Today’s world runs on technology and its rapid advances affect every aspect of human life. Science plays a pivotal role in developing technologies that change the way we live, work and play.
The field of geoscience is no exception, and each day new technologies like big data, deep learning and robotics are changing geoscientists’ role in society.
“New technologies are changing the role of the subsurface expert,” said Cesar Patiño, EOR program sustainability and transformation specialist at Ecopetrol in Bogota and Latin America and Caribbean Region board member for the Society of Petroleum Engineers.
“Combining our G and G knowledge with new technology domains is something that we should be doing right now,” he said. “We should understand what we know today and anticipate what tools we will need in the future to achieve optimization and efficiency.”
Patiño has dedicated his career to understanding how technology can help energy companies become more efficient and effective. In his current position with Ecopetrol, he helps to develop the company’s technology strategy, which includes a sustainability and transformation pathway connecting geosciences, production and enhanced oil recovery.
Patiño said a proactive approach is key for companies who want to stay competitive in a digital age.
“Today’s companies should have a focus group dedicated to smart technology intelligence that keeps track of competitors and of the company’s strategic decisions,” he said.
“Smart technology,” the name of which stems from the acronym “Self-monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology,” now refers to programmable devices, applications and networks that can inform or influence behavior. The term commonly applied to phones and speakers can also refer to complex corporate networks that analyze data and inform technical and business decisions.
“Embracing smart technologies early is a necessity if companies want to grow and compete,” he said, adding that companies can develop strategies by hiring external consultants or developing internal teams dedicated exclusively to technology and innovation.
Working with professional associations also helps companies and employees keep pace with current trends, he said.
“Connecting corporate strategy with technical societies like SPE, AAPG, SPWLA and SEG will allow an immediate flow of lessons learned, knowledge and innovation. An inter-sectorial approach is key to finding solutions for today’s challenges of optimization, efficiency and sustainability. Constant communication will help us all to stay ahead,” he said.
The Role of Associations
Patiño noted how SPE and AAPG have added open innovation, digital transformation and similar topics to their conference and workshop lineups.
“Our societies offer knowledge and technology and being a part of them helps members stay on the edge of the worldwide needs requiring solutions that technological development brings,” he said.
Since joining the SPE Board of Directors in 2017, Patiño has traveled throughout the Latin America and Caribbean Region and talked to students and professionals about new technologies. During 2019, he delivered talks at AAPG Geosciences Technology Workshops in Brazil and Suriname.
Patiño’s talks focus on two technologies that are transforming energy companies today: data analytics and artificial intelligence.
Data analytics is the process of examining data sets in order to draw conclusions about the information they contain. Analytics technologies and techniques help companies to make more informed decisions by allowing them to review large amounts of information in a short amount of time.
“Data analytics has the roots in our STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) classes. It starts with basic mathematics concepts and evolves with advances in computers, graphics and the internet. The field continues to develop and to multiply solutions, thanks to the great capabilities that technology offers today,” he said.
Patiño described how data-driven decisions can inform all phases of the E&P cycle.
In the exploration phase, applying advanced analytics, including pattern recognition, to data collected during seismic acquisition can help geoscientists identify trace signatures that might have been previously overlooked.
In the development phase, analytics applied to geospatial data, news feeds, oil and gas reports and other sources can help companies determine where to submit bids for leases.
In the drilling phase, big data and analytics applied to drilling data can help identify anomalies and predict the likelihood of success.
In the production phase, conducting analytics to seismic, drilling and production data may help reservoir engineers map changes in the reservoir over time and make recommendations to production engineers.
Artificial intelligence is the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines, especially computer systems. Machines may be programmed to acquire information and use pre-determined rules to process that information and draw conclusions.
“AI is changing the way that geosciences work,” Patiño said.
Geoscientists can use AI to predict rock and fluid-property curves, to interpret stratigraphic horizons and to predict volumes. When trained on seismic attributes, machines can be programmed to conduct seismic interpretation.
“Volume-based predictions are detailed, and quick to produce,” he said.
Robotics, a subset of AI, brings tremendous benefit to industry.
Applications for robotics in exploration departments include ocean bottom nodes, electromagnetic survey positioning; 4-D seismic acquisition, geochemistry and soil and mineral analysis.
Teaching the Robots
When talking to professionals about robotics, Patiño offers an answer to the question many ponder but might be afraid to ask: “Will I lose my job to a robot?”
Patiño’s answer is simple: robots need to be taught, and geoscientists can teach them.
“We need to teach machines with experts. The knowledge for machines will come from geosciences. Equations and models can give answers, but applying those answers is more complex than using a simple mechanism or process. We always need a supervised decision put in place by an oil and gas professional.”
But not just any oil and gas professional can work with AI systems, he said. Professionals must have the appropriate knowledge and training.
“We should always be acquiring knowledge and challenging what we know today, and what we should know for the future,” he said. “I need to ask myself if I am going to be ready to respond the day when the robot asks me, ‘What is the next step?’”
Preparing for the Future
Patiño said that to be successful in the current industry landscape, geoscientists need a thorough knowledge of science, technology and the environment. Anyone planning to enter the energy industry should train themselves in all three areas.
He defined core competencies with three acronyms: GBH+CCM+NTT.
GBH refers to “geosciences basics, hydrocarbons and hydrology.” CCM is “climate change management,” which includes CO2, the energy transition and sustainable ecosystem. NTT stands for “new technology trends”: data analytics, the internet of things, new materials, microdata centers and other next generation technologies.
Patiño also highlighted training opportunities for professionals who entered the industry before smart technologies existed.
“Data governance, workflow integration, surveillance and monitoring, open-source platforms, data analytics, neural networks, blockchain – all of this is knowledge that we should have today,” he said.
Patiño concluded that technology enables petroleum geoscientists to do what they do best – to understand how the Earth works and to discover how to bring energy to people living here.
“Nature is still a great mystery for humanity, we are trying to understand it in different ways. Geoscience is a part of nature,” he said. “When we open our mind to integrate different ways of thinking and different types of knowledge – including that provided by machines and robots – we will create a better sustainable industry that helps to meet our world’s needs.”