To illustrate the power of industrial revolutions – and by all accounts we’re somewhere in the fourth – Sammy Haroon, mentions of all possible comparisons, London’s manure problem in the 19th century. It seems that during the late 1890s, the city had more than 11,000 carriages and carts and buggies, which meant it had just as many horses, which meant all those horses, well … you know. In fact, the average draft horse produced more than 10 kilograms of manure per day – 20,000 kilograms every month. The Times of London predicted in 1894 that in “50 years, every street in London will be buried under nine feet of manure.”
“And then there is this automobile,” said Haroon.
The rest, of course, is well-known history.
“It creatively destroyed and demolished the horse farms, the manure collectors, and in a matter of 20 to 30 years – in economic terms, a few seconds,” he said.
But it was never really about manure or horses.
“It was the need for human beings and goods and the case for transportation that was a problem,” he said.
When we think about the Fourth Industrial Revolution – or even the three that preceded it – Haroon said we must remember that it’s not a step-by-step march. It’s a gallop.
Haroon is CEO and founder of AlphaX, an energy AI software company “focused on delivering answers to the most challenging subsurface questions facing upstream oil and gas.” Its software is built, he said, on oil and gas subject matter expertise emulated through mathematical models exclusively built on field data.
That expertise will be on display during the Middle East Oil, Gas and Geosciences Show, or MEOS/GEO in Bahrain in February when he joins a panel entitled “Vision to Reality: Revolutionising the Industry through 4IR Advancement.” He will appear alongside representatives from Saudi Aramco, Chevron and Schlumberger, who will speak about the future of this technological revolution and how industry can best leverage artificial intelligence.
“I’m a bit of unique entrant in the panel,” he said, adding that “including the perspectives of innovators is important to help the audience fully appreciate what it takes to productize 4IR in the field.”
The Defining Attribute of an Industrial Revolution
Regarding that gallop of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Haroon said, “You can try to catch it, keep up with it, but it will creatively destroy and move ahead. It is about creative destruction.”
That phrase – “creative destruction” – is one he favors and to which he refers often.
“If you don’t think that way, then we are not talking about industrial revolution,” he said.
When asked, specifically, about how the petroleum geology industry will meet, operate and fare in the 4IR, he cited an example from unconventional drilling to show how new technology transformation accelerates when societies and industries go from what he calls “macro understanding to micro execution.”
“Specifically, we take our macro understanding of geology and the reservoir; we execute by drilling and completing five miles down, five miles sideways, and hit a two-square-foot area,” explained Haroon.
In that process we collect a vast amount of information which, “over time, and through repeatability and reproducibility, starts to give us answers that infer the geology and reservoir present.”
At present, he said, we know gas is a bridging fuel, even though oil will still be around for years to come, considering our needs in this world.
“You’re not going to stop painting your homes or driving cars, and they are not going to stop making carpet. So, we will continue to move in this direction. If we focus on drilling, we have sensors which give us insights. We observe and interpret because we don’t live downhole,” he said.
He said this is where intelligent automation can change the game.
“It will exponentially accelerate us to our decisions and it will significantly increase the accuracy of those decisions,” he said.
AI sits atop of the pyramid of the industrial revolution because everything else is generating data, Haroon said.
“So right now, we do drilling completions and then we produce. There is going to be intelligent automation and the number of decisions – which used to be made over a period of months and years – will collapse into days and hours and minutes. When that happens, you can see that there would be people who will be able to do 10-times the amount of work they’re doing today, so these are the things which I believe are around the corner in oil and gas,” he said.
But these industrial revolutions can be brutal – and not just on horses.
“Gutenberg died a pauper. The Pony Express ceased to exist in 10 years because of the telegraph. The Bell company said the phone is never going away. Remember Eastman Kodak?” noted Haroon.
The oil and gas industry is still in the early stages of 4IR-driven transformation, though.
“There are digital natives coming into the industry now, who grew up on the iPhone and Google maps of the world. Their expectation of technology is very different,” he said.
Fewer people are entering the industry as well, he maintains, alluding to the “crew change,” a fact that is understood across the independents in North America.
“Their capital constraints have required them to plan for doing more with less and are focused on being able to produce quality work with fewer resources,” he said.
How people work is also changing.
“The petrophysicists, the geologists, the drilling engineers, etcetera, have traditionally worked in their silos which allowed for continuous specialization within the subject,” he explained.
Over time though, these silos have created limitations for engineering and operational teams. What’s exciting now, Haroon said, is that those limitations are going away due to AI.
“Today, our software collapses workflows and runs scenario analysis in real time with repeatability and reproducibility by leveraging data from all specializations,” he said.
To create it required significant software development effort – one that had Haroon “redefining how engineering software could be built.”
For oil and gas, this could be key.
“The complexity of oil and gas is absolutely mind-boggling. It has every single thing inside of it: civil engineering, acoustics, petroleum, geology, mechanical, nuclear, chemical … I could keep going. What can happen in the next 50 years are going to be absolutely maddening,” he said. >