Site to Foster Innovation in Oil, Gas Technology Development
Friday Aug 26, 2016  

Technology platforms will play a critical role in the oil and gas industry’s potential, and communities can play a huge role in ensuring these platforms can truly serve industry needs.

Seeking to foster more innovation within the oil and gas industry, Landmark Solutions and industry partners will launch next year the OpenEarth Community (OEC). The OEC is a global and open community of scientists, engineers and software developers in oil and gas companies, service companies, software providers, data vendors and technology developers committed to producing an open and shared exploration and production (E&P) platform to lower the cost and accelerate pace of innovation in the E&P industry.

“In the current climate, we have less resources, but we need to look in the mirror and think about what to do differently,” said Michael Jones, director of alliances, partnerships and strategy for Landmark, during a panel discussion among industry executives on the OEC at LIFE 2016, the Landmark Innovation Forum & Expo, Wednesday in Houston.

The idea for the community came after an examination by Landmark of the role that innovation can play in strategy. Jones said that they looked at what was happening in other industries and verticals, and determined that, rather than brainstorm alone, that they should join with other companies. The company’s proposal of the open community was met with positive response.

The OEC will be organized by charter, which will inform the group how to behave as a collective and a community, Jones told conference attendees. Members of the OEC include Royal Dutch Shell plc, Anadarko Petroleum Corp., CGG Veritas, Statoil ASA, Devon Energy Corp., and Baker Hughes.

An open platform offers obvious benefits, such as the ability to reduce cost while fostering quality and innovation, said Hovey Cox, senior vice president of marketing and strategy at CGG Veritas. The OEC can help companies reduce cost by eliminating the duplication of petrotechnical platforms being developed individually by companies.

The OEC can provide less obvious, even counterintuitive benefits. It might seem to make sense for one operator to develop interoperability of a platform in a closed environment. But that interoperability will be limited by the desires of the operator, said Cox. Interoperability across domains such as well construction, well management, geosciences, and field management is critical for allowing people in these disciplines to collaborate.

“With a closed system, typically a company buys and then experiences that technology. With an open system, work can be conducted for years to perfect the product for deployment,” Hovey commented. “Having an open platform also can provide more clarity on the security and auditability of the platform.”

Shell does not see the OEC as dilutive to its own software technology development, said Lex Mollinger, subsurface and wells IT strategy manager at Shell. Instead, he views it as a means of deploying technology more quickly.

“We are developing the same technology over and over,” Mollinger commented. “That’s actually a waste of resources. Why can’t we do it once or twice and leave it at that?”

The oil and gas industry is pretty good at developing connectors between applications, between applications and data stores, and among data stores themselves. 

“We probably have more of those connectors and integration elements than applications, and it’s not differentiating at all. But we have to do it to make our landscapes work,” said Mollinger.

The open earth model provides a completely different mindset, said Mario M. Coll, senior vice president and chief information officer at Anadarko Petroleum Corp. Coll sees the OEC as a mechanism for opening up opportunities to share information, such as the capability for early kick detection in a well. Given the impact on equipment, human lives and the environment, Coll asked how the industry can’t not share such information.

“One of the struggles we have had as an industry is just the way we have been doing things and the lack of ability to draw in new talent,” said Coll.

In Silicon Valley, developers’ access to a lot of the open source capability has allowed for creativity and innovation. That environment is closed off the developers in the oil and gas industry. Coll believes that innovations such as the OEC can attract not just academics, but free-spirited visionaries who might go elsewhere.

Jones said the initiative is not about open source, but what Landmark calls open core. Through the initiative, Landmark will provide a platform substantially built on open source code. While capacity exists for quite a bit of open source code to be consumed, the industry is not ready for an unfederated open source environment.

“The model that we’re looking for here is much more of a Red Hat/Linux model,” said Jones. “At the point you want to consume the platform, you buy the platform as you would in any other space. The platform is simply a means to an end.”

Referencing a previous presentation at the conference importance of algorithms, Jones said that Landmark’s future business isn’t about the platform, but the smart stuff the company should do to drive innovation.

“The platform is the glue, and we need to provide a platform that everybody can and will contribute thinking to,” said Jones. That being said, it’s possible that, 10 years from now, the platform could be entirely an open source adventure.”

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