NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Big Data to Drive More Oil Productivity Increases

May 20, 2013

With technology and the Internet now being integrated into the energy industry, the big data that results could aid oil and gas drilling in further driving productivity increases, says Mark Mills in Forbes.

  • In the past five years, technology has improved the productivity of America's shale fields by 200 percent to 300 percent, while the same jump in the productivity of wind turbines and solar cells took more than 20 years.
  • In just two years, oil output has risen faster than wind output by five times and solar output by more than 200 times.
  • The cost to find and yield a new barrel of oil has fallen to between $7 and $15 in America's oil fields while the global cost is at more than $25.

The incredible rises are due to the integration of information technology. Seismic imaging, which is used to detect oil in the ground, benefits greatly from fiber-optics, which allows companies to record and interpret massive amounts of data that were previously not possible.

  • While many have claimed that horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing are the reasons for the U.S. oil boom, it is in fact advances in 3D seismic mapping technologies that let oil companies know exactly where and how far to drill.
  • Seismic technology uses acoustic vibrations to determine where pockets of underground oil are.
  • Modern computer analysis now quickly computes massive amounts of data that took the first 3D seismic survey mainframe computer more than two years to interpret.

More data, better computers and better sensors have enabled companies to drill horizontally and use hydraulic fracturing with increasing precision, which saves precious time and resources.

  • Today, every major oil service company offers microseismic technologies that allow geophysicists to listen to how and where fluids are flowing.
  • But even today's best-in-class technologies still have a lot of room to advance -- sensors need to be at least 100 times more sensitive and record 100 times the bandwidth.

This means that the likelihood of peak oil is very slim, given that inevitable advances in technology will lead to further increases in productivity and proven oil reserves.

Source: Mark Mills, "Big Data and Microseismic Imaging Will Accelerate the Smart Drilling Oil and Gas Revolution," Forbes, May 8, 2013.


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