The future of oil and gas: digital evolution

By David Pryke

May 25, 2016

The digital transformation currently in progress across many industries as part of the fourth industrial revolution is changing how we design, and produce both consumer and industrial products. The situation is no different in oil and gas where low prices are fuelling increased demand worldwide and companies are using technology to remain competitive.  

At the recent CERA Week in Houston, the most asked question was: “How long will the price of oil remain at its current low level?” Lisa Davis, member of the Managing Board of Siemens global, response was, “No one can accurately predict when oil prices will rise or fall.”

Oil prices have fallen dramatically in the space of just a few months. In the summer of 2014 a barrel (159 litres) of ‘black gold’ cost over $100 while in January 2016 a barrel cost less than $40.

As producers shift their focus to efficiently extracting oil while also trying to save money, a combination of electrification, automation, and digitization is helping achieve higher degrees of efficiency.

Most of the ‘easy oil’ has already been extracted – oil that can be produced cheaply because it is onshore, close to the surface, and conveniently extracted under high pressure when first tapped. In the future, oil will increasingly have to be extracted from deposits that are deep underground or offshore.

Gas will have to be transported from remote locations via pipelines or as LNG by LNG tankers, which will be a much trickier task for production engineers.  

Digitalisation is enabling the industry to do more with less
Lisa Davis, Member of the Managing Board of Siemens AG

Some companies are leading the way by bringing more automation to oil fields and using data analysis in smarter ways. In the future, more valves will be opened and closed by machines than by people, and it will likely be machines that decide when to open or close those valves.

Software solutions like COMOS Walkinside already enable employees to create an exact virtual representation of an oil platform in 3D and using a digital avatar, obtain information about every component – without ever setting foot on the rig.

The traditional approach has been in the areas of field and repair services and retrofit modernise upgrades. In the future, more services will be based on data that can conduct predictive maintenance then pre-empt equipment issues and help fix it before it impacts production.

Automated equipment that produce a constant stream of data that can be mined, aggregated into big data and transformed into smart data through intelligent analysis, and smart data helps us to understand production processes better.

As Ms Davis said: “Digitalisation is enabling the industry to do more with less, and today – more than ever – this is a key priority for our customers.” 

David Pryke is Executive General Manager, Power and Gas Division, Siemens Australia and New Zealand. This article was originally published in Gas Today.