Often new technologies can divide businesses, people and entire industries. On the one hand you have the early adopters. And on the other, you have those left behind still dragging their feet.
According to many, you can put the oil and gas industry firmly in the second camp. To do so is a huge over-simplification, but while there has been the appearance of feet-dragging there’s no doubt the impact that new technologies such as AI can and will have on oil and gas.
At the back end of last year, Microsoft’s Middle East Oil and Gas Director Omar Saleh said that AI would be of “massive importance” over the next five to 10 years to the industry and that it would have the biggest impact of all new technologies. He also said, that technology disruptions in the last three years had been a wake-up call for all firms in the sector. There’s the feet-dragging.
Where AI can really make a difference to oil and gas
The oil and gas industry is facing a variety of issues with concerns existing around the environmental impact of both production and consumption. The price of the product itself simply doesn’t remain as lucrative as it once did either.
AI can assist with these key challenges, due to the potential application in so many different areas, including:
- Planning and forecasting – analysing current economic trends as well as weather patterns to make informed decisions on both exploration and production
- Optimising drilling operations – in real-time AI can make decisions on direction and speed of drilling, analysing factors above and beyond the traditional pressure differentials. These include seismic vibrations, thermal gradients and strata permeability
- Saving downtime when drilling – simply by predicting when drilling equipment will begin to fail
- Exploring potential drill sites – utilising AI robots for deep sea exploration
- The operational performance of well facilities – AI driven tools to better drive understanding and operations in areas including engineering, production, seismic interpretation etc.
- Maintenance and remote logistics – AI-enhanced drones can be used to firstly inspect sites to optimise maintenance, as well as delivering materials to remote offshore locations
Put simply, if invested in and adopted, AI can impact and improve all areas of the industry.
Three of the biggest oil and gas companies investing in AI
Through its partnership with MIT and as a founding member of MIT’s Energy Initiative, ExxonMobil committed to providing $25million over five years. The first project between the two, announced in 2016, is to create AI robots to use for deep sea exploration to detect natural seeps of oil in the ocean floor.
Launched a competition in 2013 to develop “the first autonomous surface robots able to operate on oil and gas sites”, specifically to carry out inspections, and detect abnormal equipment problems in emergency situations. The winner was selected last year in what could be an exciting development.
Royal Dutch Shell
Announced in 2015 they would become the first company in the industry to launch an AI assistant for customers searching for lubricants and related products. It’s now been implemented on their site.
The future of AI in the industry
It comes back to the early adopters and the feet-draggers. Innovation in exploration, optimisation and customer satisfaction can help businesses compete in a lower-price market as well as impacting their energy efficiency credentials. And that’s where they can stay ahead of their competition in a changing industry.
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