Tech benefits ‘potentially enormous’ for North Sea, PwC says

Alan McCrae, PwC energy leader.
Alan McCrae, PwC energy leader.

PwC’s UK energy leader has high hopes for the next wave of technology as it breaks on the North Sea offshore sector.

While this new tech may not be able to tell North Sea operators how much oil is in a particular field, it can help them gauge how healthy their asset is in a much safer and cost effective way.

Alan McCrae said: “The benefits are potentially enormous for the North Sea. I started my career in August 1988, just after Piper Alpha, and some people said to me ‘isn’t the oil about to run out?’ And some of these fields were reportedly about to run out and many of them are still going, they’ve got another 40 years. Why? Technology.”

Sensors and drone technology in particular have potential industry changing applications.

PwC believes sensors can connect physical North Sea assets to the internet, record data to measure the health of the asset, and place it on The Cloud.

Drones have huge cost saving potential for the industry, and even bigger health and safety applications when you consider how easily and quickly a drone can travel around a rig carrying out inspections and identifying potential issues.

Mr McCrae said: “Technology has taken away a lot of the labour intensity but it’s allowed us to do more. Human nature just makes us want to do more. I think it will allow us to become a lot more efficient and lower costs, and make things more environmentally friendly. In terms of drones, in remote areas, they will allow us to spot problems far quicker than in the past. The health and safety benefits of drones are enormous.

“A North Sea platform is an incredibly dangerous environment so you can do a lot of the inspection and maintenance without the same threat to human life. I think technology helps take some of the danger away.”

While some can find technology a little daunting, Mr McCrae and his team have utilised virtual reality technology to win hearts and minds, using the technology to not only describe, but actually show clients and staff the real world applications of the new tech wave.

He said: “Some technology the oil industry has been quite slow to adopt. I think that’ll change quite quickly. Some of the applications for Artificial Intelligence are huge and people are putting a lot of money into it across the board, and the oil industry as well. It will allow people to get to grips with complexity a lot more easily.

“One of the issues we’ve seen a lot of progress on is the sheer volume of data. What we’ve seen in our industry is that we’re now better able to handle the sheer volume of data and bring it to life. I think the new developments in technology will help organisation engage with it.

“A lot of people are fearful of it because they don’t see themselves as IT people. There is a stereotype that you need to be that type of person to engage with technology. I think that’s because technology has been quite ‘cliquey’ and hard to reach. Technology’s ability to engage with the average person will improve – mobile phones being a classic example of it.”

“My hope is that technology will help the cost reduction which needs to continue. We have to keep hammering that home, we have to get costs down and I think technology will help do that.

“When the price went down people did cost reductions and one of my fears was that some of those cost reductions weren’t very sustainable. I think the technology will help put a lid on that.”