What technologies could reshape the future of the oil and gas industry?
Observers from the world of petroleum geology, geophysics and engineering discussed that question at this year’s premiere Unconventional Resources Technology Conference (URTeC) in Denver.
Predictions ranged from drilling technologies to digital technologies, from large-scale to nanotech, from sweep efficiency to cost efficiencies. The forecasts were partly wish-list and partly punch-list, with a hint of gee-whiz in the mix.
Here are a dozen technologies identified at URTeC that could change the industry’s future:
URTeC was a first-of-its-kind meeting on unconventional resources, held last August and jointly sponsored by AAPG, the Society of Exploration Geophysicists and the Society of Petroleum Engineers.
During the meeting AAPG member Mark Zoback, professor of geophysics at Stanford University, moderated an interactive panel discussion on “Technologies That May Transform the Future.”
Panel participants, all AAPG members, were:
Maybe surprisingly, maybe not, data technologies received an abundance of attention in discussions about the industry’s future.
“I think there’s huge potential in some of the softer side of information technology,” Mullen said.
“One of the issues we have is that we are a very data-intensive industry,” he said. “There might be terabytes of data that you’re dealing with. Where do you put all this stuff so you can find it?”
Oil companies aren’t the only organizations that deal with huge data volumes, and Mullen thinks the industry could borrow concepts from outside oil and gas. The gaming industry, for example, has its own approach to imaging, and weather forecasts deal with big data daily.
“I can hop on my iPad and see a weather map of the entire United States with a pinch of my fingers,” he said. “I think, ‘Why can’t I do that with my oil and gas data?’”
One serious challenge for the industry is acquiring data that is both accurate and consistent. Data collected by state agencies in the United States is notoriously inconsistent and difficult to utilize, Mullen noted.
“It would be nice if the professional organizations could put out recommended standards on what should be kept in the states,” he said.
The continuing process of converting old paper files to digital files will bring benefits for the industry, Mullen said – but it also has challenges.
“The problem with paper well files is that maybe the piece of paper you’re looking for or the information from the one particular day you’re looking for, someone took that out of the file and didn’t put it back,” he said.
Companies often assign low-level staffers to create digital information databases, he noted. That can lead to errors, omissions and low quality.
“This is where databases turn into sausage,” he said. “The more you know what’s in them, the less you like them.”
Mullen identified two other changes in the industry where new technology makes a difference – the concept of what producing “pay” is, and the much-anticipated shift in workforce as a generation of older professionals retire.
Concepts of conventional pay cutoffs “are out the window,” Mullen said. Unconventional resource plays produce from “unproducible” low-perm zones, tight sands could revolutionize the industry, and ideas about what will produce change constantly.
Years ago, “nobody even thought you could produce gas from coal,” he noted.
But maybe no challenge for the oil and gas industry is greater than the coming crew change, as older workers leave the workforce and take with them lifetimes of experience and knowledge.
“I’ve seen it in my 37 years in the industry,” Mullen said. “The predecessor generation to mine, what they took for granted we had to learn all over again, and make it work.”
Technology could have a part in easing that shift – if the industry can create true knowledge databases and make them functional.
“If there was a database architecture – I keep going back to Google and Bing and the others – that to me is a great idea,” Mullen said.
In a time of very rapid technological change, Mullen thinks the industry could do a better job of acquiring and adapting new technologies for its own needs.
“From my viewpoint, I think some companies have done better than others in keeping up,” he said. “But I think we lag as a whole in utilizing the technology that has come along.”
The call for papers has been issued for the second annual Unconventional Resources Technology Conference – more popularly known as URTeC – a joint venture that brings together the key disciplines and technologies engaged in the development of North American plays.
URTeC, sponsored by the three largest upstream societies – AAPG, the Society of Petroleum Engineers and the Society of Exploration Geophysicists – will be held Aug. 25-27 at the Colorado Convention Center, Denver.
The inaugural URTeC event attracted more than 4,300 geoscientists and engineers.
URTeC is designed to fill the unique need for a peer-reviewed, science-based unconventional resources conference that will take an asset team approach to development of unconventional resource plays – similar to how oil and gas professionals work in today’s market.
This year’s technical program co-chairs are AAPG Honorary member and past president Steve Sonnenberg, Colorado School of Mines; AAPG Honorary member R. Randy Ray (SEG), R3 Exploration Corp.; and Luis Baez (SPE), BG Group.
Eleven technical program themes have been announced:
The call for abstract deadline is Dec. 12.