Special Report: Big is beautiful and booming
Big Data holds big promise for the oil and gas sector, delivering solutions to help the industry more effectively manage its vast quantities of data and optimise operations
Last year, a senior industry figure at ADIPEC said to me, “Mark my words, son: Big Data is going to be the future of this industry!” It was just my second month as a reporter for this magazine and his words made little sense to me. Oil and gas was mostly about companies sending men out into testing terrains to operate drilling machinery and offshore rigs to extract fossil fuels, or so I thought.
But it seems that I was wrong. Big Data is indeed rapidly becoming the next big thing in the regional energy sector, as the amount of data generated by oil and gas operations is starting to explode. The speed of this data-gathering is pushing the size of oil and gas Big Data into the exabyte range and beyond as companies handle more data sets, opening up a world of opportunities for information and communications technology (ICT) companies to explore and exploit.
Regional NOCs and oilfield services companies alike are resorting to Big Data to manage – and put to good use – the tremendous volumes of data they produce every minute, and are also using this IT concept as a means to achieve operational excellence in this low oil price era.
The numbers are jaw-dropping: a recent survey on digital trends by Accenture and Microsoft found that 80% of upstream oil and gas companies plan to increase spending on digital technologies, while the International Data Corporation (IDC) predicts that IT spending in the oil and gas sector will increase to nearly $50bn this year.
It is worth noting, however, that while Big Data and analytics may be new to some industries, the oil and gas industry has long been dealing with mammoth quantities of data in order to make technical decisions. In their quest to learn what lies below the surface, and how to draw it out, energy companies have, for many years, invested in seismic software, visualisation tools and other digital technologies.
Now, the rise of pervasive computing devices such as affordable sensors that collect and transmit data, as well as new analytics tools and advanced storage capabilities, is opening up new possibilities. For example, real-time downhole drilling data can now be paired with production data from nearby wells to help adapt a company’s drilling strategy, which is especially helpful in unconventional fields.
In this age of driverless cars, is it any wonder that data from oilfields can be managed remotely for better performance?