The digital oil field could help address the industry's labour shortage, but only if the right skills are in place to make the most of it. How is the oil and gas sector's skills landscape changing in the face of digital technology, and what are companies doing to keep their workforces ahead of the curve?
At this point it is clear that the oil and gas industry's labour deficit is a problem for today, not tomorrow. According to research by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the industry needs to find 120,000 new employees over the next 10 years to avoid a disruptive skills shortage, and the effects of that need are being felt today.
"The amount of jobs up here - it's scary to be honest," said Mark Mallin, a new hire in Aberdeen's offshore oil and gas industry, in an interview with The Telegraph in September 2013.
"If you go on to one of the careers websites there are literally hundreds if not a couple of thousand jobs every day...companies ask for an experienced guy but a lot of the experienced guys are retiring or coming onshore to work so they need to widen it up a bit. They have got to think outside the box."
Expertise efficiency: the lure of the digital oil field
One of the ways O&G majors are beginning to think outside the box is the increasingly advanced implementation of the so-called digital oil field (DOF). This is a broad term covering the use of connected technologies and big data innovations to optimise E&P operations and allow for remote monitoring and decision-making support.
These technologies are also seen as a good way to make the most of experienced employees' expertise, as the ability to monitor and support multiple wells simultaneously using streamlined, real-time data is far more time-efficient - not to mention safer - than travelling out to individual operations, which are often located in remote offshore environments.
If deployed properly, DOF innovations have proven themselves effective savers of cost and time for offshore O&G projects and a boost for broader company performance. Chevron, which has emerged as one of Big Oil's leaders in DOF technology, reports that its original DOF initiative, dubbed i-field, has unlocked hundreds of millions of dollars in cost savings and improved output since 2002, and the company's introduction of a remote machinery support centre (MSC) and real-time drilling optimisation centre (RDOC) at its Houston offices has been paying dividends.
The MSC, for example, was recently able to spot a compressor in danger of overloading before the on-site crew at Chevron's Sanha field offshore Angola.
"The crew acted on the MSC's tip and avoided a couple of million dollars in downtime and lost production," said Chevron Energy Technology Co.'s machinery and electrical power system manager Fred Schleich.
The hybrid engineer
But actually realising the benefits of DOF technologies isn't as simple as setting up a wireless sensor network and pushing the 'on' button. The level of data management and analytics required for successful DOF deployment is still unfamiliar territory for large sections of the industry - especially veteran engineers more accustomed to hard graft than smart tech and the Internet of Things - so the human factor can be a significant pitfall.
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