Forget the oil price… here’s what the industry should be focusing on

Greg_Rohde_100x120Greg Rohde, Vice President - Intergraph Process, Power & Marine Australia, shares his thoughts about the future of the global oil and gas industry.  

If you’re a player in the oil and gas industry, chances are you’ve been following recent fluctuations in the global oil price with some degree of interest. Given how crucial this industry is to so many interdependent industries, and how many individual livelihoods it supports, it may seem flippant to compare events of the past six months to a rollercoaster, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who is starting to feel that way.

The price of oil is a cyclical beast so we can reasonably expect fluctuations, albeit maybe not of the current magnitude.  Can we do anything about them? Unlikely. Can we devise strategies to ride the troughs, ready for the next peak? Most definitely. This is the time for asset owners to be thinking about how they maximise productivity and efficiency on operational plants… not only to lower costs and minimise downtime when times are tight, but also to achieve operational excellence now, ready to capitalise on the next boom. We call this “sweating the asset” – making it earn its keep.

The problem is that many operational plants have a life span of up to four decades – how confident are you that a plant that was commissioned in 1975 can keep pace with one that has been online for just a few years? Or that your plant that was newly commissioned just a few years ago isn’t already deviating from its design basis?

The challenge

For an operational oil and gas asset, the challenge is all about managing legacy information. Given that a facility may have been in operation for a number of decades, critical information may be in a range of incompatible or outdated formats (eg scanned documents, PDFs and images).

This information will most likely be scattered around in unofficial storage locations. What’s more, this is information that is typically shared informally over many years, creating duplicates and outdated versions.

And this is not just an issue for old facilities, new plants may fail to adequately plan for or be overwhelmed by the handover from the project to operations, and information starts to degrade from Day 1 without adequate systems, processes and commitment.

Poor information management techniques pose an enormous risk to plant safety and operability, and therefore profitability.

The solution

An operational plant, like any another complex system – requires clean data to run effectively. If you are the owner of an older plant, a data cleansing project is no longer beyond your reach. Traditionally such a project would be done manually – a time- and resource-intensive affair that posed significant risk as you walked down the plant validating drawings and data.

Today’s most advanced solutions collate and digitise plant information using high-definition laser scanning, then extract intelligence and establish the required links between the associated documents. This can be done internally or you can engage a service provider to speed the process. This has the potential to shave hundreds of hours off your plant’s downtime by, for example, compressing the time spent finding the correct information in case of an unplanned outage.

A key part of any clean-up project should be ensuring that your data is validated and moved to a new, robust information management system… or else you will be facing regular clean-ups and extended downtime.

Clean, digitised data will have a flow-through effect on streamlining maintenance and turnaround planning, where significant productivity gains can be achieved.

And then there is the safety factor. We recently surveyed a selection of respondents from the energy industry, and discovered that nearly two-thirds of them lack complete confidence in their ability to locate crucial plant information in an emergency, largely a result of poor information management techniques. Are you one of them?