Using Data To Look Forward With Predictive Insights

Bruce McCullough, SVP, Technology & Innovation, & CIO, Marathon Oil

In less than a decade, our country has moved from a position of energy scarcity to one of energy abundance. The U.S. shale plays have forever changed the energy landscape here at home and around the world, driven by the innovation of independent exploration and production (E&P) companies.

Those of us who work in this industry are proud to be part of this amazing U.S. energy renaissance. We’re optimistic about how our industry continues to develop technologies that make our business more efficient, find more oil and gas, and produce it safely and at a low cost.

At Marathon Oil, we look at technology and innovation as integral elements for how we will compete to be the premier E&P. Being able to think differently and act differently will drive our performance. It is the quest to find creative solutions that can really make a step change in our business. To ask and answer those questions that look forward.

Over the years, innovation in our industry has been heavily focused on the subsurface. As a result, the industry has greatly improved how geologists interpret what is going on below the surface. That is all very necessary, but we also have to think about innovation in digital technology in concert with our traditional subsurface focus.

How can we creatively leverage the large data sets we have in our companies to solve new—or old–problems?

It’s common and comfortable to use data for historical purposes. 

Asking: What was our production? What were our economics for this well? That is all backward looking.

We should also be using data for making reliable predictions. Asking: Where is the best  place to drill? How far apart should these wells be? What will be the ultimate recovery for the well?

We can start answering these questions with more precision and accuracy by looking at our data differently.

The energy industry does not suffer from a lack of data. It is a question of how can we take all this data that we have accumulated and learn from it? Not just react to it, but use it to do something different in the future.

Some companies are already starting to figure this out. It is the idea that we can use data–coupled with our understanding of the geology and the physics–and be much more accurate and efficient in finding and producing oil and gas. At Marathon Oil, we are leveraging proprietary software that allows us to model unconventional reservoirs in new ways by using next-generation computing power that processes these extremely complex models magnitudes faster than ever before.

Data-driven decision making and predictive capabilities will be essential across the life cycle of our unconventional assets– from delineation and appraisal through full field development.

"Data-driven decision making and predictive capabilities will be essential across the life cycle of our unconventional assets– from delineation and appraisal through full field development"

For example, using a more comprehensive data aggregation tool, our North Dakota drilling team is monitoring trends and is able to identify not only what has and has not worked in the past, but analyze the “why” and make further improvements. As a result, they are optimizing everything from operating parameters to crew utilization.

Our field-based control centers are another example. Operations are being monitored in real time, with a frequency and accuracy unimaginable even a few years ago. Machines are learning to automatically manage individual wells and entire facilities. Algorithms are being developed to predict events creating actionable alerts. Using new ways to visualize data enables an operator to quickly interpret masses of information. After all, real-time data is only as good as your ability to act on it. That is the digital oil field.

Other tools we are using or evaluating include machine learning to optimize production and computer vision to retrieve data from images and video.

As we contemplate the future of our business, we are bringing in more people who can marry data and mathematics with geoscience and reservoir engineering. People who can integrate data and develop models that see trends or anomalies that simply would not have been seen with traditional methods. The popular paradigm of the oil and gas business being low tech is being rapidly displaced by a new vision, the oil field of the future.

It all comes down to the ingenuity and drive that people in our industry bring to the table every day, finding solutions that we didn’t think were possible even three years ago. But we have to constantly leverage new ways to evolve and improve to stay competitive.

As we look forward, Marathon Oil is bringing together innovation and operational excellence. We are investing in projects with the highest returns and are in this business for the long haul—we have been creating value for our shareholders for well over a century.

At the heart of it, all are our dedicated employees whose commitment and innovation have only been sharpened by these dynamic times. Talent and innovation will continue to drive, direct and shape the future of the energy business.

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