Despite technological advancements, oil and gas companies have been slow to seize the opportunity presented by digitalisation. As emerging technologies continue to reshape the landscape of other legacy industries, the oil and gas industry has generally been more cautious and slower to embrace change.

There are mitigating circumstances for the industry’s perceived lack of activity. While companies are looking to incorporate more digital technology into projects, they’re still coming to terms with the effects of lower commodity prices. The resulting restriction on capital expenditure on innovative technologies makes investment a riskier proposition than it once was. But also, like most legacy industries, it finds itself stuck in a pattern of historic processes, deeply entrenched within its operational model.

While it may appear as though digital transformation is passing oil and gas companies by, the industry is working towards digitalisation, albeit at a more gradual rate. One of its biggest assets is the wealth of data it possesses – with energy companies having a long history of using data analytics to both discover potential oil reserves and decipher when and where to drill and complete wells.

Thus far, it’s been a case of companies failing to fully capture and capitalise on the potential of this data. This is particularly frustrating given that the technologies exist to put the data to good use. It’s for this reason that, despite a price decline, innovation represents tremendous value for those companies willing to invest, according to Deloitte executive John England.

While the industry is considering everything from artificial intelligence (AI) to cloud computing, robotics and 3D-scanning technology, harnessing “big data” insights remains the priority. By enhancing their digital capabilities, companies will be better placed to generate informative and intelligent insights. A technology that is allowing oil and gas operators to action their data is Distributed Acoustic Sensing (DAS). 

The sensing technology has multiple uses in a variety of applications, including: perimeter security, pipeline monitoring, well efficiency and other downhole operations, such as seismic data acquisition. For oil and gas operators, the challenge is being able to analyse and action data in real-time. The difficulties arise as the data is often scattered across various oil fields and off-site collection centres, and a multitude of software is being used to interpret it. In recent years, however, advancements in data processing and communications have made large volumes of DAS data more manageable, simpler to process and to stream between machines.

If oil and gas companies are to reap the rewards of digitalisation, they need to embrace complementary digital and communications technologies across their most valuable operations.

Today, some areas of the industry are more advanced than others. This is why we’ve seen a faster adoption rate of DAS in pipeline monitoring projects, in comparison to downhole operations. For pipeline operators, with reliable fixed networks, it is possible to relay and analyse data in real-time, whereas in downhole operations data is has often been analysed off-site, at a later date – diminishing its potential value, but this is changing

As companies move toward greater digital efficiency, the aim will be to ensure that there is consistency in the technologies used across all areas of operation. The access to intelligent insights, analysed in real-time, is crucial to an industry that’s global network is vast in both size and scope.