Crowdsourcing – could it work in the oil and gas industry?

Digging through the videos from last year’s conference, my personal favourite is another talk in the “what can we learn from x” genre, this time with John A. Fredrickson from Innocentive:


 As I’ve previously mentioned on Quora, Fredrickson listed what they found were the major sucess factors in getting a crowdsourcing project to work. When in crowdsourcing you put out an open call for novel ideas and solutions to a problem, you need to:

  • Have a clearly defined problem
  • Provide the crowd with enough information to work on
  • Have the resources to answer questions from the crowd

Fredrickson illustrated this by describing how Innocentive put up a crowdsourcing project in the wake of the Macondo disaster, failing completely on all the above.  This was an extreme situation, where the few who had information was too busy managing the disaster to get involved in a crowdsourcing project, but sharing information openly is not something that comes natural in the oil and gas industry. Would this bar crowdsourcing from working with oil and gas?

PS: The videos from this year’s conference is coming online now, more on that later :-)

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Conference hack #1

You’re sitting in the back row and can’t read the slides? Font is too tiny? No problem!

In the spirit of Integrated Operations, there’s a live feed of the conference on the internet. You get the presentation up close and can flick back and forth in the slides if the presenter is going too fast. A virtual front-row seat!

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A conference warm-up exercise

The 2011 Integrated Operations conference started today here in Trondheim and I’m taking advantage of the free wifi to refresh my memory of last years conference. Getting to know Integrated Operations tends to demand a brief familiarity with everything from drilling problems to organizational psychology and beyond. Therefore, at the IO conferences there’s a whole sub-genre of talks of the type “what can the oil industry learn from field X?” These tend to be among the best talks.

A classical example at IO10 was the “pumps & pipes talk” below, which discussed what oil and gas could learn from medicine.



In principle, blood vessels and oil pipes are both tubes that transport fluid from point A to B in an efficient manner. Both of them can clog and in both cases someone has to go in with a tool to fix it. The surprising thing is that this line of reasoning works! There really are both lessons to be learned and technology to be transferred between the two industries. For one, both do difficult computer simulations of a non-newtonian fluid flowing through a narrow pipe. But then again, math underlies everything doesn’t it?

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Positions available

There’s a new job opening for a researcher at my department in SINTEF, the drilling and well construction one. A background in math, physics, IT or cybernetics (or “control engineering” if you like) is a good starting point, the tasks to pick from are quite varied. And yes, they’r even looking for people with a petroleum background. :-) It’s Full details here. I noticed that our colleagues in the seismics and reservoir department are hiring too. There’s also a 3-year position available in another department for a “simulation of Reactive Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) in packed bed reactors“. If you have an idea what that is, you should go check it out! :-)

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The continental shelf

The offshore technology days are under way, across the fjord from my office. This year they’ve put out a nice song and dance routine on youtube. Or song and welding routine more like it. :-) Only real oil workers in this video. (Is that rig in the beginning of the video at Hanøytangen?)

Extra points for those of you who can tell what commercial the video is inspired by.

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The breakthroughs in technology come from the smaller companies, David Bamford says. He backs it up with examples then asks:  “can you point to one technology that was invented in one of the major, major oil field service companies that improved anybody’s exploration success rate?

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Wolfram alpha for quick calculations

When you do back-of-the-envelope calculations in oil well drilling, half the job is just keeping track of the units. In the old days, it was all “american units” in the north sea, but today, reports and logs sports a colourful mix of metric and imperial units for all aspects of the well.

For instance, you may want to calculate the pressure down in a well filled with a specific drilling mud. If the mud isn’t moving around and is not very compressible, the pressure is approximately p =  ρgh where ρ is the  fluid density, g the gravitational constant and h the height. We want the pressure in bar, we’ve got g in m/s² but mud density might be given in ppg or “pounds per gallon”. The experts may have the conversion factors memorized, but for the rest of us it’s a lot quicker to visit and simply write:

12 ppg * gravitational acceleration * 3000 m in bar

which outputs 423 bars as well as the value in atmospheres, pascal and psi in case you’r interested.

Similarly, when you’r extending the well you may want to know how much mud you need to fill the extra volume. We may state the length we drill in meters, but the diameter of the well depends on the size of the drillbit, which is always given in inches. So will this volume be given in cubic metres, litre or perhaps gallons? Here’s where one of the famous locals enter the scene, the “barrels of oil” (bbl) as a standard measure of volume. It’s the natural unit if you ship or store your drilling mud in oil barrels I guess. Again, the calculations are not really complicated, but the more units we juggle the larger the chance of a mistake. After all, you’r probably just doing a quick calculation as a reality-check for your computer simulation, right? Typing:

volume of cylinder with length 23m and diameter 8 inches

tells you that the extra length of hole needs 745.9 L of mud, which via 745.9 L in barrels of oil concludes with a need for 4.7 barrels of your finest drilling mud.

Wolfram Alpha seems weak on nested evaluation and won’t accept these two queries formulated as one sentence. (Or I might be missing something?) but it sure is a lot faster than looking up the conversion factors every time. So with Wolfram Alpha, you save ten minutes checking and double-checking your results or  a whole day searching for bugs in your simulation, depending on which you check first ;-)

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