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Big Oil Turns to Big Data to Save High Drilling Costs

Data analytics is becoming increasingly important in the industry.Data analytics is becoming increasingly important in the industry.

In today's US shale fields, tiny sensors attached to production gear harvest data on everything from pumping pressure to the heat and rotational speed of drill bits boring into the rocky earth.

The sensors are leading Big Oil's mining of so-called big data, with some firms envisioning billions of dollars in savings over time by avoiding outages, managing supplies and identifying safety hazards, Reuters reported.

The industry has long used sophisticated technologies to find oil and gas. But only recently have oil firms pooled data from across the industry for wider operating efficiencies - one of many cost-cutting efforts spurred by the two-year downturn in crude oil prices.

ConocoPhillips says that sensors scattered across its well fields helped it halve the time it once took to drill new wells in Eagle Ford shale basin of South Texas.

By comparing data from hundreds of sensors, its program automatically adjusts the weight placed on a drill bit and its speed, accelerating the extraction of oil, said Matt Fox, ConocoPhillips' executive vice president for strategy, exploration and technology. It is just one application, but if applied to the more than 3,000 wells ConocoPhillips hopes to drill in the Texas basin, those small sensors could lead to "billions and billions of dollars" in savings, Fox said in an interview.

Back when oil traded at more than $100 a barrel - before the price crash in 2014 - data analysis was an "afterthought" for most oil firms, said Binu Mathew, who oversees digital products at GE Oil & Gas. Now - with prices at about $43 a barrel after recovering from a low of about $26 in early 2016 - "the efficiency aspect is far, far more important," Mathew said.

A survey by Ernst & Young last year examined 75 large oil and gas companies and found that 68% of them had invested more than $100 million each in data analytics during the past two years. Nearly three quarters of those firms planned to allocate between 6% and 10% of their capital budgets to digital technology, the survey found.

 

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