When oil-field equipment breaks down in rural Oklahoma, operators and service companies could lose many thousands of dollars in downtime if they have to hunt throughout the region for replacement parts.
Tulsa-based startup technology company Equip Advantage executives hope to save companies money — and earn a bit themselves — by connecting people who need parts or services with companies in the area that can meet those needs.
Equip Advantage and other companies like it are building on a trend sweeping throughout the country's oil patch by using technology to transform a century-old industry.
“There wasn't any innovation for decades, but new innovations have opened a door,” Kirk Willard, a managing partner at Equip Advantage, told The Oklahoman on Wednesday. “The oil field in general has latched onto that and has started to take hold of these new innovations that can make life easier for everyone.”
A new hope
Oil and natural gas operations were largely unchanged for decades until companies within the past 15 years discovered how to combine horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing and other technologies to produce oil and natural gas from shale and other rock too tough for previous generations of drillers.
Technology swept throughout the industry as companies increasingly used three-dimensional seismic imaging and advanced directional drilling to target rock layers just a few feet thick more than a mile underground.
Drilling rig controls now resemble science fiction spaceship cockpits with joysticks and multiple large screen displays to precisely guide drillbits through the dirt and rock.
Now technology is changing again.
But rather than the revolutionary, systemic changes that so quickly transformed the industry, today's changes tend to be smaller and more targeted.
“Increased safety, reduced environmental footprint and reduced costs are the three things being tackled with the different technologies,” said Trey Lewis, coordinator for Sustaining Oklahoma's Energy Resources, which formerly was known as the Oklahoma Marginal Well Commission.
“We had all this focus on supply and finding more and drilling more. Now we're using this technology to reduce costs.”
The changes are having a significant effect on companies' costs and profits, said Steve Agee, dean of the Meinders School of Business at Oklahoma City University.
“Everything is faster. Everything is more efficient,” he said. “As a result, their costs are lower. It allows them to continue to build on their exploration efforts because they've created this cost-efficient side of the model.”
The innovations are wide-ranging, including tracking oil-field equipment inventory, capturing and selling natural gas that previously would have been vented into the atmosphere, and digitizing and automating processes that previously were recorded by hand.
The larger companies also continue to refine their operations.
Oklahoma City-based Devon Energy Corp. recently began running fiber optics cables into horizontal wells to record digital acoustic signals and digital temperature data.
“We're able to get a much better idea of how our hydraulic fracturing and fracturing stimulations are affecting our completion, how it's impacting our overall completion and productivity,” said Todd Moehlenbrock, Devon's vice president of engineering technology.
“By combining the micro seismic with downhole fiber optics together, there is a tremendous amount of data we're interpreting. It's giving us insight into our fracks that we haven't had before.”
The digital oil field
Oklahoma City-based Greasebook has created an iPad app by the same name designed to allow oil-field pumpers to be more efficient.
“To stay competitive, you have to find innovative ways of keeping costs down,” Greasebook co-founder Greg Archibald said.
For decades, oil-field pumpers have traveled from well to well recording the level of oil each site is producing. The pumper would then record the information and mail it to the operator. Problems often would go unreported for many days.
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There wasn't any innovation for decades, but new innovations have opened a door. The oil field in general has latched onto that and has started to take hold of these new innovations that can make life easier for everyone.”
A managing partner at Equip Advantage