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The leaps and bounds by which the IT industry has expanded has also affected the growth of another giant industry that mints money from barrels - the multi-million dollar oil and gas industry. We take a closer look at the relationship between IT and the fluid the world calls 'black gold'.
Historically, oil has affected almost everything from world politics and economies, to lifestyles. But oil has become an increasingly expensive commodity today, with prices spiralling upwards, as the supply surges southward and the demand northward. Needless to say, oil and gas companies have their hands full in trying to cope with this situation. And helping them cope and even enhance productivity, is IT. Â
Big Blue to the rescue
The company that the world knows as Big Blue is offering a number of solutions to the oil and energy sector. To begin with, the IBM PowerXCell 8i processor, originally developed for next-generation gaming consoles, is today powering the IBM BladeCenter QS22 supercomputers, which helps the industry to search oil fields much faster than existing technology.
A sophisticated imaging technology known as Reverse Time Migration (RTM) is used by Repsol, one of the 10 major private oil companies in the world, and the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC) for oil exploration. RTM is, however, limited by its processing speed. Here, the IBM PowerXCell 8i has come to the rescue with its unparalleled speed for imaging algorithms. In fact, it has led to the development of a new class of seismic technology that enables locating oil reserves at 30,000 feet (of which 20,000 feet is below the water surface of 10,000 feet). Experts are foreseeing a revolution in exploration comparable to that in medical imaging technologies, such as MRIs, that today routinely provide detailed images from inside the body. Indeed, such simulations will help companies make significant headway in locating previously unknown energy reserves, which is the need of the hour.
Another area where IBM plays an active role is in its solution for an 'intelligent oilfield'. An intelligent oilfield is a collaborative environment for communication, data collection, reporting and monitoring, knowledge and information sharing. IBM offers an integrated approach that combines five key components for an intelligent oilfield (see box).
In the IBM executive brief, in a document titled 'The intelligent oilfield: Meeting the challenges of today's oil and gas exploration and production industry', there is a paragraph that sums up the role of technology in making an efficient oilfield. It says: "Innovations in various technologies are helping people make the intelligent oilfield a reality. For example, massive amounts of sensor data are being delivered to skilled people who then remotely search the data, convert it to usable knowledge and use it via advanced visualisation technology, avoiding cumbersome data stores and transmission by allowing raw data to remain at the source. This helps analysts automatically detect complex data patterns/problems such as sand production in wells, so the right person can be alerted to initiate a response before a problem occurs. Visualisation, modelling and analytics make it easier for decision makers to understand a wealth of complex information, which can lead to improved oil and gas reservoir management."
IBM also offers SAP and RFID solutions for petroleum and energy companies. Companies like HP are also trying to offer such viable solutions.