APIs can help deliver on the promise of the Digital Oilfield

It’s hard to glance at the daily digests of oilfield activities without seeing a plethora of promotions for various conferences about the Digital Oilfield.   That term has become a hot topic, but apparently is a less warmly embraced concept when it comes to actual initiatives.  I recently addressed the role that APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) and data integration may play in promoting the Digital Oilfield, at the API360 Summit in Dallas.

To help understand the paradox of a great deal of “buzz” about the Digital Oilfield versus a lot less “action,” let’s start with a definition according to the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE):

“The purpose of the digital oilfield is to maximize oilfield recovery, eliminate non-productive time, and increase profitability through the design and deployment of integrated workflows. Digital oilfield workflows combine business process management with advanced information technology and engineering expertise to streamline and, in many cases, automate the execution of tasks performed by cross-functional teams.”

Such a lofty definition has created high hopes. Here are just some of the comments:

“A new era for Energy companies” . . . “The future of the industry” . . . “Will drive operational efficiency . . . optimize production . . . maximize  recovery . . . better, faster decisions . . . reducing environmental and safety risks.”

For all the hype, the promise of the Digital Oilfield remains largely untapped.  There are two primary reasons why we believe this:

1) Oil and gas remains a largely manual industry with long historical resistance to embracing digital technology regardless of the potential benefits.

2) Even where electronic data does exist, it is usually silo’d, meaning the data is used for a single purpose, thus dampening the impact of information.

APIs in the oilfield can’t solve problem #1. Only new attitudes – or perhaps $40 per barrel oil – can force a mindset change.

Where APIs do have a role is in tying together a myriad of standalone information systems to produce a sum of information greater than the parts.  Here are just a few examples of real life oilfield applications in which APIs pull together disparate data sources to deliver a valuable solution:

Radioactive Source Tracking

This is a complex system which is designed to provide an industry solution that minimizes the risks of transporting radioactive sources for use in well logging.  It is funded by the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration.  The development project is led by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), with Baker Hughes as the industry partner, and Geoforce providing consulting and technical expertise.

The secret sauce here is PNNL’s sophisticated master control unit, which takes radioactivity readings from sensors and also aggregates RFID data.  Fully leveraged APIs play a key role in tying the solution together both at the hardware layers and in the cloud.

Rental Invoice Auditing

Once again, this solution is a collaboration of multiple organizations, with independent software packages from Geoforce, Trakquip, MyRental Jobs and Microsoft Dynamics.  In this application, using APIs, GPS tracking data from Geoforce is compared against rental ticket data.  The corresponding overlay visually identifies instances where rental invoices are incorrect.  The result: a great deal less angst between the rental customer and supplier.  As a matter of fact, one company used this solution to reduce their disputed invoices by 97%!

Driver Focused Metrics

The final example also involves using APIs to mesh GPS tracking data with driver performance monitoring software.  In this case, Geoforce worked with Smith System and their KeySix Driver Focused Metrics solution.  The GPS data from Geoforce provides location based context for harsh driving incidents, working simultaneously (via APIs) with KeySix to score drivers and offer remediation for repeat offenders.

These applications are just a few examples where leveraging APIs are truly advancing the creation of the Digital Oilfield.

Look for advancement to accelerate with more and more creative solutions being brought to market as organizations seek to derive tangible value from their operational data.