Automating oil and gas

 By Peter Ward

A DNV GL report suggests automation will be one of the key drivers of oil and gas technology development to 2025. What processes in oil and gas are ripe for automated solutions? Will jobs be lost or will there be a net gain? How can oil and gas providers ensure automated solutions are reliable…?

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How many processes in the oil and gas business can be automated? A new report from DNV GL, technical adviser to the industry, suggests that the future of oil and gas technology lies in automation and operating more digitally.

Technology developments are being driven by the prospect of an increasingly diverse energy mix over the next 10 years, according to the research, which also finds that cost pressures, new regulatory measures and strong growth in natural gas production will be key factors in driving technology advances between now and 2025.

“It may be hard to believe we’re on the cusp of a technological revolution at a time when the global economy as a whole is slowing. But our view at DNV GL is that we are indeed entering a new ‘renaissance’ in industrial progress, with the accelerated uptake of cyber-physical systems,” DNV GL CEO and Group President Remi Eriksen wrote in the company’s “Technology Outlook 2025″ report.

The company noted some parts of the oil and gas sector are riper for automation than others. The report singled out automated drilling, already in use in some drilling operations. By employing automated drilling technology, oil and gas companies can make more wells economically feasible, meaning a boost in the number of production wells and more drilling of smaller targets. “Advanced automation technology can fundamentally change how a well is drilled, but needs a complete redesign of drilling-related processes to reap the full benefits,” the report stated.

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Oilfield service companies appear to already be moving to capitalize on future demand for automation. In May, Schlumberger announced it had acquired Omron Oilfield and Marine, a company specializing in automation technology and solutions. “The addition of Omron Oilfield and Marine will enable us to strengthen our industrial automation control systems capabilities as part of our long-term strategy to develop an integrated well construction system,” said Ashok Belani, executive vice president, Technology, Schlumberger.

Another area in which automation is expected to increase is in the monitoring of onshore and offshore pipelines. With increased cases of criminals attempting to steal oil, terrorist attacks and environmental damage, the frequency of monitoring is set to increase, according to the DNV LG report. For this task, automation is a perfect fit, with the use of autonomous underwater vehicle (AUVs) and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) able to discover leakages, attacks and vulnerabilities.

At this point the use of UAVs and AUVs is restricted by both regulations and the limitations of the technology, but in the years to come as the range and endurance of the vehicles improves, pipeline monitoring could well be done exclusively by automated vehicles.


SEE MORE: The robots are coming by Chris Dalby

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about the author
Peter Ward
Business and technology reporter based in New York. MA in Business Journalism at Columbia University Journalism School 2013. Five years experience reporting in the U.S., the U.K., and the Middle East.