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How AR and VR are Transforming The Oil and Gas Industry

Despite a concerted effort to cut back on our use of fossil fuels, the industry is thriving and likely to continue operating at its current level for some decades to come. There are a number of highly detailed reports that examine the potential outcomes of how the industry will evolve, and while they universally agree that it will shrink in the face of growing dependence on electric systems and hydrogen fuel cells, it will remain in some form.  

One thing is certain though; as an industry oil and gas is likely to want to work smarter to maximise profits rather than continue as it is, and that will mean embracing emerging technologies. Players in oil and gas can do much with technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big Data, and Internet of Things (IoT) which will lead to smarter analysis of more information and increased connectivity across the board, but perhaps the greatest input could come from increased use of AR and VR technologies. A number of oil and gas companies are now embracing virtual technologies for a range of tasks and operations, such as:

  • Baker-Hughes. This subsidiary of General Electric (GE) develops and deploys the most advanced technologies to serve energy and industrial companies looking for more efficient, more reliable and cleaner solutions, and typically deal with in-depth training packages. These training sessions have usually been delivered as classroom-led events that required attendees to travel, which could be costly and time-consuming. However, since switching to VR-led training sessions, the company has been able to not only increase its overall number of sessions but have also boosted the quality and effectiveness of them. There are now less presentations in the training room and more 3D models for workers to become engaged in. And obviously, training of this nature can be carried out anywhere, with inductees entering virtual classrooms to learn, rather than having to go to real ones.
  • BP. The solidly British-led conglomerate is also boosting the effectiveness of its training program by bolstering it with VR. Despite setbacks such as the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010 – a training issue in itself – BP have remained one of the largest oil and gas platforms in the world. Obviously, delivering training in such a sprawling concern is a challenge one that the company have matched by integrating VR into their global program but, not being strangers to dangerous incidents, have taken it further with disaster-planning training. Using simulation facilities based in their Danish Svendborg, and Houston, Texas, facilities, BP has pioneered the use of VR training in creating virtual situations to mirror physical conditions during drilling activity. In this way, the company hopes to avert further disasters and prepare their staff for anything that the industry can throw at them.
  • Chevron. This primarily American-based company have started to employ VR technology at its El Segundo refinery in California to simulate the refinery equipment and sensor data superimposed on the 3D models allowing a technician to identify problems and provide solutions promptly. VR gives them the ability to overlay virtual content on processes and establish the effects of abnormal situations, should they occur, without dangerous states arising. Planning in this way helps Chevron staff prepare for the unknown.
  • Equinor. A new venture by Oslo-based Hydro and Bergen-based Christian Michelsen Research (CMR) institute has seen the simulation of potential oil-field sites and a unique examination of oil-bearing rock to understand the potential yield from new development sites. By using VR technology, the geophysicists, geologists and drilling engineers can study new geologic structures in fine detail, allowing them to observe the various layers of oil, gas, and water present in the reserves, and plan the best approach for extraction.

Oil and gas is an area ripe for the introduction of VR technology, with systems being of particular importance in the location of reserves, the design of extraction equipment, the training of staff, and the control of safety features. As the power of VR grows and modelling systems become ever more complex and realistic, industries which have to deal with unknown factors and hazardous situations are increasingly likely to turn to the virtual world to prop-up the real one. 

If VR leads to less disasters in oil and gas, and helps the industry remain competitive, then it has certainly done its job.