Unleash the operators

Companies that allow their operators to act on all the data coming in will be able to save time and money.

By Bob Vavra October 11, 2016

I often have said that it doesn’t matter whether the glass is half-empty or half-full; what matters is how thirsty you are. After a period where we couldn’t get enough in the oil and gas market—enough time, enough money, enough workers—we have spent the last two years bemoaning the price of oil and the dire effects it has had on the industry.

I think it’s time to get thirsty again.

There’s a need to reinvest in the oil and gas exploration, delivery, and refining markets, but that reinvestment should focus on delivering greater value from every drop and every cubic foot at every place along the process.

As this month’s cover story notes, there’s no better place to start than in the way operators use technology such as SCADA. While I don’t want to spoil the entire story for you, I was especially inspired by the following quote from Andy Weatherhead, manager of global engineering of Rockwell Automation in this month’s lead article:

"What’s exciting about the upstream today is the great uses it has for cloud computing and for something that is happening right now, the advent of auto-discoverable assets technology. The cloud offers a built-in infrastructure for SCADA. Combined with a services approach, an operator can have power; use a wizard to set up; and be processing data in five minutes. Unfortunately today, in too many cases, you see sites where despite using the very latest drilling technologies, after three months of work, they still haven’t tied into SCADA. Three months of lost optimization is real money."

There are two key ideas here: "operator power" and "lost optimization." The latter is unacceptable in an age where we should know the status of our operation at any given moment. The influx of data, the improvement in analytics, and the low cost of computing capacity all combines to give us greater insight into the process than ever before.

You still want your operators to be able to act on all of that insight. Unleashing your operators to deliver results quickly isn’t just a cool idea; it’s a money-saving, time-saving imperative. It’s especially important given the current need for more streamlined operational costs.

Everyone is looking to lower overall process costs. SCADA and cloud-based analytics are a great way to start that process. If you’re already a big fan of SCADA, that’s fine, but there are far more operations that could benefit from greater process control. The only barrier is the willingness to make an investment in those solutions.

This is the time. It’s time to get aggressive about improving processes. This can’t just be done by cutting people; in fact, one could argue the opposite. We need to train and empower our operators to use this influx of data and analytics to deliver on the promise of cloud computing.

For an industry traditionally so risk-averse, this is a paradigm shift. Industries are continually adopting cloud-based computing and analytics to put more power in the hands of workers to make better and faster operational decisions. It’s long past time for oil and gas operators to make the same commitment to the future.

Once we unleash our operators, we can improve operations at every point along the pipeline. No matter the price of oil, it will translate to a return on that long-overdue investment.

Original content can be found at Oil and Gas Engineering.

Author Bio: Bob is the Content Manager for Plant Engineering.