EXCLUSIVE: post-IDOC interview with Bart Stafford

Oil & Gas catches up with one of IDOC 2011's panel speakers

Stafford: "We need to collectively stop justifying the development of the wheel and get on with developing a better race car!"
Stafford: "We need to collectively stop justifying the development of the wheel and get on with developing a better race car!"

The two-day International Digital Oilfield Conference 2011 in Abu Dhabi provided a chance for key industry players to check out new innovations, discuss the technical and design challenges of Digital Oilfields (DOF), and take the pulse of DOF adoption within the industry.

Oil & Gas Middle East caught up with Bart Stafford, Vice President at Wipro (formerly SAIC) and member of the IDOC panel discussion, for his take on the conference and a DOF future.

What did you learn or take away from IDOC 2011?

It was good to see the commitment of companies in the region to the Digital Oilfield approach. There are some very ambitious and forward thinkers in GCC oil companies.

However, in spite of the commitment and the early projects I believe adoption could be accelerated beyond what I saw represented at the conference.

Oil company representatives continue to talk about DOF as being a process enabler, but there is also a lot of influence from software vendors who are selling a product as the answer to the digital oilfield approach. Software, and technology in general, are a critical part of the DOF approach but should not be the focus.

It was also interesting to hear a perspective from someone from the advertising industry at the conference. His presentation was truly as wakeup call to those of us who work in this field – we could learn a lot about how to communicate the value of the DOF approach!

Overall, I think this conference delivers a lot of value in terms of sharing case studies and networking with colleagues who share the passion for DOF.

It’s generally acknowledged that DOF adoption is too slow. Why? 

I agree that adoption is slow and I find this a very frustrating situation! Frustrating because there are many factors that contribute to the situation, which makes it particularly resistant to change. Many companies cite the need to prepare a business case in order to gain commitment from management. I would also agree with those who have said that some senior managers are not inclined to be technology advocates, and thus even a good business case might not be enough.

There is also the issue of complexity of the approach and the difficulty in communicating it well enough to create a compelling case for change. Another drag on accelerating the DOF approach is the divide between the groups that develop major capital projects and those that operate them when they come online.

Oil companies need to insist that newly developed fields be fully equipped to operate in a smart way so the operations groups can layer on the DOF approach without having to justify a retrofit. Another issue is that of budgeting – since the best approach is one that cuts across departments it typically means that budgets either have to be combined, or a centralgroup has to take control using corporate funding.

The ‘Status Quo’ is a very powerful thing. The real value from the DOF approach comes from a truly integrated approach – across disciplines, systems and data, supported by collaboration and organizational alignment.

Does the "blank canvas" in Iraq present a unique opportunity?

On the issue of Iraq, I am not optimistic that it will be a catalyst for DOF adoption. It may seem like a blank slate, but there is already a lot of infrastructure in place. Much of what is there may need to be updated and this does represent an opportunity, but it is my understanding that the production sharing agreements (PSAs) have been written so the operators have no cost recovery until their production exceeds historical benchmarks. If a senior manager is convinced that a DOF to operations can produce this uplift, then it can be a real benefit.

However, I must say that I do not envy the people in those roles as they have a very difficult job to do under the best of conditions and Iraq is far from perfect at the moment.

Perhaps it is fair to say that the fields in Iraq are no different than most of the rest of the world – it takes a strong and committed manager to put these practices in place, so in many cases it will depend on the leader of the organization. Having said all that, my company [Wipro] is working with a European major who has approached us about deploying a comprehensive DOF solution that we are building for them in the Iraqi fields they operate.

What about DOF do you find inspiring?

The DOF approach is inspiring to me because I can’t imagine people being satisfied to operate any other way!

I am not suggesting that the DOF approach is applicable in every situation – particularly where you have mature and declining fields with short remaining lives and a high cost to deploy the field infrastructure needed. Any greenfield development should have the DOF approach designed in from the start.

At a time when energy demand is poised to see staggering increases from developing countries, it is clear that this approach is not only a better way to operate, it is truly our responsibility as an industry to embrace any approach that can accelerate production and increase recoverable reserves while improving our HSE record. DOF can do this.

How do you see DOF taking off in the Middle East in the next 5 years?

I hate making predictions, but let me tell you what I think the potential is. Most Middle Eastern oil companies are in a good position to ‘leap frog’ their competition in the IOCs and large independents if they take the right path in implementing DOF.

Most are fairly new into this way of operating, and having already developed smaller DOF projects could now begin to really look at how they can get the most value from DOF. If Middle Eastern companies will look across a wide scope of upstream processes and truly optimize business processes and decision making I believe you could see a geographical cluster of top quartile companies in terms of lifting cost and a higher percentage recovery of OOIP. If the will to achieve this objective is there, I know this can be done.

Is the time for pilot schemes over? Do operators need to stop dipping their toes in and jump in with both feet?

Yes, we need to collectively stop justifying the development of the wheel and get on with developing a better race car!
I truly believe it is time for operators to make broad commitments to pursuing DOF programs, but if that is not possible then we must continue to make progress in the journey however we can.

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