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How oil companies use BI to maximize profits

Kim S. Nash | June 8, 2008
No one argues that oil isn't one heck of a lucrative industry. And all those profits don't come from good business intelligence practices alone. But it's a powerful notion to run a company with the mind-set that virtually every employee is a data analyst.

One of the real-time parts of this BI chain is well data. An engineer in Houston can monitor drilling activity in West Africa, see an anomaly in how the drill bit sinks into the ocean floor and can send that data over satellite to a geoscientist in Houston, who can view the visualization and e-mail a recommendation on how to adjust the machines, Lensing says.

"The ability for people on a platform to communicate with people in the home office and work on the same set of data means we can get more production done faster and more accurately," he says. "How you choose to analyze the data and the decisions you make-there's your competitive advantage."

More production faster means Hess could, in theory, sell more crude or refined products sooner while market prices are high, as they are now.

The Cost of New Business

For Petrobras, an oil field discovered off the coast of Brazil could become the world's third biggest, after one in Saudi Arabia and another in Kuwait. The potential bounty: 33 billion barrels.

That's an unofficial estimate attributed in April to Brazil's National Petroleum Agency. Petrobras officials decline to confirm it, insisting that more testing must be done. Olinto Gomes de Souza Jr., a senior geologist there, is helping analyze some of the test data.

After four years of exploration and computerized modeling, the company last November announced that it had hit oil 6,500 feet beneath the ocean surface and another 16,000 feet into the ocean floor. Now proof drilling continues, boring through rock and salt layers atop the oil. At each centimeter, Petrobras looks at 10 to 12 variables, including temperature, pressure, and weight of rock and sediment. Stored in an Oracle database, the information is queried with analytics software from SAS Institute.

After geologists assess the information, it's sliced and diced against financial realities. "The amount of money we spend is very high-$100 million for a well alone," de Souza says. "We want to get it right."

To reach its goal of becoming one of the five biggest oil companies in the world by 2020, Petrobras has to take some calculated risks. Recovering oil from this find will be expensive partly because it's so far down in the earth. "No company has tried to explore under it," he says. But promising data has triggered major staffing decisions: Petrobras has created a new group of senior managers to oversee exploration of this area and plans to hire 14,000 drillers, geologists and engineers. It takes years to go from initial exploration to crude oil production and sales of finished gasoline, so companies have to model markets five, 10, 15 years out. They use a mix of their own intelligence and public data, such as from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), says researcher Knapp.

 

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