Digital Roadmaps – Comparing The Steps Taken By Energy Giants
Published 3rd November 2021
by David Stent, Content Manager, Energy Council
Many of the household major oil and gas companies have begun shifting their market position to better prepare for the impending climate revolution. This energy supply shift has been imagined in several scenarios, which in essence are distilled to: our current path, our stated path and the necessary path needed to reach net-zero emissions. Inevitably, the stuttering and profiteering has led us to the brink and now we, as a global society, must rely on our ingenuity to restore the planet to a stable state.
Easier said than done, of course, however making this process possible is the integration of advanced digital technologies into robust, legacy mechanical technologies. The rise of this digitalization has been known in the industry, as Oil and Gas 4.0 – referring to the technological era of the 4th Industrial Revolution.
Central to the decarbonisation of the energy sector is how the biggest actors react and shift to a new era of production. Herein, The Energy Council looks at digital revolutions currently being undertaken by five of the world’s largest oil and gas companies and their approaches to digitalization.
The Italian oil and gas powerhouse, Eni, has sought to digitize six of their largest assets in Italy through 170 digital projects out of their Digital Centre in San Donato Milanese. Here over 8,000 employees are working to develop cutting-edge digital solutions across the value chain of their oil and gas businesses. Eni has set out to achieve four core objectives of this ‘digital revolution’, namely: to improve safety and asset integrity, improving the efficiency and effectiveness of industrial and commercial performance, building a decarbonisation path and the circular economy, and inducing innovation and developing human capital. However, this corporate verbiage somewhat understates the consideration and application of digital processes by the company.
Eni has been at the forefront of applying advanced technologies to stay ahead of the competitors for some time. Central to their vision has been the utilization of two of the world’s most powerful supercomputers; the older HPC4 with a peak processing power of 18 petaflops and the new HPC5, the fifth most powerful computer on the planet, with an incredible peak processing power of 51 petaflops. Together those 70 petaflops can effectively calculate 70 million billion mathematical operations in a single second – and recently utilized to conducted Covid vaccine research, studying over 70 billion molecules with potential anti-viral properties!
While the digital hub is located in Milan, the Val’d Agri Oil Centre (COVA) in the southern reaches of the country in the town of Viggiano, is where many of the most advanced technologies are being tested for the first time. Central to these tests is Eni’s “Digital Lighthouse, a fully digitalized plant, equipped with the most innovative technologies to support efficiency and optimise processes and day-to-day working practices, including a super-sophisticated sensor system”.
Then there is the Viggiano plant , home to the Integrated Operations Centre (IOC), known internally as the ‘great digital library’, where Eni’s workers can access a vast range of resources (many digitized from their physical library in Rome) to assist their investigations and research. Providing near instant access to information for engineers, researchers and the like, will ensure productivity is not lost searching for information and can focus on core operations.
Bp’s engagement with decarbonisation and digitalisation has been promoted more than any other IOC, with CEO Bernard Looney seeking to emphasise bp’s commitment to reimagining the business by 2030. Driven by three core ideals: to restructure toward a net-zero business, to “improving people’s lives” and “caring for our planet”.
Since announcing their net-zero roadmap, bp has rapidly expanded and invested in their portfolio of sustainable businesses and low-carbon technologies that will rapidly modernize their core business practices. The oil and gas giant has placed a fair deal of expectation that their digital investments, stated to average $1.5 billion gross per annum by 2025. Such innovation will reap the company big rewards in lower carbon, greater efficiencies and ultimately, believe will unlock $1 billion in ‘enhanced revenues’ by 2030. In addition to these investments, the company has launched 10 new digital businesses, each with billion-dollar potential.
Following the launch of their decarbonisation strategies, bp has sought to create extensive cost efficiencies via digital programs that look at: “the centralisation and automation of work planning, management and monitoring in well operations, oil and gas production, and refining; and consolidating digital technology platforms, and using Robotic Process Automation to automate manual processes.”
Bp envisions their digital innovations as a core business line over the coming years, with digital advances increasingly enhancing revenues through the use of machine learning and advanced analytics that will, “optimize entire systems from reservoir through to refineries.” They appear to already be reaping some of these rewards – in the last year, bp has reaped rewards of these innovations and has lowered scope 1 & 2 emissions by 16%.
Shell is on their own crusade to find any which efficiency they can to lower their emissions drastically over the next decade. Now legally binded to a 45% lowering in emissions by 2030, the international oil company has used this directive to establish themselves as leaders in oil and gas transformation.
Big Data is a core focus for Shell as they try to overcome some of the burdens of the large data sets incumbent with exploration activites. The sheer size of exploration data can range from; “robotic subsea inspection videos exceeding 7TB, to land seismic surveys that are up to 20 petabytes and marine surveys which range from 10-30 TB.” For scale, one terabyte is over 500 hours of video, while one petabyte is 1,024 terabytes or over 500,000 hours of video.
Coming to terms with these data sets requires serious processing power and contextualization software – enter MachineMax, a Shell-incubated telematics venture. MachineMax utilizes the IoT of sensors to constantly assess and monitor equipment efficiencies, with the intention of attempting to pre-empt and predict maintenance needs before they arise.
Shell have also collaborated with Kongsberg Digital to enhance their utilization and understanding of systems through their cutting-edge ‘digital twin’ technology. These ‘twins’ reflect a physical systems in a virtual setting, using data in real-time to provide instant analysis of processes across vast systems across upstream, midstream and downstream. Shell believes that by maximizing data efficiencies across their business, these will lead to extensive cost-savings and rapid emissions reductions.
Moving onto the NOCs whose objectives remain somewhat different from the listed IOCs, their intention remains the same – to use digitalization to drive operational efficiencies that “deliver a significant and rapid impact to companies’ bottom-line through production and resource optimisation”. For PETRONAS it is, once again, all about what they can achieve by leveraging advances in big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence to better understand and interpret these data sets.
The Malaysian NOC has excelled in developing local talents and skills that led to the incredible rise of the company in the mid-70s. It is with this same impetus that the company is transforming their business through embedding digital operations that will optimise production and ensure long-term competitiveness. Petronas has achieved this by building out capacity in the areas of robotics, cyber security, data organisation, machine learning and artificial intelligence.
Their robotics development has led to a number of exciting projects such as the ‘BIKE’ – an inspection robot capable of “crawling and climbing in tight spaces”. Together with their ‘ANYMal’ – an operational robot utilising ‘extreme mobility and advanced sensoring’ to conduct surveillance and maintenance checks on unmanned facilities. Accompanying these robotics projects are a fleet of advanced drones providing ‘agile and fast response’ to workers personal surveillance needs, to transfer materials or conduct remote inspections.
Many of these projects are tested first at their Resak platform offshore the east coast of Malaysia in Kerteh, Terengganu. Here Petronas has developed a roadmap to entirely shift the facility from being a typical manned operation to fully unmanned, remote-controlled operation by 2023. This groundbreaking capability will radically enhance the safety, security and efficiency of production processes.
As we have come to expect from the world’s largest energy company, Saudi Aramco has been investing heavily in the digitalization of their facilities and systems. Similarly, to Petronas, Aramco has developed a range of exciting robotics technologies that will allow workers to engage with their tasks in a far safer and more efficient manner. One of the more exciting developments has been of the SWIM-R module, a Shallow Water Inspection and Monitoring Robot – this allows dangerous inspections currently performed by divers to be carried out faster, safer and effectively reducing inspection costs.
Central to the successful deployment of these technologies is the Aramco AI Hub in Dhahran, a 3,000 square foot immersive visually immersive hub of video walls, comprising over 109 million pixels. This centre is designed “to support conception of new ideas, prototyping, piloting, and full-scale deployment”.
Aramco’s Uthmaniyah Gas Plant, one of the world’s largest gas processing facilities, is the testing ground for these deployed technologies – becoming a fully-integrated digital facility, including the use of drones and wearable technologies for employees. Ultimately, cutting-edge technologies will be deployed and tested at Uthmaniyah before being implemented at seven other sites. There is little doubt that Aramco will seek to be a leader in low-carbon technologies and fuels, just as they have dominated the oil markets for so long. It will only become more exciting from here on out.
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