Digital Oil Field Technology in Oil & Gas Upstream Sector

Cost pressure and operation difficulties in challenging fields that supplies a considerable share of global demands, force operator companies in E & P to change their conventional ways of managing their assets and move toward implementing automation and digital oil field. On the other hand, increasing concerns and strictness related to environmental and safety issues and the forecast of a big gap in skilled workforce in the coming decade accelerate this paradigm shift as the industry tries to replace many of the workforces in harsh environment with automated systems.

Digital oilfield refers to the concept of real-time operation that aims for continuous production optimization of an asset or group of assets through the integration of people, tools, processes & facilities, hence provide the operating field with the capabilities to optimize operation in the short term and maximize lifecycle value of an asset in the long term. Digital oilfield value chain, starts from gathering data and define the problem, generate ideas and various solution to the problem, make appropriate decisions, communicate with different stakeholders of the production system and execute the agreed decisions. The efficiency of entire cycle is evaluated based on generated value through execution of the results.

The efficiency of digital oil field can be compared with the revolutionary effect on using advanced control and automation technology in space industry around 1960s. Simply, the conditions of different parts of the system both surface and subsurface is monitored continuously in a digital oil field and the data is stored. The data is used then to evaluate the performance of each equipment according to a desired operation condition. Another very important part of this system is the actuators in different levels of the system acting and affecting the operation based on the issued control commands. These actuators affect the system in the deep location of sand-face up to the surface facilities and the connected pipelines.

Apart from the inherent necessary equipment in digital oil field, different levels of intelligence in such system can be designed and implemented.  These levels starts from the very low level of instrumentation to the top level of an autonomous system; however, nowadays the first level has been deployed by many IOCs in their strategic fields.


History and Current Status of Intelligent Fields

Around 1960s, first permanent downhole pressure gauges in Gabon was installed and then, great and continuous development in the field of durable and robust sensors has been occurred. These developments led to the development of different sensors with the possibility of measuring bottom-hole rate, temperature and other relevant variables of the flow. The need to control the flow in horizontal and other complex wells in thin reservoirs and other similar challenging production formations, force the service companies to develop appropriate downhole valves that can control the opening interval of the formations in the wellbore in a real-time fashion. Integration of the sensor and actuator technologies formed the basis of a complete smart well later completed with SCADA systems and data management technology to form digital or intelligent field.

In today’s oil and gas industry many of the pioneered companies have adopted using the concept of intelligent field. BP started this endeavour with its Fields of the future® program started in 2002. The great Plato as a very impressive field development project is an example of BP’s ambitious program. Shell called its intelligent field project as Smart field and has reportedly gained around $5 Billion from 2002 to 2009. Statoil as one of the pioneers in using different analytical method to use the gathered real-time data to optimally control and exploit its subsurface assets, introduced Integrated Operation and cooperated with several well-known research entities around the globe to reach the desired technologies. Statistics shows the number of smart fields are around 180, smart well exceeds 1000 wells and more than 10000 well have been equipped with permanent downhole sensors.

Another big player in this market, i.e. NOCs started their programs with a delay; however, they have shown a very good record in adopting the technology. Saudi Aramco in 2005 decided to implement the technology in Haradah II, now have decided to implement this technology in all of its fields by the end of 2017. Oman as a country-scale laboratory for the latest improvement in EOR technology has utilized the technology to better deploy the EOR technologies and finally KwIDF-Jurassic can be called as one of the most comprehensive intelligent fields in the world [3].


Strategic Effect of Digital Oil Field

Accounting for the full value chain in E&P, it shows that different segments are affected from implementing the technology. As the big part of the dynamic behaviour of the reservoir is during the production phase, controling this dynamic behaviour can be done accordingly at that time interval.

Mckinsy revealed in an analyis that companies use only a very small percentages of the available data gathered in a DOF project. However, using the data can effectively increase the efficiency and consequently the production rate by 6-8%. The rsults of economic analysis on real experiences of the operator companies shows a 25% increase in NPV of E&P projects using DOF technology. Higher frequency rate in data acquisition as well as its precision is the key to implementing a DOF. The automation also decreases the needs to skilled workforces in harsh environments. Statoil could decrease the staffs on an offshore production plant by 25% after implementing the technology.


The DOF technology opportunity is changing the market structure creating major opportunities; however, several barriers such as customer’s lack of knowledge, weak digital infrastructure in the industry, and technology risk still exist. Fortunately, the digital industry has started many initiatives in cooperation with oil industry focusing on low-cost solutions, standardized products, consolidation, and crew change to address the barriers.



It is estimated that around 1000 startups spread in different segment of oil and gas market have been established with Digital technology underpining their services.  In addition, many joint projects have been started between the majors in both sides, e.g. the Weatherford and Intel or Chevron and Microsoft joint agreements for improving the current situation of their relevant practices. The new business lines are mainly based on combining IT enablers with operational requirements. In IT side: Analytics, Big Data (for management of large data sets, and real-time visualization/ analysis, real-time alarms), Artificial Intelligence, Internet-of-Things (remote asset monitoring, real-time data), Automation & Integration, and on the production side: production optimization, next generation reservoir characterization, intelligent field, intelligent equipment, and remote operation are among the main topics.



Effects of DOF is such that it is categorized as one of the main technology themes in the futur E& P projects. Implementing the technology means the possibility of controling the flow very close to the reservoir and control the drainage area in the reservoir and finally the equipments in a long priod of time.


Mehdi Mansuri

DOF Researchers

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