Creative solutions for “Big Data”

 By Andrew Burger

Decades before “Big Data” and the “Internet of Things” entered mainstream consciousness, the world’s leading multinational oil and gas corporations were using a variety of “cutting-edge” remote sensing, computing and communications technologies and techniques to generate streams of digital data points and higher resolution images of geological structure beneath the Earth’s surface…

Using “groundbreaking” digital data analytics and dynamic, 3-D visualization software, the results would be (and still are) used to support decisions upon which hang billions of dollars of investment and the lives and livelihoods of thousands of employees. This information could impact the course of industrialization and economic development—at times even the fate, of nations.

Amidst a seemingly overwhelming, continuous stream of industry news and data lie an uncounted, but no doubt very large number of scientific and technical research papers. Despite their prospective value, many go unread, much less acted upon. Despite the potential benefits and advantages they might confer, oil and gas industry executives reportedly read but a few of those published by the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE), for example. Aiming to improve this state of affairs, Lux Research analyzed more than 20,000 SPE technical research papers and identified key oil and gas industry trends and partnerships. Lux concluded that while copious amounts of historical data are readily available, oil and gas industry stakeholders would benefit greatly if more creative data analysis solutions were available.

SEE MORE: Inside Eni “Big Data” model by Marco Alfieri

Navigating the Data Stream

Highlighting the immensity of the digital data computing and communications challenge, Research and Markets estimates that monitoring production of just one oil field generates more than 1 terabyte of digital data daily. Furthermore, oil and gas industry stakeholders are willing to spend huge amounts of capital to come up with innovative solutions. Globally, oil and gas sector companies will spend $48.54 billion on information technology (IT) from 2016-2020, according to Research & Markets’ May 2016 forecast, a substantial portion of which will be allocated to data analytics. Much in the way of pertinent current research, and potential solutions, is going unnoticed, however, according to Lux Research. “In our survey, 57 percent of oil and gas professionals said that research papers often affect business decisions, but most also admitted they only read a handful of papers each year,” said Colleen Kennedy, Lux Research Analyst and lead author of the report titled, “Making Use of Metadata: Analysis of Over 20,000 Oil and Gas Technical Papers.” “As technology trends from advances in hydraulic fracturing to the rise of digital oilfields affect the industry, operators need a better way to find and analyze the treasure trove of data hidden in these publications,” the report concludes.

A New Approach to Research Data Discovery

Taking a new approach to search for and discover relevant research, Lux Research used co-authored SPE research papers to produce network maps that track projects developing between companies, as well as benchmark innovation. According to Lux: “The SPE library represents a significant way to track changes in key topics being targeted by the industry…This analysis shows that the industry needs more creative solutions for analyzing historical data, which is readily available but challenging to navigate.”
As is the case across an expanding range of industry spheres, application of the latest digital computing and communications R&D–’Big Data,’ predictive analytics, cloud technology and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)–is transforming the global oil and gas industry, Dan Miklovic, a principal analyst at LNS Research, points out in an article for GE Imagination.

“The convergence of these technology advances today will cause the ‘informationization’ of industry, with changes as profound as industrialization did in the late 1700s. There will be a step-change in productivity similar to those that occurred with the advent of steam power, electrification, and then automation in the 1950s and ’60s.” The seeds of this growth of evolutionary technological change are beginning to take root. In partnership with the U.S. National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), Exxon Mobil in February announced achievement of “a major breakthrough” in modeling oil and gas reservoirs.

NCSA Building (Ragib, Wikimedia)

The Seeds of Evolutionary Change

The Exxon Mobil-NCSA research team used proprietary software and applied more than four times the previous number of processors (716,800) to run complex, parallel processing oil and gas reservoir simulation models. In terms of data processing power, that’s the equivalent of 22,400 computers with 32 processors per computer, according to the company.
The massively parallel oil and gas reservoir simulation run generated output thousands of times faster than the industry norm. That should improve geoscientists and engineers’ investment decision-making by enabling them to better predict uncertain reservoir performance and assess a much higher volume of alternative development plans faster than ever before, Exxon Mobil highlights. Elaborating, Tom Schuessler, president of Exxon Mobil Upstream Research, said: “As our industry looks for cost-effective and environmentally responsible ways to find and develop oil and gas fields, we rely on this type of technology to model the complex processes that govern the flow of oil, water and gas in various reservoirs.” Added NCSA acting director Bill Gropp: “NCSA’s blue waters sustained petascale system, which has benefited the open science community so tremendously, is also helping industry break through barriers in massively parallel computing. NCSA is thrilled to have worked closely with Exxon Mobil to achieve the kind of sustained performance that is so critical in advancing science and engineering.”

Getting the Most Out of Online Industry Research

Getting the most out of research data and information will continue to be a key focal point for oil and gas industry participants, one whose value is only likely to increase, according to Lux. “Capital expenditures are expected to continue to decline as the future of oil prices remains unclear. With individual departments shrinking, companies must make use of existing historical data in order to improve operations; while also taking advantage of partnership opportunities to bear the burden of trial and error with new technologies,” the company says. Oil and gas industry participants could benefit by looking outside their sector and consider approaches being taken by corporations in the high-tech and other industry verticals in their drive to foster innovation, Lux adds. “For example, the IIoT industry uses ‘hackathons’ to draw young talent that can quickly develop new ideas. “Although several oil and gas operators have tried this approach, an invitation-only event limited to industry professionals (lacking coding creativity) is unlikely to produce a novel idea. Instead, an all-inclusive opportunity, where massive data sets such as OnePetro are opened to young entrepreneurs, could present multiple novel ways of deciphering industry data.”

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about the author
Andrew Burger
Andrew Burger has been reporting on energy, technology, political economy, climate and the environment for a variety of online media properties for over five years.