Big Data in the Oil and Gas Industry

Ahmed Hashmi, Global Head of Upstream Technology, BP, talks about the big data future.
This article appeared in Vol. 14, No. 5 - 2017


Big Data in the Oil and Gas Industry

What do you understand by big data?

Big data is the challenge that many industries, including oil and gas, face in handling large volumes of data and information, much of it diverse, unstructured, and increasingly real-time. When harnessed properly, big data is a big opportunity, offering enormous value through improved knowledge and decision-making.

Why is it so important to E&P?

Ahmed Hashmi, Global Head of Upstream Technology, BP. E&P is an intensely data driven, high technology business; it always has been, particularly in the subsurface. The data and knowledge we have about the fields we operate today, and from others in our past, inform our future developments, as well as providing analogues to other fields for new access.

In operations, control of big data offers improvement in safety, efficiency and reliability: today our operational environments are enabled with hundreds of thousands of sensors, each transmitting performance data against a defined operational envelope, enabling us to adjust, optimise and increasingly to predict anomalies before they arise.

What are BP’s big data plans?

At BP, we have publicly stated our ambition to be the leading digital upstream company. Harnessing the power of data is key to this ambition. Over the past decade we have invested in subsea fibre to connect our operations to our centres of expertise, in high performance computing to crunch through massive volumes of subsurface data and in a proprietary data lake. Every day, twice as many data records enter the BP data lake than daily tweets on Twitter – and we plan a six-fold increase by 2020. We are building the Connected Upstream – connecting up our equipment, systems and people. It is BP’s Industrial Internet of Things.

What is driving these plans?

The E&P sector faces many challenges today, not least the lower oil price. There is still short- and long-term demand for oil and gas: the world needs our products, but it wants lower carbon energy, and renewables are now presenting a real alternative. The economics of our industry have changed – we need to adapt to succeed.

Building the Connected Upstream and becoming the digital leader in our sector is part of our strategy to transform, and become more efficient, more resilient and create more value for our shareholders.

Is the industry technologically at the forefront of big data?

As a sector, we can often appear to be digital laggards. But there are pockets where we have moved further and faster than almost every other sector, including high performance computing. We have continuously invested in compute power over the past two decades to underpin our seismic processing capability. BP’s Centre for High Performance Computing is equipped with six petaflops compute capacity, and growing. Today, we run complex seismic algorithms in a week that would have taken us 2,000 years about 20 years ago.

But while high performance computing is an acknowledged leadership area, in other areas we are building capability. For a long time our sensors were transmitting more data than we could handle; that is changing, with platforms like Plant Operations Advisor, a collaboration with GE using its world-class Predix systems – the first application for our industry. We have built a proprietary capability, using Distributed Acoustic Sensing with downhole fibre, to record sounds within our wells two miles below the seafloor to listen for sand which can constrain our ability to produce oil. Each hour we record a terabyte of data: the equivalent of downloading 1,000 Netflix films simultaneously. Today, not only can we record those data, but we can extract what’s valuable, visualise them, and make decisions from them.

So the answer is, yes, we’re at the forefront in some areas, and catching up fast in others.

Will big data and cloud computing change the industry?

Big data – when coupled with the cloud, machine learning, AI, automation and even higher performance computing – is a big opportunity, but we need to be realistic. Right now, there is a lot of hype around digital, with claims of exponential value; 10x rather than 10% improvements. Delivering anything close to this magnitude of improvement will require the industry to throw out the rule book. It will need novel technology collaborations, fresh thinking around some of our established ways of working across the industry, skilling up our people in advanced analytics and getting our mindset to one of balancing physics-based approaches with data-driven solutions.

Digital is already changing our industry; those who seize the opportunities it presents are likely to adapt best, become more resilient and create more value.


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