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Tsvetana Paraskova

Tsvetana Paraskova

Tsvetana is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing for news outlets such as iNVEZZ and SeeNews. 

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Oil Traders Use Controversial Methods To Track Refinery Runs

In the latest chapter of the ‘Big Data in the oil industry’ tale, oil traders now can monitor operations at oil refineries using geolocation data from cell phones to estimate how many workers are at a refinery site compared to the typical number of staff, which can provide early clues into potential unplanned outages at facilities.

Oil traders, investors, and analysts are now looking for clues about oil and oil products supply everywhere, while analytics companies are offering inventive ways to use the surging volumes of data in today’s digital world.

Earlier this week, geospatial analytics company Orbital Insight—which tracks oil inventories around the world using satellite image of tank roofs— said that it was launching a new product to help the energy market participants to monitor U.S. refinery activity.

The company uses geolocation data “to objectively identify relevant staffing changes at the refinery plant level and compares that to planned maintenance forecasts of refinery operators, which plan routine turnarounds years in advance,” Orbital Insight said in a statement.

The so-called ‘refinery outage’ service will report to the hour turnaround crews, overtime hours, and extra weekend shifts with simultaneous coverage of over 15.5 million barrels per day, which accounts for more than 85 percent of U.S. refining capacity, according to the company.

Related: One Last Warning For The U.S. Shale Patch

“For oil traders, knowing where the workers are and how many there are will absolutely help traders know how much output the refinery is producing,” Claire Curry, BloombergNEF’s head of digital industry, told Bloomberg.

For those concerned about privacy, Orbital Insight says that it does not receive any Personal Identification Information (PII) from its geolocation suppliers, and data aggregation removes any pseudo-anonymous data, resulting in large quantities of unidentifiable pings.

Orbital Insight also tracks global oil stocks, and said last week that according to its oil tank-monitoring data, global oil stocks are up despite OPEC cutting supply for nearly three months now.  

Other companies also use anonymized aggregated smartphone geolocation data for insights about businesses and economies. For example, Thasos Group, founded at MIT in 2011, is processing data to measure economic activities, such as how many people visit a store, go to work or travel, or how many man-hours are spent in a factory. Thasos also tracked location signals from the cell phones at Tesla’s Fremont factory in California to track the EV maker’s progress with Model 3, The Wall Street Journal reported last year.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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