Forecasting the future of oil and gas operations

A new report from DNV GL paints a very automated future for many oil and gas processes and sectors. Melissa Sustaita sets out the details.

Sames. Image from OE staff.

Over the next decade technologies will unfold that will take people off of the drill floor, fill the knowledge gap on some of the most remote places, and conduct rigless plugging and abandonment, according to DNV GL’s Technology Outlook 2025 report.  

“This report is about the probable; it is not about the possible,” Pierre Sames, DNV GL director of research and innovation in Norway told a small group in Houston this month. “It is not about those fancy things have just emerged; it is about technologies that we know, and we are confident that they will have an impact on our industry.” 

Some of the technologies DNV GL forecasts for the oil and gas industry include: fully automated drilling operations; simpler and smarter completions; smarter subsea tie-ins; autonomous inspection of pipelines; and rigless plugging and abandonment (P&A). 

These technologies, Sames said, will help the industry to be more cost efficient in operations, which is very much needed due to the current oil price crisis.

Automated drilling operations

Automated drilling is already partially in place on some drillships. “It is a technology that will help us begin to become safer, because you can actually take out people from the drill floor; it is a very dangerous workplace,” Sames said. 

According to DNV GL, drilling is a significant part of oil companies’ expenditures. Exploration and appraisal wells are high-risk, high-cost activities, while production well drilling is typically half of total field development CAPEX. In addition to these concerns comes safety: incidents involving personnel or the environment during drilling operations can and do break companies. Fully automated drilling operations have the potential to increase the speed and safety of drilling operations, while simultaneously reducing costs.

Advanced automation technology an drilling will help the industry become more efficient, and change the way a well is drilled that will require a complete redesign of drilling-related processes fully benefit from automation. 

To enable continuous drilling operations, where a well is constructed without any interruptions to the process, DNV GL believes that several technologies need to be in place, including automated drill pipe handling, managed pressure drilling, single trip drilling, and monitoring and diagnostics.

According to Sames, automation technology will become better operators of the complex systems that humans will ever be.

"This will lead, in my view, better operations, which will not as often be interrupted by unexpected and extreme events,” Sames said.

Smarter subsea

Illustration of smart subsea, from DNV GL.

Within the next 10 years, autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) will be equipped with sonars, cameras, and sensors, which play an important role in the operation and maintenance of subsea fields. Research indicates that autonomous technologies developed for military purposes, AUVs and drones, will replace remote operated vehicles (ROV) for inspections.

In subsea, the industry has several automated systems in place, however, what is not in place are what DNV GL calls smart subsea solutions. 

Smart subsea solutions include more sensors, more computing power locally. They are equipped with wires that share information about possible changes in flow rates; change or share information about leaks, and share information about asset conditions of the more complex parts of the subsea system.

These technological machines will fill the knowledge gap on some of the more remote places. DNV GL predicts that there will not only be drones like we have today, there will also be swimming or diving drones.

For example, Sames said, in an offshore installation, just a routine inspection of structures takes days or weeks for a human to complete. With flying drones, these routine inspections can be done easily on a pre-programmed flight path, and a comparison of the results from the previous inspection flight can be done with the current inspection easily. (See “Flying high” from OE August 2014)

Going rigless

At the end of a field’s lifetime, wells must be permanently plugged and secured to avoid future leaks, which all generally require a rig to perform the time-consuming task of permanent plugging, which equates with high expenditure of about 40-50% of total decommissioning costs.

The North Sea has an estimated 8000 wells that need to be plugged and abandoned in the next 10 years, with the UK sector containing 5000 of those wells. DNV GL is predicting that it is possible for rigless P&A operations for these wells. (See “Counting the cost” from OE August 2015)

“For many wells, in particular, platform wells, we can actually use rigless plugging and abandonment that will save costs and time,” Sames said. 


Another technology that DNV GL highlighted is the “digital twin.” For every physical object we have today, whether it be a ship, a car, a drinking glass – it will have a digital copy.

Sames explained that with digital copies, they could be put on a platform to link them together, and start simulating how they work together and how they perform under varying functions.

The technology was actually tested last year on an offshore service vessel where DNV GL explored the effects of the change in the environmental laws when using a dynamic positioning system. DNV GL also studied the effects on the propellers, effects on the diesel aspects that were powering the vessel, and how the engine load responded and changed in response to the external loads.

“Digital twins are good tools for us as an industry that help us to optimize things before they are built. They help us to certify things, because for the first time in many cases, we see how they interact, and we can certify that they are working together,” Sames said. “They also help us to commission, and this is where we use it today already. So, we check the control systems software, or several systems, in advance to figure out whether it is working, so that you, in advance, can avoid costly repairs.”


Although the future of jobs was not discussed in DNV GL’s report, Sames said that technology will play a big part in job loss and job creation. 

“In terms of asset integrity management, for every inspector that you have today that is inspecting manually, there might be a drone tomorrow that is doing his job,” Sames said. “However, there might be another job that is created that is operating the drone. The drone operator can actually operate many drones simultaneously, so it might be in some area, that there are more jobs that are lost, compared to those that are created.”

Since drones require software, Sames believes that software development jobs will be in high demand. 

Read more:

Flying high from OE August 2014

Counting the cost from OE August 2015

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