June 2021
The main technological drivers that have to date been instrumental in lifting production for the world’s largest oil and gas producer, the US, are in the shale sector. Key advances include multiple and longer laterals, closer spaced, more hydraulic fracture stages, increased proppant injection volumes, automation and robotics have lifted well estimated ultimate recoveries (EURs). Adoption of multilateral technology has been a step change in unconventional reservoir development, combining the well construction capabilities of multilateral drilling with multistage hydraulic fracturing and commingled production.

Development programs in shale plays have gained tremendous efficiencies and cost savings by progressing from a single pad with a single horizontal well to a single pad with multiple horizontal wells, and operators have achieved additional efficiencies and savings by moving on more recently to single-pad/multiple-well multilateral programs. For example, in the Permian Basin, the average EUR is now over 1.5Mboe for new wells, and breakeven costs are as low as US$29/bbl.

In 2019, the Argentine state energy company drilled the world’s longest horizontal oil well lateral, at 3,890m, in the Vaca Muerta shale. With longer lateral drilling technology, the idea is to boost productivity from the play, helping to increase production while keeping down costs. This is key for eventually competing in export markets with output from US plays like the Permian, where the costs are some 30% less.



Greater cost reductions are expected with the increased use of automation, as well as extending the capabilities of current drilling and completion technologies.  This will be supported by efficient well-field and supply-chain management systems that lower labour and downtime. To achieve this, incremental savings are being identified across the entire process chain from the analysis of “big data”.  As an example, innovations in instrument calibrations of flow-metering can now be realised without the added costs of production shutdowns during testing.


Digital – Fundamental Part of Business

‘Digital’ is already a fundamental part of the business for oil and gas companies. Its estimated approximately 97% of upstream and 91% of downstream companies report that emerging technologies have sped up the pace of innovation in their organisations over the past three years. 

The biggest oil and gas companies are increasingly using robotics, machine learning, data analysis, automation and artificial intelligence.  More companies are collaborating with oilfield services providers with the intention of applying digitally transforming operations.



The industry’s first three-party collaboration comes from three of the biggest companies in their respective sectors - oil and gas supermajor Equinor teamed up with the world’s biggest oilfield services firm, Schlumberger,

and with tech giant Microsoft to accelerate the creation of innovative Petro technical and digital technologies.  In 2021 under the partnership, the companies will jointly work to deploy Schlumberger’s DELFI cognitive E&P environment.  This will help companies to process, visualize, interpret, de-risk and obtain insights from many data sources.

Microsoft, as well as many other tech giants including Amazon, Google, and ABB Group, is already selling digital solutions to the biggest oil and gas companies in the world. Chevron and Exxon have teamed up with Big Tech to unlock opportunities and efficiencies in their key growth priority, the Permian basin.


DARQ Technologies

Distributed ledger technology, AI, extended reality, and quantum computing - or DARQ as these four technologies have been dubbed - have the potential to transform the energy industry.  A total 76% of upstream firms and 80% of downstream companies agree that the combination of all four technologies will bring extensive changes to their business, higher than the global average of 69%.

Unsurprisingly, AI is the top cited technology of these four as the one capable of creating the greatest impact on energy firms over the next three years.  The next challenge is to develop the next generation of technologies to become really differentiated and stay ahead of the competition.



The growing labour shortage is an issue for the manual processes of the industry.  The industry’s solution is to automate processes. For example, automating aspects of drilling operations, such as pipe handling and pressure drilling. Another example of automation is the use of remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), which are essentially underwater drones. ROVs are used by offshore oil and gas rigs mainly for deep-water inspection and exploration and maintenance tasks underwater.

The oil and gas industry is also experimenting with the use of robotics in the production phase. The cost of automation and robotics is far cheaper than the damage that disasters bring to the business.

As an example, in the North Sea, where conditions can be life-threatening, the Oseberg H oil platform is the world’s first fully automated oil and gas platform. This platform is setting a safety precedent with its innovative design.  The benefits of operating unmanned oil structures are substantial, abundant, and quickly catching on. At the rate which technology continues to advance, unmanned oil rigs will take a giant leap.



IIoT Technologies

Finally, there is a higher adoption of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) trends.  GPS devices and RFID are some examples of IIoT devices that boost operational efficiency, reduce cost, and lower risk. GPS trackers can help with the downstream end of the industry by optimising supply chain routes and reducing delay times.

Sensors like RFID, on the other hand, are used in asset management by tracking the movement and location of products. IIoT sensors are also used in pipelines and machines to detect leakages, corrosion, and other forms of damages that compromise worker and environmental safety. These sensors can also measure oil pressure, as well as composition, to optimise the flow of oil and reduce the use of expensive equipment.  

Now and well into the future the oil and gas industry will benefit from technologies like AI, robotics, and IIoT. This is because they can pave the way for greater efficiency, profits and cost savings, environmental protection, safety and security.