Digital Innovations Key to Oil & Gas Recovery



The 2017 Oil and Gas Trends report from PWC predicts that the sector will emerge from the recent troubled years and enter a period of recovery. In order to do so, the industry needs to make the most of digital innovations.
The report says that companies throughout the entire sector will need to look at ways to increase collaboration and examine the role that digital technologies can play both in improving their performance and improving oil and gas industry services. Innovations such as automated robotics can be used for routine pipe connections and maintenance, and advances in the Internet of Things (IoT) can be leveraged to install sensors that can predict equipment breakdowns before they occur. The IoT is also expected to help the industry improve production efficiency in deep sea and offshore oil platforms through advanced asset tracking capabilities, which will allow shipments to be tracked and monitored for leaks. All of this combined will help companies to cut cost for inventory, downtime, logistics and storage.  

Oil and Gas Robots

While automation for tasks such as pipe connections and maintenance has meant fewer jobs for humans and more for robots, the sector’s predicted recovery means that there will be more jobs for both. In a recent Bloomberg article, it was reported that Nabors Industries, the world’s largest onshore driller, is likely to cut the number of workers at each well site over time, from 20 to just five, by deploying more automated drilling rigs. At the same time, the demand for automation-related software specialists and data technicians will grow.


Since most new oil is found in harsh and remote environments, accessing that new oil is becoming even more difficult. To meet these growing challenges, what new robots should the sector be deploying?


In a paper published in Science Direct, Application of robotics in onshore oil and gas industry—A review Part I, Amit Shukla and Hamad Karki, two PhD students from the Imperial College London and the University of Tokyo, respectively, recommend that the sector learns from the manufacturing industry, which has successfully transferred dull, dirty and dangerous tasks to robots, instead of just using robots for inspection, maintenance and repair.


In Part II of the review, the authors predict that the following digital innovations will be key to success as offshore rigs are forced to make the move from shallow waters to ultra-deep waters:

  • teleoperation of unmanned drilling and production platforms
  • remotely operated vehicles (ROVs)
  • autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs)
  • welding robots for double hulled ships and underwater manipulator robots

The paper also highlights that the success of these digital innovations depends on human interaction in the form of operation and monitoring of performance. While IoT-connected sensors can provide information on how these technologies are performing, the decisions that are made based on the data they provide have to be made by humans.


However, the role of robots isn’t limited to just extracting the oil and maintaining the rigs. Researchers at MIT have also developed a swarm of robots that can clean up the sea in the unfortunate case of oil spills. Such technologies could make cleanups faster and environmentally more sound.

Keeping the Recovery Going

Now that a pro-fossil fuel administration is in the White House, the time is right for the oil and gas sector to get back on its feet. The latest Nasdaq Oil & Gas Industry Outlook, released in March 2017, shows that the industry’s earning are up at a time when costs are down because during the downturn companies learned how to operate for less.


Looking ahead, using digital innovations, automation and IoT sensors will be critical in driving efficiency up and keeping costs down. This seems to be the only option for keeping the recovery going as the transition to renewable energy continues to gain momentum.

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