The oil and gas industry is on the cusp of profound operational changes underpinned by emerging technologies. The transformative impact of this new wave — labelled the fourth industrial revolution or Industry 4.0 — is being felt to such an extent that the International Energy Agency (IEA) has started factoring in probable additional global oil reserves courtesy optimised conventional and unconventional production.
Dr Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the IEA, believes the next supply-side surprise the global market is going to receive would be via enhanced oil recovery drives, backed-up by science and engineering of the sort the market has not seen since production ingenuity in US shale basins started making its presence felt a decade ago.
Digital underpinnings of this brave new oil and gas world are now incrementally visible beyond American shores to wherever the inclination to embrace change exists. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) — with ~98 billion barrels in crude reserves and the seventh-largest reserves base in the world — is certainly one such market.
Cognisant of the immense potential of Industry 4.0, the UAE government nailed its colours to the mast by launching and outlining its strategy in September 2017to deploy emerging digital technology in a range of sectors from healthcare to the construction of ‘Smart Cities’.
But for an economy that links 30% of its GDP directly to oil and gas production, no such drive would have been complete without the sector’s inclusion. So barely a year on from the launch, Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, UAE Minister of State and Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) Group Chief Executive, unveiled what he described as “Oil and Gas 4.0.”
Speaking at ADIPEC 2018 in November last year, Dr Jaber outlined his desire to incorporate Industry 4.0 thought processes and techniques across the sector’s value change from drilling platforms to trading rooms. This year’s conference will be examining the topic in more detail.
A glimpse of that world is provided by the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and automation ranging from connected rigs and plants to facility inspection drones, 4D seismic data and predictive analytics-based reservoir management to digital pipeline leak detection systems.
The pace of change is such that oilfield services company Baker Hughes is even trialling electrical-driven drilling pumps powered by modular gas turbine generating units that use excess natural gas from the extraction site, instead of diesel-powered units.
Dr Jaber wants ADNOC to embrace the whole IIoT suite. While the petrodollars in this march to Oil and Gas 4.0 have been committed; focus is rapidly turning to transforming the workforce.
The hunt is on not just for a digitally savvy worker, but a different kind of engineer — a technologist, process expert and data scientist rolled into one. Argument here is that Oil and Gas 4.0 would demand a level of agility to improve efficiencies to hitherto unseen levels ranging from higher throughput at refineries to lower drilling times at production sites.
Indeed the UAE is committed to increasing oil production capacity to 5 million barrels per day by 2030, and Dr Jaber wants the drive to be driven by a “digitally native workforce” and make ADNOC the “home for the best and the brightest.”
The magnitude of the task of managing this shifting dynamic cannot be understated or oversimplified by categorising it as a linear appeal to millennials. What the UAE needs, and is perhaps aspiring to, is a new interface between humans and technology, and this new age would be ushered in by a diverse, gender balanced, inclusive, digitally aware change managers capable of beyond-the-box thinking, and not mere workers.
Indications are that vendors and oilfield services companies bringing IIoT to the sector are willing partners in progress, re-skilling and recruitment along with sponsors such as ADNOC. That is an important first step in a long and transformative journey ahead that only the committed will survive.