How COVID-19 Is Changing The Way In Which Upstream Oil Activities Are Carried Out

The COVID-19 pandemic wrought havoc on the oil industry half a year ago, and it’s still only recovering now. In fact, experts and analysts are still very much at loggerheads when it comes to the direction in which they think the market might be headed. What has perhaps been less well-documented, however, is the ways in which oil operations themselves are having to change to accommodate new ‘best practices’ and ways of working, in order to better mitigate the transmission of the virus.

With that in mind, the team here at TriStone Holdings Ltd, a rapidly expanding UK oil investment company, wanted to examine how the industry will adapt from an operational perspective. It’s all very well trying to predict what the markets will do over the coming months, but what’s it going to be like for those actually extracting the oil?

The More Widespread Introduction Of ‘Smart Helmets’ And Other New Technologies

In these COVID-times, you want to be reducing contact, not increasing it! Unfortunately, though, oil wells are by no means infallible and, like other machinery, experience engineering issues from time to time. This presents something of a dilemma, therefore. On the one hand, even relatively minimal amounts of downtime can equate to an oil company haemorrhaging money. On the other hand, however, you don’t want to be increasing the risk of virus transmission by carting out huge numbers of engineers to a site. What about drones, we hear you say? Well, as we’ll come onto shortly, aerial drone technology provides a great tool for inspection and surveillance, but they offer very little in the way of carrying out manual tasks.

One solution, moving forward, might come in the shape of the smart helmet. Wearable technology has been a ‘big thing’ for a while now. These nifty bits of kit, however, take it to the next level. A piece of PPE with in-built cameras, capable of providing real-time audio-visual information to an operational HQ. Whereas once a whole team of engineers may have to have been transported out to the oil well, now the helmet wearer could potentially carry out remedial engineering work themselves, with the help of direct supervision from engineers at said HQ.

Continued Increase In Drone Usage

Here at TriStone Holdings Ltd, we’ve previously spoken about the recent proliferation of drone technology within the sector. Remote drilling capabilities have become markedly more attractive since the advent of the Coronavirus, however, with oil companies – many of whom had already been pursuing these new, digital technologies – now adopting them more enthusiastically than ever before. As we’re all well-aware at this point, one of the key parts in reducing the spread of the virus, is the reduction of contact between people, and reducing the number of ‘touchpoints’.

The industry has already seen drones being used for safety reasons. They’re also of particular use, however, in confined spaces (storage tank inspections, for instance). Not only do they keep roughnecks safe, but they can help keep workers apart, mitigating some of the need for workers to operate in close proximity with one another. Drones aren’t a substitute for many manual operations, but they certainly enable a great deal more remote working than previously.

The Industry Is By No Means Dead, Just Different

Some of the more pessimistic industry commentators have cast a particularly glib outlook over the future of the industry. We’re not so downbeat, however. Whilst the virus is already bringing about big industry change, we believe it marks the start of a period of difference and not death for the industry.

What might this mean, in practice? Well, for some years now, the oil industry has been becoming increasingly digitised. However, this transition may well see an acceleration as a result of the virus. Major oil players will continue to invest heavily in AI and automation, wherever possible, to streamline the upstream life-cycle. The era of big data is upon the oil industry; companies are looking to eke out every last possible bit of productivity from oil wells.

A New Chapter

There’s a basic concept in biology, known as ‘limiting factors’. As the oil industry optimises, what prevents it from becoming any more efficient can be seen as the ‘limiting factor’. Previously, the quantity of data was the factor, then it was the ability to process huge quantities of data. Now, with machine learning and AI systems, larger volumes of data can be processed more quickly than ever before. The bar has been raised once more, enabling the industry to become even more optimised and productive. And whilst these improvements may seem only incremental, the results for oil companies (and therefore oil investment companies such as ourselves) can be huge.

Data-analysts and IT specialists will be just as important to oil companies, moving forward, as are on-site crew. What we seem to be approaching, then, is a new chapter in the oil industry; one brought about by both advances in technology and also unexpected circumstance, in the form of a global pandemic.

Contact Us

Necessity is the mother of invention, or so they say. Having been presented with a challenging situation, the oil industry is already producing innovative workarounds. So, if you’d like to find out more about our oil investment company, then get in touch! Contact TriStone Holdings Ltd today on 0800 055 7079.


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