New Technologies are Transforming the Digital Oil Field


K.J. Rodgers
Crownsville, Maryland  


New and emerging technologies are continuously expanding boundaries and improving efficiency and safety in today’s oil field. 

This past week, I was given a stack of DVDs filled with client videos that needed to be reviewed. Each DVD contained about 2 gigabytes worth of data and was, at the time, the most effective way of storing this much information. I was able, with a few clicks of the mouse, to transferred 5 years worth of such data onto a micro USB storage device that had to be taped to a larger item to ensure I didn’t lose it in the shuffle.

Ventage Technology

circa 1950: The Typhoon computer being operated from a control console by technicians of the RCA Laboratories. In the background is a portion of several panels which contain thousands of electron tubes and miles of intricate wiring. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

We have watched data and information that once required an entire warehouse of computers to store be shrunk down to an object so small and efficient, that its biggest risk is misplacing the tiny gadget. We have watched as new and emerging technologies and trends have disrupted one marketplace after another. My generation is now even blamed for threatening to kill our local Applebees.

Things are no different in the oil and gas industries. A while back I wrote of disruptive new technologies such as MOTIVE being used to streamline drilling using artificial intelligence. Not only does this increase yields per site, but it also serves to create whole new industries.

Activists and some forecasters have, for some time, claimed peak oil or peak gas is on the horizon. For a little while, this was a real fear – due not to supply limitations, but rather too much supply. We hear a lot less about that now as we’ve been able to export LNG and send product to Canada and Mexico by pipeline

The oil and gas industry has historically had many ups and downs. A recent article in Forbes written by Mark P. Mills, discusses how offshore drilling boomed with new technologies, then flattened out as the technologies slowed. Think of the dot-com bubble as another example. Remember when a TV set would have a 15-20 year life cycle? Then things changed—rapidly—and now, well, not so much? Mills sums up this aspect of technology by saying:

“The narrative now is that productivity gains are nearly maxed out. It makes sense that this new industry would follow the standard progression seen in the advent of all new mechanical tools and techniques wherein there’s a learning curve in the early days leading to rapid improvements, then things slow down. Recent data certainly supports that possibility. A slow-down is visible now for the key mechanical and operational features that have driven per-rig productivity gains thus far: longer lateral lengths, more frac stages, and more sand and water per well. And while there is still headroom for more gains in all of those, limits are in sight.”

Emerging TechnologiesThis sounds a lot like the old saying a carpenter is only as good as his tools. With all that being said, we are, nonetheless, on the verge of a new digital revolution—another burst of technology. Fascinating new technologies and data analyzing AI are being developed daily, in fact. There is no lack of technologies or any lull in implementing them in the oil and gas world as the casual Forbes reader might suppose. There’s plenty of room for new gains.

Just like MOTIVE’s drilling software, other new ventures are popping up and disrupting the status quo. RigUp, Ambyint, Novi Labs, are all delivering a new level of service and technology to increase efficiencies. Oil and gas companies are now able to not only choose a space to drill, but the right places to drill, enabling more yields, safer operations, and less expensive products for the market. It’s not simply a matter of extending laterals, which, obviously, has its limits.

Aside: One of RigUp’s early investors was Peter Thiel, who with Elon Musk, founded PayPal. It is interesting how Thiel is in the capitalist energy market while Musk is in the “give me your government subsidies” market.

Not only in the field are these disruptive technologies being used. New tech is being used in power plants and refineries too. Carbon capture and storage; integrated gasification combined cycle; continuous emissions monitors; selective catalytic reduction; and thermal efficiency are all being driven by new technologies, increasing efficiencies and decreasing emissions. Just imagine what could be with carbon capture, for example. Think about it.

Disruptive technologies such as those being used in the oil and gas industry excite me. Perhaps, it’s the nerd in me, but to see how the changes happen so quickly only increases the desire to see what’s to come. It also truly makes me wonder why there is such a lack of new technologies being used on the renewable side of the house; perhaps the lack of capitalistic competition is driving out those who challenge the status quo. Think about that, too.


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