Technological Innovation in the Bakken and Beyond
Posted July 22, 2019
Natural gas and oil play a role in virtually all aspects of modern life, powering the products and processes that get us from point A to point B, and serving as building blocks for the materials, products and tools that keep us happier, healthier and more connected than ever before.
Today’s natural gas and oil industry is applying data-driven approaches and cutting-edge technologies to modernize and streamline operations. Jobs are safer and processes more sustainable at wells, on platforms and pipelines and at refineries across the U.S. because of exciting new innovations. The 21st century oilfield is digital, more efficient and cleaner. It’s hard hats and high tech. It’s steel-toed boots and artificial intelligence – all driving the U.S. energy revolution.
With the industry’s digital transformation in mind, participants at last week’s Bakken Conference and Expo in North Dakota showcased the industry’s latest high-tech solutions for natural gas and oil production and distribution. Big data – and its applications in artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and the Industrial Internet of Things – was a major topic of conversation, as analytics continue growing in operations, helping energy companies make tactical decisions about exploration and development.
For example, Equinor partnered with a data solutions provider to deploy AI on Bakken well pads to enable more accurate analyses of downhole conditions. Equinor’s commitment to digitalization extends beyond its work in the Bakken, and the company expects it to transform business for the better. Equinor Chief Digital Officer Torbjørn F. Folgerø:
“Digitalisation of our work processes will increase our work efficiency by reducing the time spent on manual and repetitive tasks. We thus get more time to perform value adding work. … [And] we see a potential within robotization and remote control of current physically demanding activities. This will have benefits in the form of improved safety for our employees, reduced carbon footprint and improved profitability.”
Robotization is also driving progress in energy, making it easier to access and analyze equipment integrity while minimizing personnel risk – because robots can go where humans can’t. Plus, today’s drones can be equipped with optical gas imaging technology. This simplifies leak detection and reduces methane emissions at facilities where crews have historically had to manually spot and repair seepage.
Using Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology, the industry in the Bakken can model terrain and identify ground shifts, allowing for the early detection of potential pipeline issues.
Elsewhere, Phillips 66 has developed an autonomous robot that can inspect the interior of diesel storage tanks while they continue to operate. This is safer because it eliminates the need for workers to enter the tank, and more cost effective because the inspection can occur without draining the tank. Todd Denton, general manager for Phillips 66’s midstream operations, commented on the project rollout:
“We continue to find immense value in being able to better understand the internal condition of our tanks while they remain in service. … We see numerous applications for this service and look forward to its continued deployment across our portfolio.”
Behind the scenes, the evolution of blockchain – technology that facilitates instantaneous financial transactions without traditional banking networks – is improving the marketplace in which energy companies move and sell their products. Platforms allow natural gas and oil producers and their suppliers to streamline transactions, automate invoice systems and monitor the supply chain in real time.
Notably, Shell has made a sizable investment in exploring blockchain usage. In 2017, the oil major created a division within the company dedicated to unlocking the potential of the technology, anticipating a more decentralized future energy system. Today, Shell is partnered with a blockchain ecosystem tailored to the energy industry’s regulatory and operational needs and plans to invest in another blockchain startup focused on our energy future.
These are just a few examples of our industry innovating and developing technologies to be more precise, efficient and productive while reducing its environmental footprint.
By harnessing the promise of the world’s most innovative technologies, the natural gas and oil industry is second to no one in modernizing its operations and facilities, leading America in the 21st century alongside our partners in Silicon Valley. Not only does the industry supply the materials to build the devices – and the energy to power them – it turns around and uses the technologies to make the work better and safer for everyone involved.
About The Author
Sam Winstel is a writer for the American Petroleum Institute. He comes to API from Edelman, where he supported communications marketing strategies for clients across the firm’s energy and federal government practices. Originally from Dallas, Texas, Sam graduated from Davidson College in North Carolina, and he currently resides in Washington, D.C.
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