OilComm 2019 Focuses on Digital Transformation for Upstream Oil & Gas

By Mark Sen Gupta

Industry Trends

About 350 upstream professionals attended the OilComm Conference to watch presentations and discuss topics, such as communications, cybersecurity, optimization, automation, IT/OT, data, digital transformation, Industry 4.0, and related technologies that are causing disruption across the energy industry.   

As the agenda showed, there were several topics ranging from cybersecurity and communication approaches to analytics and digital transformation.  Many of these presentations were done by vendors, and some were accompanied by users.  There were some panels with end users, as well.   Due to the geographical dispersion and mobility of assets, the networking aspects tend to be more dynamic and innovative than other industries; satellite and LTE were big topics.


Digital Transformation Driving Change

Data.  It doesn’t matter what industry we discuss, it’s always about data nowadays.  Upstream and offshore is no different; more data, more dashboards, more analytics, data lakes, remote access, and security.  Digital transformation and data go hand in hand.  Getting data within a wired or fiber accessible plant is one thing, but what about offshore, or even remotely located production sites. 

I mistakenly thought satellite was falling by the wayside.  At the conference I learned that satellite technologies are adapting to the need with greater bandwidth, tunable antennas, and lower orbits.  GEO (Geostationary Equatorial Orbit) has longer latencies but cover a larger area.  This is the type relied upon for decades.  LEO (Low Earth Orbit) has lower latencies (higher bandwidth) but require more satellites to cover the same area.  Flat antennas, though less efficient, can have the beam focused via software which helps offset the efficiency loss.  There was also a presentation by Oceaneering and Pacific Drilling discussing the use of satellite with LTE to address bandwidth and comms reliability for remote access to ROVs.

There were several cybersecurity-related presentations.  FBI’s James Morrison presented some fascinating/scary statistics.  He said about 80% of the hacks are perpetrated by crime syndicates out of Mexico, Nigeria, Vietnam, and Indonesia in an effort to ransom data.  About 200 groups are targeting oil and gas companies, and that number is up 50% over last year.  ExxonMobil reported 64 million email attacks, 139 million access attempts, and 133 thousand other hacking attempts.  The Darkweb offers “Malware-as-a-Service” where bad actors can get source code and adapt for their own purposes.  He stated that about 61% of companies lack adequate cybersecurity policies and technology, because executives are out of touch with the realities of the threat.

ARC expects a lot more churn in technology applications for upstream oil and gas.  The biggest driver is financial with only 90% of drillers with a positive cash flow and about 4 million retirements in the short term.  The application of technology in a prudent and innovative way is about corporate life and death.  The biggest challenge is the lack of technology-savvy executives capable of articulating the vision and formulating a winning strategy in the new world of Industry 4.0.


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