A few months ago, two of the top-winning players on Jeopardy squared off against a computer system named Watson — and lost. Watson was able to navigate the puns and word games that are typical in a Jeopardy question, pore through 200 million pages of natural-language content stored in its memory, and find answers in less than three seconds. This feat may sound like an entertaining bit of trivia, but Watson actually has serious and potentially transformational implications for many Houstonians who work in the oil industry.
The oil industry has been receptive to innovation, especially when it is able to address significant industry challenges. In fact, eight out of 10 global oil and gas executives in a recent IBM study named technology progress as the oil and gas industry’s most important external force in 2030. In fact, one of the biggest challenges technology can help resolve is the sheer volume and velocity of information.
At a recent Society of Petroleum Engineers Digital Energy conference held in The Woodlands, an exploration and production company executive cited the challenge of processing ever-growing volumes of real-time drilling data and then interfacing with multiple interdisciplinary parties on the drilling rig to interpret what is happening or about to happen. The executive went on to say that information technology must address this data challenge, and therefore IT will have the biggest impact on the field of drilling in the future.
That is why a question-and-answer system like Watson that can collect, process and understand data based on natural language within a matter of seconds could have far-reaching implications for the oil and gas industry.
During drilling and completion operations, for example, Watson can take data being collected while a well is being drilled and use sophisticated modeling and scoring techniques, faster than any human, to provide answers such as what is the most efficient way to continue drilling the well, without mishap, and where should the well be completed in the reservoir to optimize production at a reasonable cost. To enhance exploration, Watson could integrate and analyze data from multiple sources and across multiple disciplines, including geophysical/seismic, geological/petrophysical and engineering/operations. This allows engineers and geoscientists more time to adjust and interpret their predictive models rather than collecting data. They can then make decisions more accurately and faster to discover the most efficient way to drill multiple wells, develop the entire field and achieve faster time-to-oil safely and cost-effectively.