Future tech specs

Technology can be slow to take hold on expensive assets.

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By  Stuart Matthews Published  December 2, 2007

Technology has a tendency to be taken for granted. Easy access to hardware, software and gadgets that were once highly specialised has made many industries forget the time before the digital age.

The oil industry is not so lucky. With much old, expensive and distinctly analogue infrastructure in place, new digital technology hasn't always been able to get a foothold. The concept of a digital oilfield is a case in point. The idea has been around a while and for most it is easy to see the efficiencies it could bring. But the digital oilfield is not something that can easily be introduced across all aspects of the industry, simply because not every pipe, pump and valve is ready to plug into an electronic grid.

However, progress is being made. Large and prominent organisations such as General Electric and Schlumberger are investing time, money and human resources into finding ways to integrate the old with the new. The work of these and other companies has many facets, from the detailed functionality of a single sensor to the software that lets all the information make sense.

While making all oilfields completely digital may be too much to expect - digitising old existing assets is a huge, costly task - continued innovation and investment will help oil's digital age come to fruition sooner rather than later. Just how soon may be a question answered at this month's International Petroleum Technology conference in Dubai.

A long list of technical sessions is addressing detailed and specific aspects of exploration and production. It's fair to assume that all of this effort is aimed at the more efficient production of hydrocarbon reserves.

Efficient use of these reserves is also on the agenda thanks to OPEC. It preferred to talk environment at last month's Riyadh summit, avoiding the sticky issues of supply and the declining dollar. Saudi Arabia is backing environmental talk with US $300 million in research money and OPEC is urging the industry to find greater levels of environmental and resource efficiency through technology.

Technology and its benefits may be taken for granted by some people, but probably not those in the oil industry. They know how much it costs and its value.

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