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Sat 1 Dec 2007 04:00 AM

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Technology in practice

Benoit Barbier, vice president, Schlumberger Information Solutions, Middle East and Asia discusses the evolution of the digital oilfield concept.

Benoit Barbier, vice president, Schlumberger Information Solutions, Middle East and Asia discusses the evolution of the digital oilfield concept.

When did the term digital oilfield enter Schlumberger language?

Schlumberger has been involved in real-time monitoring and delivery of data from the well site since the late 1970s. In its infancy it entailed satellite transmission of wireline log data from our CSU (Cyber Service Unit) immediately after a survey, to a central Schlumberger hub for delivery to a remote client's office. This enabled quick decision making by remote experts, and feedback to client's well site witness about further well work.

The words ‘digital oilfield’ became part of the Schlumberger vocabulary in early 2000, when web-based access to information and real-time collaboration capabilities were becoming a reality for our industry. - Benoit Barbier

Today we provide secure real-time exploration, development and production data for wireline, MWD, LWD, well testing, stimulation and cementing operations to enhance well placement and optimise drilling and production operations. So, Schlumberger became aware of the idea of the digital oilfield over 30 years ago.

The words ‘digital oilfield' became part of the Schlumberger vocabulary in early 2000, when web-based access to information and real-time collaboration capabilities were becoming a reality for our industry. At some point it's important to answer the question: just what does the term ‘digital oilfield' mean? To Schlumberger it means accessing both low- and high-frequency data to integrate and automate drilling and production operations to improve recovery, operational efficiency, and effectiveness of equipment maintenance. This requires support for remote collaboration among various stakeholders both in the field and in the office.

What breakthrough or change in technology led to this?

The technology breakthroughs are numerous: communications technologies, numerous downhole-rig-production facilities related data measurement and collection systems from rig sensors to SCADA systems, IT infrastructures for secure real time communications, collaboration technologies allowing viewing and interaction with software and data by numerous parties in varied locations, new software architectures that take advantage of multiprocessor CPUs and increasing compute power supporting real-time analysis and modelling to compare field data with predicted performance, and remotely controlled production systems including lift systems and hydrocarbon handling facilities. In addition to innovative technologies, the digital oilfield requires expert services for problem diagnosis and intervention recommendations.

How does the digital oilfield influence your company's strategy?

The goal of realising the digital oilfield is an integral component of our Schlumberger Information Solutions strategy.

In many ways, the oilfield of the future is also the oilfield of the past, as we in the oil business are doing what we have always done; but today, we are working to take advantage of new or emerging digital technologies to run our businesses better. As always, oil companies and service companies are seeking means to find and produce more hydrocarbons, thanks to more efficient use of skilled staff, and with reduced risk.

In Schlumberger developments, we consider three levels of digital oilfield implementation to achieve the three goals: surveillance, analysis, and optimisation.

Schlumberger has capabilities and active development efforts in all these areas, and has already implemented digital oilfield projects for numerous oil companies.

What is Schlumberger doing to make the concept a reality?

Schlumberger is actively engaged in our technology centres and in joint projects with customers on developing digital oilfield technologies and processes. One important example is a three-year technology collaboration agreement begun in 2006 with Statoil ASA to develop new production optimisation technologies to extend the life of oil and gas fields.

In addition to the development of new technologies, we are jointly working on standardising and automating workflow processes with the ultimate goal of increasing oil recovery and accelerating production. This involves identification of best practices for the complete producing asset, including the processing facilities. A significant part of the project is related to testing new technologies in Statoil's new and producing assets, to ensure that the vision of integrated operations is achieved. The fields chosen for testing include fields with smart wells, a high percentage of instrumented wells and a high-quality communication infrastructure.

Clearly the oil and gas industry can increase production and drilling efficiency by reacting faster to problems, predicting problems to prevent them before they occur, and proactively planning and generating more development options.

Schlumberger is doing this today by recording production operations data at higher frequencies and using automated monitoring. Automated surveillance based on expected performance helps detect the onset of potential problems in time for preventative actions to be taken. More sophisticated modelling tools take advantage of better models of the subsurface and production facilities to find preferred options for field development - and are beginning to be used for real time production optimisation.

We are seeing companies reduce risk by managing uncertainty through more complete models, and reducing the exposure of people to hostile environments through remote operations support. Often this means running reservoir simulations on multiple versions of the reservoir model to reduce inherent uncertainties in the model. Many oil companies have found that they gain benefits simply through reducing the need for helicopter flights to offshore locations.

In addition, Schlumberger Information Solutions has opened its Breakthrough Performance Centre, a state-of-the-art Innovation Lab and executive briefing centre in Houston to showcase, create and test the latest digital technology innovations in the oil and gas industry.

Schlumberger plans to use the Innovation Lab for many purposes, but chiefly it is designed to enable collaborative projects among Schlumberger, clients and industry partners. Historically, getting IT systems and software to work seamlessly in complex secure networks, with remote locations and satellite connectivity has been difficult, even in real time centres. In the Innovation Lab, a collaborative team can address system integration or performance issues requiring debugging software code, looking for network bottlenecks or security conflicts to get all components of a digital oilfield solution to work in harmony and in real time.

How close is the completely digital oilfield?

Many companies believe that the digital oilfield is not so much a destination as it is a journey. New technologies will continue to appear and we will look for ways to use them to increase production, improve productivity, and reduce risk.

One view of the digital oilfield is that producing assets could be run under closed loop optimal control just as some processing operations are done today. Companies are finding that technologies that work in downstream environments like refining do not apply well to producing environments because of inherent uncertainties in the reservoir model. Nevertheless progress is being made and optimal control for some production subsystems is being used today.

In some ways, we are closer on the drilling side than the production one because of the nature of drilling operations; remote operations support is already providing large gains in the effective use of people.

Where is your company concentrating its development efforts?

When it comes to the digital oilfield, we are focused on providing remote operations and automation capability for oilfield service operations; developing sensors and downhole equipment for controlling producing wells; developing software tools and interpretation techniques for real time automation of production and drilling processes.

What have been the significant changes in technology to aid progress?

Advances in remote communications including VSAT improvements and wireless technologies; higher performance computing capability, proliferation of web-based tools, advances in geosteering for drilling, remotely controlled electronic submersible pump technology.

What are the main challenges ahead?

Assembling the various oilfield technologies along with the right IT capabilities to efficiently solve complex oilfield operations problems to meet specific business goals is and will remain difficult. Software integration and openness are a challenge for the industry, but of course we are jointly working on it.

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