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Editorial comment

The pace of change in upstream technology continues unabated. It’s become something of a truism that, rather than being an obstacle, the downturn and ‘lower-for-longer’ price environment has actually been a driver of innovation and implementation of new technologies across the upstream industry. The world still needs hydrocarbons, and that demand is going to be met by the companies willing to invest in new technologies.

Total operates one of the most powerful supercomputers used in any industry. The computer, known as Pangea, is capable of 6.7 petaflops – roughly 80 000 times the number of calculations performed by a standard desktop PC.

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Pangea also requires 4.5 MW of energy to run, and produces enough heat to help supplement the heating in nearby buildings.1

Total uses this enormously powerful machine to analyse exploration data and indentify positive acreage. François Alabert, head of Exploration Techniques, explains that, “Thanks to Pangea, we have images that are much clearer and richer in geological information and that are available much faster than before. This is essential for identifying complex oil traps and reducing technical risks. It also enables us to improve the safety and efficiency of the drilling process, which is increasingly complex and expensive.”2 Pangea can also be used to produce detailed simulations that model the movement of reservoir fluids, which allows future areas of development to be identified. In addition to performing more complex operations, the massive computational power available means tasks that previously took weeks or even months to complete can now be carried out in just hours or days.

Other major players are making investments into supercomputers. In April of this year, Eni turned on its new HPC3 supercomputer for the first time. CEO Claudio Descalzi said that the computer “will provide Eni with unprecedented accuracy and resolution in seismic imaging, geological modelling and reservoir dynamic simulation, allowing [the company] to further accelerate overall cycle times in the upstream process and to sustain E&P performance.” As the rise of ‘Big Data’ continues, the kind of raw computational power provided by such machines is likely to become ever more important.

Another aspect of advanced technology drawing interest from the upstream sector is artificial intelligence (AI). Earlier this year, BP invested in Californian start-up, Beyond Limits, which is working on commercialising technologies developed by NASA and the US Department of Defense, including AI technology originally developed for space exploration.3 The use of AI systems to analyse the ever increasing volumes of oilfield data could provide a significant advantage to operators, with Mark Watson, chief digital innovation officer at BP, saying that AI was “one of the most critical digital technologies to drive new levels of performance.”4

These new technologies, some of which were once only found in science-fiction, look set to become the cornerstones of the upstream industry in the 21st Century.

The Oilfield Technology team will be attending ADIPEC (13 - 16 November, Booth 121004). We look forward to seeing you there and hearing about the new technologies that your company is bringing to the industry!


‘Total’s Pangea Is Now the Largest Industrial Supercomputer’ –

‘Pangea: 80,000 times more powerful than your average PC’ –

‘BP joins oil rush to use AI with funding for California start-up’ –

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