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What’s stopping the digital?

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Oil and gas companies in Russia have only recently started to embark on a digital journey. In 2020, the process was spurred on by a pandemic: on the one hand, many technologies, primarily providing remote management and control, have become an urgent need, on the other, efficiency issues have become extremely urgent for the industry in a large-scale crisis. Participants of the Digital oil & gas conference discussed the most promising digital solutions for the oil and gas industry and barriers to their implementation

Today, all the necessary conditions have been created for the active digital transformation of companies. The markets for the Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning, and big data are growing rapidly, surpassing recent forecasts. So, in 2016, McKinsey analysts predicted that the number of mobile devices will equal the world’s population in 2020, but this happened earlier. The cost of sensors is decreasing, Industry 4.0 technologies are becoming more accessible, and national standards are emerging for them. There are also serious limitations, but more on that later.

Digitization or digital transformation?

taking place in the oil and gas industry, it is too early to talk about true digital transformation: the introduction of digital technologies does not lead to the formation of  Some experts, such as Roman Zhukov from Zarubezhneft, prefer to talk about narrow and broad digital transformation strategies. A narrow strategy involves maintaining the traditional business model with pinpoint improvements, using proven solutions, while a broad strategy means introducing new business models, creating new solutions and digital ecosystems, going beyond the traditional business or industry. At the same time, Zarubezhneft, according to Roman Zhukov, follows the first approach, while the second approach is presented by Gazprom Neff.


Digital technologies will be useful where they are really in demand: in complex fields, where analysis of large amounts of geological information is needed, where there are difficult natural and climatic conditions that require unmanned development, says Alexander Kardin. It is on such projects that they are able to provide those cost savings or efficient production methods that will make them pay off.

According to estimates cited by Elena Yampolskaya, deputy head of the recoverable reserves department of the Central Commission for the Development of Rosenda for hydrocarbons, through the introduction of digital field technologies, companies will be able to increase their recoverable reserves by almost a third and reduce the cost of production by a quarter.

Experts agree that, despite significant financial opportunities, the industry as a whole is quite conservative and this hinders development. Meanwhile, digital transformation requires prompt decision-making and new approaches to organizing the work of staff. In many organizations, the transition to an agile approach in the development of applications and internal products has already begun. However, for this, it is necessary to properly build the infrastructure so that team members from the company and on the side of external contractors have the opportunity to quickly and easily exchange work results, emphasizes Arcady Procuring, director of business development and sales in the oil and gas industry at Fortinet.

There is also the problem of trust in technology. It takes time for people in the industry to believe that this or that technology is really useful, that it is reliable enough and will not lead to catastrophic failures, notes Alexey Cherenkov of Gazpromneft-Snabizheniya.

Digitalization trends

As the speeches of the conference participants demonstrated, over the past 2-3 years a number of new digital technologies, if they have not passed into the category of familiar and routine ones, at least have received more than a few examples of application. We are talking about the use of drones for terrain scanning and construction control, remote assistants based on augmented reality technologies, video analytics to ensure security at production facilities. Representatives of Zarubezhneft, Suburb, Gazprom Neff and their subsidiaries shared their experience of their implementation.

The situation with robotization is somewhat worse. Experts note gaps in legislation, a lack of investment and production capacity, a lack of specialists, research projects and design bureaus in this area. So, over the past five years, only about five thousand robots have been introduced in Russia.

Meanwhile, the oil and gas industry has all the prerequisites for a wider use of robots: the shift of production to hard-to-reach regions with harsh climatic conditions, the ever-increasing complexity of production, and a growing shortage of blue-collar workers. There are already impressive examples of the implementation of low-manned technologies in oil and gas in the world, for example, the autonomous platform Iceberg H (Norway) – the first completely unmanned production platform, which requires only 1-2 visits per year for maintenance.

The most important area for improving efficiency and safety in the industry is digital twins. Their development is proceeding in parallel with the Internet of Things and the increasingly widespread use of sensors and sensors at the facilities of the oil and gas sector, which provide a connection between real assets and their digital models.

Digital twins are interactive computer copies of real equipment or a process that allow simulating their operation in different conditions, calculating optimal modes, detecting deviations in work faster and more accurately, predicting failures, and more efficiently performing maintenance. Already today, they allow improving the operation of oil refineries: thanks to such solutions, each unit can operate in the optimal technological mode, which means in the zone of maximum profitability.

However, the concept of digital twins has improved not only operation, but also the design and construction of new equipment. First, a digital twin with specified parameters is created, which is tested on virtual stands, and only then a real product is created. This allows many more options to be tested in a shorter time. According to Aleksey Boroko, Vice-Rector for Advanced Projects and Head of the Engineering Center of Spuy, with this approach, the development of new solutions becomes 10 times faster, 10 times cheaper and requires 10 times fewer specialists compared to the traditional approach.