Is DATA the New Oil?

19 December 2018

Lab Chat

Big data, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning will all play a vital role in the expansion and optimisation of the oil and gas industry, according to the UAE’s minister of state for AI technology Omar bin Sultan Al Olama. Speaking at the ADIPEC meeting in Abu Dhabi this month, Al Olama pointed to data as the “new oil” and encouraged major players in the industry to get on board.

While demand for oil and gas is expected to peak by 2023 with the advent of renewable and alternative forms of energy generation, the fossil fuels still account for over 50% of the world’s energy needs at present. Using analytical tools to optimise operations can not only help to make the most of this precious resource, but also help the planet and save companies money into the bargain.

The way of the future

Al Olama expounded the virtues of technological advances before an audience of industry professionals in early November, where he pointed out the huge environmental and economic impacts it could have. Emerging technologies such as AI, big data, blockchain, the internet of things (IoT) and others are projected to have a seismic effect on the way all business interactions and processes take place, including those occurring in the energy industry.

“Any company, any government that merges data and oil is going to get yields that we have never seen before. We are going to see lower costs, with profits that cannot be found elsewhere,” he explained. “The opportunities are endless — some estimates say AI can have a $2.85 billion contribution in the energy industry by 2022. That's a start, but the impact is going to be much bigger than that.”

Already leveraging its potential

Forward-thinking players in the industry have already made moves to capitalise on the benefits offered by big data and accompanying technologies.

The market crash of 2014, which saw oil prices plummet due to a glut in supply brought on by the explosion of the shale and fracking market and a simultaneous reduced worldwide demand, forced companies to look for cost-cutting ways to improve their operations. This has allowed them to continue making healthy profits, even as barrels slip to half of the price they were before the crash.

One case in point is industry behemoth British Petroleum (BP). Last year, BP announced it would increase its data storage capacity fivefold, bumping up its current capacity of one petabyte to an incredible six petabytes by 2020.

With more than 99% of its existing well infrastructure already equipped with sensors and other monitoring equipment, BP is already perfectly placed to access reams of data about how its wells are performing – and how they can improve. Leveraging that data is going to be instrumental in keeping them at the forefront of the energy industry as its complexion evolves over the com

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