spencer, vice president, US industry group manager - chemicak, oil & gas, ABB Inc.:

I don’t see the goal of the digital oilfield as to remove the human element, but rather to enhance it through a focus on safety and productivity. For example, automating tasks in dangerous zones or area classifications helps keep workers safe. And automating repetitive and predictable operations frees employees for more productive tasks. It’s all about increasing operator effectiveness and making our industry an attractive choice for the next generation of engineers and operators.