There are voluminous amounts of data coming out of Louisiana’s oilfields, but not many companies are effectively putting it to use. The reasons for that are varied, but the biggest holdback, says Datagration Chairman and CEO Peter Bernard, is resistance to change.
Bernard, a 1985 ULL petroleum engineering graduate whose company is headquartered in Houston, says while nearly all oil and gas companies are on a “data journey” of some sort, most have only begun the process of capturing and storing the information. That’s an important first step, he says, but it does little good if they’re not able to consolidate and interpret the data when making decisions.
Unfortunately, many are hesitant to take it to that level, either from lack of know-how, an unwillingness to change or both.
It’s not a simple process, as it represents a fundamental transformation in the way they do business. “Nevertheless, the next step in the evolution of a company is having the data easily accessible and applicable to their workflow processes,” Bernard says.
Datagration’s patented software, PetroVisor, takes data from multiple sources and brings it together into a concise platform to help companies make operational and economic decisions. The company’s founder, Michael Stundner, recognized the need in 2010, and since purchasing the company Bernard and others on his team have modernized the product to make it more accessible and marketable.
“We combine all of those different data sources into one platform to enable owners to look at all their work processes and tie that with financial processes to help them make a decision as quickly as possible … and it’s all automated,” he adds. “We’re the next step in the journey. We can automate the connection of the key data to actually drive business decisions.”
Most of Bernard’s customers are mid-sized oil and gas companies. One company with assets in Louisiana is currently looking to deploy the technology to enhance its operations “in every part of the operation.” An announcement is pending.
UNIVERSITY PREPS A SMART OILFIELD WORKFORCE
Regardless of the pace it might take, Bernard feels it’s inevitable that all Louisiana oil and gas companies will one day see the need for a more digital approach to making decisions. Sheer competition will be the primary driver.
Seeing the need, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette launched a “smart oilfield” concentration this fall for its petroleum engineering majors.
Dr. Ahmed Khattab, dean of the University’s College of Engineering, says the smart oilfield concentration integrates the current program’s subsurface expertise with smart drilling, machine learning and data analytics.
It features a blend of courses and labs that focus on coding, statistics, machine learning, automation, predictive capabilities, carbon capture, computational fluid dynamics, smart drilling, and the economic feasibility of exploration in specific locations.
The new concentration was born out of the 2015 oil bust. That’s when ULL’s Petroleum Engineering Department realized that oil and gas companies would soon have to co-exist with the suppliers of renewable energy. When that happens, oilfield data management will become a necessary part of the decision-making process for oil and gas owners, in order to remain competitive.
“We began collecting information to determine the best approach,” says Rafael Hernandez, interim head of ULL’s Department of Petroleum Engineering. “We talked internally about the smart oilfield concentration, then took it to the university and their response was strong.”
They developed the curriculum based upon data-driven research, Hernandez says, with additional input from industry professionals via the department’s Industrial Advisory Board. Datagration’s Bernard played an important role in the meetings. “I’ve been active in helping them look at their curriculum and incorporate software technology and smart field technology to take them into the next realm of the industry … which is digitization and digital technology,” Bernard says.
He and others in industry have donated their patented technologies to be used in educating the students.
“When you think about oilfield production in Louisiana and teaching petroleum engineering to ULL graduates, they’re going to learn quickly that they have drilling data, production data, geologic data, facilities data … and trying to pull all of that together is what oil companies will need to do to be successful.”
Bernard also helped Texas A&M launch a similar program.
The oil and gas industry might be a bit behind other sectors in managing its data, but it’s catching up fast. Khattab and Hernandez say that ULL is ready. “The realization is that there’s a lot of data that’s collected, but not being utilized by petroleum engineering companies in the field,” Hernandez says. “They need to make better use of the data to reduce cost, forecast performance of oil wells, to have a better handle on emissions etc. Some of the new training we’re providing is addressing this need.”
According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment opportunities for petroleum engineers is projected to increase 8 percent through 2029.
And at a recent petroleum engineering conference, attendees there said they planned to advertise specifically for “smart” petroleum engineering positions in the future.
“If you talk with the Shells or the Schlumbergers there is a need for engineers who know how to handle all of that,” Hernandez says. “At ULL, we want to be ahead of the game and have our students ready.”
Students are learning real-world applications in the process. One new class at ULL—Smart Drilling— uses Halliburton software that can be integrated with existing oil well databases to ensure that a drilling operation won’t disrupt other existing wells in the area. “It provides us a good picture of all that is happening under the subsurface,” he adds.
Other software utilizes machine learning applications that can read the production rates of oil, water and gas and predict potential well failures.
Students will also have training on data analytics, machine learning and carbon sequestration. It’s a set of skills that they’ll be able to apply to any petroleum engineering occupation. Upon graduation, ULL students will receive a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering, with a focus on smart oilfields.
The concentration is among nine others that the college has added in the last two years to address industry trends.
Other new concentrations include bioengineering, water resources and environmental engineering, secure smart systems, power and sustainable energy, computer engineering, autonomous and robotic systems, sustainable energy systems, and engineering management.
“These are strategic additions implemented to ensure we continually give our graduates the knowledge and skills they will need for the jobs they want, and that will position them to thrive and advance in their careers,” Khattab said.