IBM Uses IT to Boost Oilsands Efficiencies

March 24, 2010 at 10:08 am Leave a comment

IBM is using information technology to help energy companies extend the life of oilfields and make them more efficient and environmentally friendlier. IBM’s Oil Sands Centre of Excellence in Calgary has developed an “integrated information framework” that analyzes huge amounts of real-time data from oil operations to identify problems sooner.

“There’s no more easy oil,” said Andy MacRae, a partner with IBM’s Business Consulting Services unit in Calgary. “The next evolution in trends are related to digital energy. It drives a significant improvement in the energy consumption of oil operations.”

In February, Shell and IBM announced a joint collaboration to extend the life of oil and natural gas fields using complex analytics and simulations.

“Using predictive analytics to drive new intelligence into oil and natural gas reservoir management has the potential to extend the life of existing oil and gas fields in a responsible way,” said John Kelly III, Sr. VP and director of IBM Research.

IBM is helping oil companies become more efficient in many different ways. One oil and gas company in Calgary wanted to optimize the extraction of heavy bitumen from the oilsands, but found the effectiveness of their extraction process varied significantly depending on the acidity or alkalinity of the water, changes in temperature, calcium content and ore quality.

IBM mapped and modeled patterns across multiple areas to show how to adjust the extraction process under various conditions. The result was the entire operation’s efficiency improved, reducing energy consumption and the environmental footprint of the operation.

“Not only the energy, but the waste products that get discharged were reduced significantly,” MacRae said. “If you can take more oil off in the extraction process, you end up with less in the tailings pond.”

In another example, an oilsands operator was managing its mine and upgrader “fairly well,” but the operation as a whole was not optimally efficient. After using an integrated software and automation process, routine maintenance was stepped up and scheduled in the least disruptive manner. The strategy included finding more efficient ways to plan shutdowns and improve turnaround time using condition-based monitoring through a series of sensors and fiber optic cables, as well as robotics.

“It means the reliability of the equipment is better and they run more efficiently and use less energy,” MacRae explained.

IBM spends about $6 billion (with a B) on research and development each year, and oil companies can leverage some of that research to reduce oil and gas operations’ costs and environmental impact. As energy companies are forced to look for oil and gas in more difficult places, IT is expected to play an increasing role in how they are developed, MacRae predicted.


Entry filed under: Asset & Portfolio Management, Automation Solutions. Tags: , , , .

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