As artificial intelligence becomes ever more attainable and tech start-ups continue to divide and multiply, traditional oilfield research and development is going the way of the buffalo. Drilling is still an inexact and complex process, with high costs of labor and environmental damages. In the wake of the past years’ oil slump, energy industries are looking for ways to increase profits while making oil production easier and cheaper.
Though alternative energies continue to make gains, it’s still more cost efficient to drill and pump oil than to turn to renewables. But big oil is looking for ways to make it even cheaper, more efficient and with a smaller impact to the environment. In order to do this, they’re turning to tech.
Stabilizing profitability and margins is a major drive for big oil, pushing them away from traditional methods and toward innovation. In the near future, technologies like IIoT, artificial intelligence and wearables will cut operating costs, increase production efficiency, and refine asset management.
In today’s oil markets, simply increasing or decreasing pumping can no longer sufficiently control or compensate for variability in crude prices. This is where tech start-ups with attractively cost-efficient models come into play. Some of the major players include California-based Seven Lakes, Ground Metrics and Tachyus Corp, and Canadian start-ups DarkVision Technologies Inc. and Raptor Rig.
Seven Lakes initially developed their electromagnetic technology to detect explosives for the military, but their product is now being used to help accurately locate subterranean deposits of oil, gas and minerals and collect data from within wells. They measure tank capacity, pressure readings, choke sizes and more, allowing workers’ access to instantaneous and actionable numbers, minimizing downtime and production loss. This year the company was the recipient of the 2017 CIO 100, an annual award celebrating companies that exemplify the highest level of operational and strategic excellence in information technology. So far, Seven Lakes has helped their clients in the energy industry optimize more than 100,000 wells across the U.S.
Ground Metrics also has its fair share of accomplishments and accolades. Last month the company won international patents for their core sensor and source system, giving them a big leg up in the burgeoning oil tech industry thanks to their new eligibility to make direct bids with a number of major oil companies. The company’s sensor systems create resistivity data for oil, gas, and mining clients by taking images of entire fields, something never before possible. The scope allows operators to dramatically improve efficiency and production. Looking forward, Ground Metrics is currently working on the ability to instrument entire oilfields.
There’s a downside, however, to all this innovation. As energy industries become more and more efficient with the use of innovative technologies, the workforce shrinks as manpower becomes obsolete. For example, thanks to the New Jersey-based tech company Honeywell, companies are now using cloud technologies and mobile devices that allow for remote monitoring of oil fields, getting rid of the time-consuming and labor-intensive work of driving out to a field to check on equipment. On the ground, more automated drilling rigs could cut the number of work hours needed to finish a well by more than 30 percent according to an estimate by oilfield services company Schlumberger.
Despite these changes, oil jobs are actually making a comeback this year, as crude prices stabilize and the oil industry gets back to its feet. Just this week U.S. oil producers constructed eight new drilling rigs in fields stretching across West Texas, Colorado and North Dakota. This surge in drilling is bringing workers back into the oil patch after being laid off during the oil bust, when 1 in 3 oil field workers were left jobless in Texas. The comeback in U.S. drilling has revived more than 15,000 jobs just within rig crews. While these numbers are promising, however, it’s likely they won’t last.
Thanks to oilfield innovations, the job opportunities and profiles will likely change drastically in the coming years. Demand will grow for more educated, higher-skilled workers to operate these new technologies, but automation is sure to be a blow to the hundreds of thousands of blue-collar workers employed by oil and gas. Many are likely to find themselves jobless once again, just as they were getting back to work.
By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com
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