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Industry News

Cyber Security & Standards

Well Site Teams Discuss Automation Plans

August 29, 2019
Robert Bergman

In the run-up to the forthcoming Future Well Site Automation Summit (Sept. 12, Houston) the organizers surveyed 120 automation leaders, most of whom were working on North American well sites. Their results give a glimpse of where the upstream oil and gas industry is today with regard to investment in automation and new technologies. Here are some of the highlights:



1. Skilled labor shortage, market dynamics, and lack of operational insight are key business challenges. The shortage of skilled labor tops the list of business concerns. (Figure 1) It is not surprising that this is among the top business concerns. Upstream oil and gas, like many other industries, is hit with the double whammy of a retiring workforce and the high competition for new workers with digital skillsets. Other top challenges which automation might address are volatile pricing and demand (through improving business agility) and lack of operational insight (through data analytics and end-to-end automation).

Figure 1: What are the biggest challenges ahead for the oil and gas sector?

2. More than 60% of the respondents will be increasing their investment in automation to address business challenges. And greatest numbers are expecting return through improvements in operational workplace efficiency, profitability and workforce efficiency. (Figure 2.) The number of people expecting automation to improve profitability indicates increasingly higher expectations from automation systems.

Figure 2: What do you expect to be the biggest ROI from your automation product?

The verbatim comments that the researchers shared support these expectations, as typified by one who was expecting to see ROI from: “Use of data-driven analytics and digitization to minimize manpower, reduce downtime, improve utilization, optimize production, and visualize opportunities & results.”

Similarly, responses from those reporting that they are already seeing returns on investment are reporting results such as the following:


“… We have implemented several automation initiatives across several assets. Each project has proven out the cost benefits associated with the project, which has not only helped to secure funding for additional projects but also to spur ideas for what else we can accomplish. The most successful project has been our Tank Automation project, which automatically switches production from one tank to the next as tanks fill up, then notifies the truck hauling company, measures the haul, prints the ticket, and sends the data electronically to our data production system with no human intervention (except the truck driver).”


3. End-to-end automation tops list of what people are planning to buy.

The largest single expense item reported was end-to-end automation systems, with interest doubling from 10% last year to 20% now. There was also significant interest in data analytics and wireless was also popular. Although down from the previous year, these continue to be key components of digital transformation.


4. Cyber security spending: the good news and the bad news

Cyber security spending was up slightly, but, with only 8% of respondents planning to spend money on cyber security, implies a significant number of people may be leaving their operations vulnerable. We view this with mixed feelings.

Figure 3. If you were looking to invest in automation technology, what types of technology would you be looking at?

The fact that spending is up slightly indicates awareness of the threat, which is good, but we don’t believe that anyone should have to devote an excessively large portion of their budgets on cyber security. It should come standard with all your automation purchases. In fact, some of the anticipated spending would become unnecessary if companies specified intrinsic cyber security for all new automation purchases.


5. Combatting cyber tool overload

Joining us in concern about the proliferation of cyber security products, is VMWare’s Lead Feld Technologist, End-User Computing Brian Madden. Writing recently in CISO Magazine, he states that cyber security teams use an average of over 80 different security products from 40 different vendors and concluded that a new approach is needed.


“This new approach needs to start with a digital workspace platform that has intrinsic security built-in and leverages intelligence from all sources to secure users from apps, endpoints and the infrastructure, “ he writes.


About half of the respondents were in some stage of planning and development, while the other half were either implementing or optimizing existing strategies. To both the planners and the optimizers, we say incorporate anticipated automation purchases into your plans. By purchasing new PLCs, RTUs, DCSs and other technology with cyber security already built in (as is true of all Bedrock products), you will not only save the cost of add-on equipment, you will also end up with much deeper protection.


To learn more about what intrinsic security platform might mean for the digital oil field, read Sam Galpin’s feature in the July issue of E&P magazine.


Review the full Future Well Site Survey Results here.

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