The role of communications in the digital oilfield

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The ‘digital oilfield’ maximises the aligning of information technologies to the needs of the petroleum business.

It is growing in importance as the global energy sector rapidly runs out of what the industry defines as ‘easy oil’. One result is that energy companies are pushing the technology boundaries, as they look to meet growing global demand by driving up production levels from ever more challenging environments.

Where before it would be typical to drill a few large wells, it is now becoming more common to drill an increased number of smaller ones. This means that there are a lot of new greenfield sites that need to be connected. With disparate sites comes the challenge of passing information back to head-quarters in a timely manner in order to be able to make faster decisions on where to drill to increase profitability. The only way to do this is through efficient technology.

And it is big business: by 2015, the digital oilfield services market is set to grow by 40% to more than $200 million according to estimates from the recent Digital Oilfields World Summit. Implemented effectively, the shift to digital oilfields is expected to tap into a further 125 million barrels of oil, the equivalent of Iran’s current estimated reserves.

More agile access to huge volumes of data is the key to success here and will require the adoption of M2M and other smart technologies. It will require a move away from traditional siloed data sets to an environment where cross-disciplinary data transparency is the norm, enabling all users to take more informed decisions based on the best possible data available in real time.

The oil sector is a tough environment demanding rugged M2M communications solutions. M2M applications are key to tracking assets and monitoring operating conditions. M2M will support greater oil production through more effective recovery techniques and improve operational efficiencies through more collaborative information-sharing throughout the whole end-to-end discovery and production process. And, by allowing key information to be exchanged without human intervention, it is possible to reduce costs, improve efficiencies and customer service.

M2M communications technologies are especially compelling in managing the large volumes of data produced, transmitted and stored in the digital oilfield environment. And, in delivering these benefits, as in other sectors, complex large-scale M2M deployments move from simply being part of individual business processes to that of a core part of the overall business operation.