The oil and gas industry used to operate on a plan, plan, plan, build model, where the cost of failure could mean a major setback. But unconventional onshore oil and gas extraction techniques—like hydraulic fracturing—are forcing energy companies to adopt a nimble business model. Today, it’s more do, think, learn, adapt, do again, learn again. That flexibility depends on technology. Much of the complexity of operating an oil field is being transformed to fit in the palm of an oil field worker’s hand.
Onshore energy-producing facilities are often massive fields. An oil field technician’s day used to be spent driving around, stopping at each well site to scribble down notes by hand, which were turned over to somebody else, who analyzed what was written and called in a specialist when needed. It could be like the telephone game. The data was often unstructured and inconsistent. Technicians could spend up to 80 percent of their time manually collecting data rather than solving problems on the ground.
Technology is rapidly changing that process. Oil and gas companies have found that operators can more quickly identify and react to priority issues when they’re able to access production and performance data from a handheld device or laptop. With sophisticated sensors, fine-tuned algorithms and mobile apps, they can count on data to pinpoint which units need their attention. Safety concerns can be addressed more quickly.
Until recently, connectivity was an obstacle. Oil fields tend to be in remote areas. Companies are constantly striving for better connectivity for their distributed workforce. One company, BP, has turned its technicians’ trucks into roaming data centers. Using powerful new antenna technology, BP’s Lower 48—the name of its North American onshore oil and natural gas business unit—allows the trucks’ communications platforms to lock in on the most powerful signals, ensuring the truck is always connected even in remote locations.
“We’re able to scan multiple networks and pull in what’s best for that type of data,” said Brian Pugh, chief operations officer of production for BP’s Lower 48. “Our fields have gone from 40 to 50 percent connected to over 90 percent connected. We can use all our data in real time.”