Experts have compared oil and gas offshore drilling and production to NASA’s space exploration missions. And in both cases, digitization is the key to success.

Energy Blog: AI Transforms Oil Fields of the Future

Apr 13, 2021

by Christine Reilley

The petroleum industry has long placed its workers in extreme conditions: in jungles or deserts, or on isolated offshore platforms. But technicians who today operate cranes, drills, and other equipment in remote oil fields may one day operate that same machinery from the safety of their home or office, thanks to advances in artificial intelligence (AI).
 
In some cases, this shift from physical to online environments in the oil and gas workplace is already a reality, with changes being hastened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
For example, energy technology company Baker Hughes “has completed significant digital transformation in just several months’ time due to the travel and work-from-home constraints imposed by the pandemic,” said Barbara Thompson, early engagement manager of subsea systems for North and Latin America.
 
During that time, for instance, technicians in Aberdeen, Scotland, began conducting successful remote safety inspections of oil and gas facilities in Perth, Australia, Thompson said. The technicians in Australia positioned an iPad’s camera at the inspection site and transmitted real-time images to their colleagues in Scotland. The technicians in Scotland could then perform the inspection using online measurement tools and other software. Pre-pandemic, those technicians would usually travel thousands of miles to inspect the facility in person.
 
And the digital trend is expected to continue once pandemic restrictions are lifted.
 
Experts say that the oil and gas industry easily lends itself to digitization. It is one of the few industries where operators do not physically touch the product, so they must rely heavily on data for efficient and safe operations.

Take the Quiz: What Do You Know About Oil Pipelines?
 
In fact, experts have compared oil and gas offshore drilling and production to NASA’s space exploration missions: Much the same way an unmanned rover collects data on the surface of Mars, oil and gas equipment sits tens of thousands of feet away from its human operators, who expect the piping and complex machinery to function perfectly and safely for 20 to 30 years, said Jim Kaculi, vice president of engineering at Dril-Quip.
 
AI is expected to positively impact nearly all areas of the petroleum industry. “The technology is expected to enhance reservoir information, design of wells, drilling operations, oil and gas production, live monitoring of operations and automated processes, among others,” said Kaculi.
 
Those efforts will result in tremendous cost savings, faster and safer operations, and new innovative engineering designs and technologies, Kaculi said. The evolving technologies in the oil and gas and energy sector in general will improve, strengthen, and maintain U.S. energy independence in the world, he added.
 
But challenges remain. A lack of consistency in implementing AI and other technologies prevents widespread use of AI across different areas of the industry. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers, with support from its volunteer Petroleum Division, is publishing a “how-to” guide this past December detailing ways that oil and gas companies can successfully use AI to improve operations. An ASME virtual event to be held in June 2021, Big Data for Oil and Gas will feature experts from across the industry who will discuss success stories and best practices in this area.
 
AI may result in more automated processes and potentially could help workers make safer decisions, predict errors and potential equipment failures, and more quickly find new places to drill.
 
“AI doesn’t necessarily always make decisions, but it can help humans eliminate bad decisions,” said Michael Wells, vice president of supply chain at Dril-Quip.
 
For those crane operators and drill specialists who may one day work from home, they may expect to receive general training in data analytics, artificial intelligence, and other new technologies without having to earn a doctorate or even a bachelor’s degree. Some industry experts are calling these newly skilled technicians “citizen data scientists.”
 
“This is an opportunity for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs in grades K-12 to teach coding, statistics, and data science,” said Thompson of Baker Hughes.
 
Teachers, parents, and students can benefit from the ASME INSPIRE program, an online program that uses videos, animations, and gaming scenarios to teach middle school and high school students about AI and data analytics. For more information, visit the ASME INSPIRE program home page.
 
Christine Reilley is senior director of strategy and innovation at ASME.

Register today for ASME's virtual event: Big Data for Oil and Gas
 

You are now leaving ASME.org