The Myths of Technology
I work in technology and have done so for most of my working life. I have even had “scientist” in my job title. So with some authority (albeit self-conferred), I now offer random thoughts on the role of technology in the projects, facilities, and construction (PFC) realm, and perhaps dispel a few myths at the same time.
Myth 1: Oil and gas exploration and production is not rocket science. Correct: It is far more complicated. There are examples of technology that seem almost magical, from the ability to see and understand fluid flow using computational fluid dynamics to the development of deepwater assets located in remote, hostile environments, and the ability to deliver hydrocarbons through integrated production capabilities that interface, operate, and optimize hundreds of advanced components.
Myth 2: We are risk averse and use technology only when needed. Nonsense: We are one of the most innovative industries known to man. Consider what Petrobras does every day in Brazil’s deepwater fields; look at Statoil’s plans for massive remote compression to unlock offshore stranded gas; and look at Chevron’s plans to remove and sequester carbon dioxide in one of its Australian projects. All are examples of integrated technology-based solutions that enable our industry to produce hydrocarbons and deliver energy to the world. The key principle is the adoption of the right technology in the right place. Effective use of technology is the name of the game—we use technology to unlock and create value, not because we desire to use technology.
Myth 3: Technology is just too complicated to understand. Again, this is nonsense. Some of the best technologies are simple and elegant. For example, the use of hydrocyclones to separate oil and water was highlighted in the April issue of Oil and Gas Facilities. This is a simple technology—it has no moving parts and uses the fundamental properties of the fluids that we produce (density differences between oil and water) and the system conditions (pressure) to separate the mixture into its two components: recovered oil (product) and water. Brilliant. The first time I saw this technology in use, I was transfixed; not only because it was simple, but because it was compact and could be deployed in a modular scalable manner, it offered solutions to debottleneck mature assets that were constrained by water production. It offered a simple solution to a widespread problem, which is a significant attribute of many successful technologies that have been adopted in the facilities world over the years.
Simple technologies that I encountered recently are sensors that can be embedded in subsea infrastructure and use the differential temperature of the fluid and the ocean for power. These sensors are aimed at measuring motion, fluid conditions, and pipeline integrity. They will be robust, inexpensively made, and easily applied. How simple and elegant is that?
You may be asking, “Technology is all well and good when you work in a technology company, but what about me, the end user? How do I get up to speed on these innovations?” One option is to continue to read this magazine and use your Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) membership to access a wide range of technical papers in the OnePetro library (www.onepetro.org). Opportunities for learning about the development and application of technologies are also available by attending SPE meetings, forums, workshops, training courses, and conferences.
During the upcoming SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition on 8–10 October in San Antonio, Texas, there will be expanded projects, facilities, and construction programming, including a unique projects dinner, a special session, and technical sessions dedicated to facilities technologies (including selection and optimization).
At the dinner, Legends of Groundbreaking Projects, some of the largest and innovative projects in our industry will be discussed. In many respects, these projects have shaped and set the pace for others. The dinner will bring together panelists to discuss problems overcome and lessons learned in four selected projects, including the installation of massive production facilities in a short span of time with the capacity to handle several million BOPD in Saudi Arabia; the large offshore facilities in Brazil; the pioneering of the Gulf of Mexico’s deepwater projects; and the colossal oil sands projects in Alberta, Canada. The mandate of the panel is to discuss the effort that went into the concept, design, execution, and production of these projects.
A special session, Technical Challenges to Meeting Today’s Upstream Separation Needs, will focus on the challenges and potential solutions in separations, including emerging technology trends and the effect of surface chemistry on separation.
Three technical sessions are dedicated to facilities: Enhancement of Facilities Technology; Challenges in Projects, Facilities, and Construction; and Facilities Technology Applications.
Visit www.spe.org to preview the conference program. You will likely find other topics of interest as well. I hope to see you there!
Paul S. Jones is the subsea manager at Chevron and a past SPE technical director for Projects, Facilities, and Construction. He is a member of the Editorial Board of Oil and Gas Facilities.
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