Big Data Analytics Could Revolutionise Fracking

Data analytics is going to help oil and gas companies find drilling locations which will maximise production levels and reduce environmental effects.
Published: Wed 22 Jan 2014

Big data analytics could change the face of fracking. Oil and gas companies will soon be given the opportunity to make the process of fracking safer and more efficient by becoming smarter about the resources and the production process.

The oil and gas industry will be transformed as project managers locate fields with the richest concentrations of oil and gas, make pipelines safer, and improve the fracking process for greater output and fewer threats to the environment

Big Data Means Big Business

The US is experiencing a major oil boom. EIA projects US shale oil production will reach 4.8 million bpd in 2021. However, while abundant, shale oil and gas can be difficult to locate and extract. Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing processes are costly and not very environmentally friendly. Fracking is also not as efficient as it could be. Today, horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing recover about 20% of the oil in the shale rocks.

But, data about location and potential quantity could improve the fracking process significantly and oil and gas companies can look forward to increasing their production levels as they gain new insight in to drilling locations from data received. If analysed properly, the data will make the process cheaper and faster.

Environmental concerns around fracking

Environmentalists are concerned about potential ground water contamination and earthquakes. Protestors around the world continue to lash out at the fracking process but in most cases, to no avail. The economics behind the oil and gas resources are just too attractive to ignore. The enormous volume of gas flowing from the Marcellus and other U.S. shale formations has led to wholesale prices that are about one-third of what customers in Europe or Asia pay.

Environmentalists point to the following negative effects of fracking:

  • The use of toxic chemicals called fracking fluid which can contaminate the water

  • Removal of millions of gallons of freshwater from the water cycle.

  • Pollution from truck traffic

  • Chemical contamination around storage tanks

  • Habitat fragmentation

  • Damage to environmentally sensitive areas due to drilling

With the help of data analytics, oil and gas project managers can take steps to avoid the potentially negative impact of drilling.

The complexity of data analytics

There are a number of analytical challenges and opportunities involved in shale oil and gas production. This is due to its escalating volume, velocity and variety of data that needs to be analyzed and interpreted to make investment and drilling decisions.

The large amount of data collected from this process is therefore very complex and varied. However, by assessing various data sources and data types, Big Data Analytics is broken up into three primary categories:

  • Descriptive Analytics- This describes what has happened and why

  • Predictive Analytics-Advising what will happen

  • Prescriptive Analytics-This advises what will happen, when, why and how to improve this predicted future.

For Big Data Analytics to succeed in oil and gas exploration and production—especially shale—data must be collected and analysed from a wide variety of sources:

  • Images from well logs, mud logs and seismic reports

  • Videos from fluid flow from hydraulic fractures

  • Sounds from drilling, fracking, completion, production, etc. — collected by fiberoptic sensors

  • Texts from drillers’ and frack pumpers’ notes

  • Numbers from production, artificial lifts

Analytics reveals opportunities and solutions

By integrating information from all these sources, Prescriptive Analytics can reveal key insights, predict problems and opportunities and suggest the ideal course of action. Shale operators will then be able to find the best drilling locations, where to frac, and how to complete their wells. This will greatly improve production, reduce costs, and avoid causing unnecessary damage to the environment.

Prescriptive analytics can also show the impact of each decision option. This will help project managers to secure future production output by proactively taking appropriate and timely steps.

Data analytics is not new. Its value is drawn upon across many business sectors. Smarter decisions, gained from data analytics, is bound to result in fewer resources, lower environmental impact and greater yields. Successful oil and gas companies will know how to prioritize resources to extract, produce and transport oil and gas in the most efficient and safest manner. The potential of prescriptive analytics for this industry is just too big to ignore.

Further Reading

Data Informed-How Prescriptive Analytics Can Reshape Fracking in Oil and Gas Fields

Wired-What the Frack: US Energy Prowess With Shale, Big Data Analytics