By Dave Clifton
Content Strategist
SpaceIQ

Information modeling is revolutionizing the oil and gas industry. While many people tend to think of fossil fuels as antiquated, digital twins in oil and gas have allowed the industry itself to remain on the cutting edge. From downhole modeling to well integrity monitoring, digital twins enable more efficient drilling and extraction operations. It all adds up to more sophisticated oil and gas extraction.

It’s digital twins and other intelligent systems that allow oil and gas to keep up with the affordability of newer alternative energy sources. By minimizing drilling ops costs and maximizing well production, companies are able to maintain better margins on these precious commodities. Here’s a look at the significance of digital twins in oil and gas.

What is digital twin in oil and gas?

To understand their impact, it’s best to start with a basic overview of what digital twins are in oil and gas. For all intents and purposes, they’re a virtual representation of drilling ops. They’re used for everything from scenario planning and situation modeling, to predictive maintenance and asset management. In a field as complex as oil and gas extraction, the insights provided by digital twins pave the way for more informed actions, from where to drill to how to move extracted product.

Oil and gas digital twins are dynamic. This means operators can see the different physical components of an extraction site, along with the data attached to them. What’s the flow rate of the well at this very moment vs. the average flow rate over the last week? What is the value of crude on-site right now? When is the boring equipment due for paraffin removal and cleaning? Populated with the right sources of data, digital twins provide ready answers to these questions and many others that affect the efficiency of oil and gas operations.

Examples of digital twins in oil and gas

Digital twins have gained popularity in the oil and gas industry over the last decade. The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) in energy has also made it more conducive for producers to start using digital twins. Perhaps the best example in the industry is APEX: British Petroleum’s digital twin infrastructure.

Used primarily as a well surveillance and production benchmarking tool, APEX helps BP optimize well efficiency. In 2017, BP attributed more than 30,000 additional barrels to optimization efforts from its digital twins. Much of this increased production came from simulations, using digital twin data to anticipate well yields.

In addition, APEX has also proven the effectiveness of digital twins as a cost-saving tool. After constructing digital twins for 11 of its refineries, Brazilian-owned refinery Petrobras estimated $154 million in combined top-line growth and bottom-line savings. These numbers, also dated to 2017, show the power of oil and gas digital twins in their infancy. Today’s technologies and IoT enablers offer even greater potential.

In a report published in November 2020, analytics firm Gartner offers yet another example of why digital twins have become darlings of the oil and gas industry. The report, titled The End of “Standard” Oil, exhibits the power of predictive analytics in rigging operations. It outlines the ability of one producer to detect the imminent failure of a major component on an offshore oil platform, thereby preventing downtime and potential environmental impacts. “By itself, this action produced payback on their digital twin investment in less than a year,” concludes the report.

How can oil and gas operators benefit from digital twin?

The examples above highlight the significant benefits of digital twins in oil and gas industry. But they’re only the tip of the iceberg. There’s a variety of ways digital twins can put oil and gas producers ahead of schedule and on-track to superior operations.

  • Production efficiency. Monitoring the production trends of wells, combined with geological data, enables more consistency and optimal production from reservoirs.
  • Preventive maintenance. A holistic picture of equipment and maintenance records provides insight into proactive opportunities, preventing the cost of downtime.
  • Scenario planning. Geological data and rig metrics can shed light on opportunities to drill better or to streamline operations around better, safer approaches to extraction.
  • Operations monitoring. Real-time data allows rig operators to understand how the well performs at any given time, and what to adjust to ensure optimal performance.
  • Compliance standards. Identify and eliminate compliance issues before they result in environmental damage and/or legal action and fines.

In short, digital twins provide the contextual data producers need to maximize every facet of operations: from identifying the best approach to drilling, to maximizing extraction, to maintaining safety and compliance standards. These benefits and more unlock top-line growth and bottom-line savings.

Reliance on digital twins is growing

Digital twins aren’t novel in the energy sector. World leaders like British Petroleum (BP) have relied on digital twins for years, and continue to use them to create virtual models of major production systems. In 2017, when the company launched its APEX digital twin system, BP calculated an additional 30,000 barrels as the result of enhanced production. With this kind of result, it’s difficult to understate the importance of digital asset monitoring.

Even in a world that’s increasingly turning to renewables, digital twins will continue to make oil and gas relevant. As these systems drive down the cost of production and optimize extraction performance, energy producers will continue to stretch their dollars thanks to digital twins.

Keep reading: Digital Twin Software: Maximize Solutions and Benefits