The evening before the official kickoff of ATCE saw a spirited dinner panel discussion of the Research and Development (R&D) Technical Section involving participants from industry, academia, and government. The theme of the discussion, “Looking Into the Future—Emerging Technologies With Potential To Unlock the Next Billion Barrels,” drew varying perspectives as the panelists discussed, and sometimes debated, a range of approaches to safeguarding industry viability and growth in the years ahead.
The dinner was introduced by Shantanu Agarwal of Energy Ventures, current chair of the R&D Technical Section; Gaurav Agrawal of Baker Hughes, a GE company (BHGE), was the master of ceremonies. The panel itself, moderated by David Curry of BHGE, included:
Mojdeh Delshad, The University of Texas at Austin and President/CEO of Ultimate EOR Services
Binu Mathew, BHGE’s Global Head of Digital Products
Elena Melchert, Director for Upstream Oil and Gas Research at the US Department of Energy
Erdal Ozkan, Department Head Chair in Petroleum Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines
Mario Ruscev, former CTO of Weatherford International
In their introductory comments, Agrawal and Curry both emphasized that the R&D group has experienced rapid growth as one of 15 SPE technical sections since its inception in 2006—that autumn, it counted 46 members in comparison with its current total of almost 4,000. Agrawal noted that the R&D Technical Section “serves as an important communications channel and a great tool for recruitment” of new professionals. Now, the section’s charge is to find ways for humankind to access the next billion barrels—or, as Curry stated, “we could say the next trillion barrels—the amount of oil consumed since the emergence of the industry.”
Each panelist briefly outlined distinct approaches by which the industry can keep ahead of technological and societal challenges in meeting the world’s demand for hydrocarbons. Delshad emphasized the importance of using integrated packaging of existing solutions to exploit mature green- and brownfields; Mathew discussed the critical role of effective collection and interpretation of available data. Melchert explained the importance of partnerships between the oil and gas sector and government to unlock new technologies, while Ozkan outlined the problem of profitability being too closely tied to established solutions when the industry must anticipate challenges with innovative approaches. Finally, Ruscev suggested that the industry’s own current interpretation of the R&D landscape—even the terminology it continues to use—must be updated in order to adapt to what he called “a bubble rather than a cycle as it is often termed.”
After the five introductory presentations, the general discussion began. Audience members asked questions that drew on the panelists’ depth of experience and sometimes emphasized their differing perspectives. The efficacy of existing technologies vs. the need to find new ones, the characteristics of the next-generation industry workforce, and the compartmentalization of different sectors within the industry were all touched upon in the 2-hour discussion.
A central point of the Q&A session was one often faced in R&D efforts: the fact that dependence upon proven methods of generating profit often short-circuits the need for innovation. As Curry pointed out, “If the market isn’t established, how do you prove the market?” Ozkan added, “The source of the problem is the way we have been thinking—we are more task-oriented than open-minded. Curiosity is always placed second to need.” Another focal point of the discussion was the gap between the industry’s predictive technologies and true comprehension of why certain phenomena exist and the difficulties posed by that gap. As Ruscev said, “Understanding is predicting.” Until that understanding is improved, predictive technologies will have blind spots, and acquisition of that understanding should be a focus of R&D efforts.
The discussion’s pace and enthusiasm highlighted the full engagement of many generations of industry professionals. Mathew urged attendees to recognize the extent of their existing accomplishments even as they strive to exceed them: “When you can say that you can drill a hole tens of thousands of feet down, tens of thousands of feet laterally, hit it with amazing precision, get energy literally out of the ground, and then process it efficiently, you have an incredible machine.” As the growth and vitality of the R&D Technical Section attests, those accomplishments are merely the starting point for the ongoing effort to find the resources to meet global energy demand.
R&D Technical Section Dinner Discusses Unlocking the Next Billion Barrels
Chris Carpenter, JPT Technology Editor
09 October 2017