Technology: A "Wild Card" for Upstream in This Uncertain Environment

Technology: A "Wild Card" for Upstream in This Uncertain Environment

March 27, 2020

Digitalization — or as it’s often thought of in the oil patch, the “digital oilfield” — has been gaining momentum in the oil and gas exploration and production world for the past three years. There are a number of areas where it has already shown its value.


One of those areas is production optimization, in large and small ways. Another area is in remote operations, where it’s taking oilfield personnel out of logistically expensive places and enabling companies to manage operations “downtown” (Houston, Anchorage, Al Khobar, Kuala Lumpur and other places). 


Oil and gas producers globally are trying to navigate the converging storm waves of an oil price war, a global pandemic and economic (energy demand) turbulence. In many cases, the tactical application of digitalization can help companies improve production and revenue in the short term. 


Companies are seeking an interim strategy to produce oil or gas with positive cash flow now. Large oil- and gas-producing fields are being temporarily shut in, to contend with both employee safety and potential negative cash flows from operations. Technology can be a life-ring to manage production fields in a much more remote and centralized way — and to improve production with existing infrastructure.


Has your organization embraced digitalization in a tactical way? One of the strong aspects of today’s digitalization technologies is the speed with which solutions can be implemented surgically to create short-term business impact.


Here are a few ideas to get you thinking about digital solutions than can help upstream companies through the current oil price crisis:


Fast-to-implement, compact, online “digital twin” models have a two-fold impact. They can:


  • Increase productivity by pushing more through existing assets with zero capital investment

  • Enable remote monitoring and decision-making to augment the lean in-field staffs currently keeping things operating

An example is a North Slope model built and tested in less than three weeks. This model changed operating decisions on compressor and fin-fan air cooler trains, increasing lift gas and creating $1 million incremental cash flow in one week of operation, along with longer-term production increases of 2-5%. This case utilized a small-scale online engineering model, running every five minutes from online oilfield equipment monitoring data, built with less than 80 man-hours of work.


In addition, fast-to-build heat exchanger monitoring offline digital twin models can rapidly enable engineers to:


  • Change operating instructions to increase yields of gas and oil processing

  • Immediately reduce energy costs

Furthermore, just one technician or a small team can perform this work remotely. In several Middle East fields, this has increased flow and yields 10-15% and reduced energy consumption 5-10% within a few months.


Low-touch, out-of-the-box prescriptive maintenance technology can apply machine learning to monitor the health of oilfield equipment remotely, delivering immediate impact on production optimization decisions. As a result, operators are optimizing production, identifying future equipment failure without field inspections and improving overall of uptime. This can be proved for an asset in a few weeks and implemented on equipment such as large pumps, compressors and ESPs in a producing field (depending on data streams) in a few months.


Data aggregation, visualization and dashboarding technology can be rapidly configured and implemented to enable asset managers and key technicians to monitor widely separated assets remotely. It also allows them to use a distributed group of experts and technicians to monitor and make decisions to improve safety, performance, and productivity. 


This can keep an asset producing while greatly reducing the need for staff to be in the field, as we’ve seen in both FPSO and oilfield applications.


These are not normal times. Outside-the-box thinking and the employment of new technology can keep upstream operations viable during these uncertain and stormy conditions. You might have your own ideas. There are many ways in which digital technology can not only evolve businesses strategically, but also help concretely and tactically in the short term.


To learn more, please contact me directly at  



If you are an AspenTech customer and have questions regarding any of our products, you can also contact us via the customer support site, or send an email to

There was a problem storing your subscription

Leave A Comment