Oil and Gas industry has recently transformed itself into a data-intensive industry–from artificial intelligence to intelligent or cognitive computing, machine learning to the internet of things and robotics. With such a growth and expansion, distributed ledger technology, commonly known as blockchain, can carry the industry’s transformation forward in the new era of cyber-automation in lockstep with other exponential technologies.
Cyber drilling automation software plugins from a third party, different tools, and different equipment and IoT devices from various vendors can be on the blockchain as shown in figure one as different nodes. This option provides a significant improvement in efficiency by radically changing the workflow. This also provides the opportunity to have distributed databases connected at different nodes. This figure one shows the options for a third-party and main contractor to couple their data and algorithms as different blocks in the blockchain in the form of transactions specified as n nodes. Each block contains data from different sources and can be from the same vendor or from different vendors. Whenever a change is made at any block by any vendor, the integrity of the change in the global system can be verified independently and can be immediately updated in the global chain at any time and anywhere. This provides additional fingerprinting and immutability of the databases not only trust but also security in the global system as we develop a reliable autonomous platform for drilling automation. This system will ultimately provide a robust platform as we move into the artificial enabled framework.
Fig. 1: Blockchain as infrastructure for Drilling Automation.
Figure two shows the drilling automation glide path. At a higher level, it can be classified as
• High dimensional uncertainty control
• Tactical autonomics control
The separation point is called drillers dilemma or drillers delusion and post delusion point the blockchain technology plays an important role as the network of machines have to be verified without human intervention when tactical geometrical and geological maneuvering is done. The network will verify at each node and the global network updated accordingly. Downhole tools and the interconnected surface equipment will provide the options to interact with each other and transact among themselves. This will pave the way for self-diagnosis and self-healing of the downhole tools in the autonomics mode. Traditionally and presently the downhole tools do not interact with each other for example Rotary steerable system does not interact with mud motor in a motor-assisted RSS bottom hole assembly. This can be avoided as the blockchain can provide a global knowledge of the whole system at any time and provide a better system when artificial intelligence is infused. It helps to learn, unlearn, relearn and reinforced the learning in an implicit manner.
Drilling Data and Asymmetry blocking and Chaining
An ongoing problem in the industry is data sharing and ownership rights besides added regulations from the local government. As a result, the data and data stores are highly fragmented and transactions become very difficult. Also, it has become difficult to aggregate data from different stores from different vendors with asymmetric information.
For this condition, the blockchain technology-based framework with distributed ledger technologies will provide an option to integrate various applications at the database level. Also, it provides an agreement protocol layer between different operators, rig contractors, and service companies. This further enables different access points without compromising on either data leak or data corruption and thus, establishing the trust. This provides outsiders to participate in the model development and propagate the new block developed further in the chain. Identification layer can be easily implemented in the blockchain as at any time a particular operator or service provider can restrict the access or block the block of the chain to their data without comprising the integrity of the entire chain.
Although blockchain seems promising and gaining momentum beyond bitcoin, there are obvious hurdles in adopting this emerging technology in the Oil and Gas sector and more importantly in the upstream side of the business. Few challenges are:
• Standardization: Since the technology is new, there is no industry standard, which weakens the control of the implementation.
• Regulations: Since it is an emerging technology including horizontals, there are no regulations around it and this prevents further adoption and trust in the system.
• Governance: A proper regulatory environment needs to be developed for decentralized ownership and international controlling authority.
• Data Quality: Data quality and data integrity are of prime importance as we move on the automation stage and blockchain technology does not provide a robust underpinning for data quality
• Transparency: The level of transparency in using others data is unknown and this will create further skepticism in the adoption of this technology
• Multi-block/chain framework: Lot of companies are providing a generic platform for blockchain operations. It has to be tailored as the upstream industry is different from other industries. This is will create additional problems when sharing the blocks.