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Artificial Intelligence in a Carbon Light Future

Authors: Gareth Taylor and Barry Zhang


Our environmental footprint and consequences of acting without data


Consumers and financial investors are increasingly calling on the oil and gas industry to reduce its environmental footprint. In the Upstream sector, oil companies have traditionally focused on health and safety but the environmental aspect in HSE never received the same priority. Additionally, it has been challenging for companies first, to quantify the CO2 impact of their field operations and second, to find viable alternatives. While billions of dollars in value have been created by new technologies, the fundamental process of drilling a well and lifting hydrocarbons has presented daunting challenges to those aiming to reduce carbon footprint.

If we examine the Deepwater Horizon blowout, an event with catastrophic environmental consequences and a deeply troubling and longstanding impact on consumer perceptions of the Upstream industry, we can identify clear examples of how today’s artificial intelligence (AI) technology could have perhaps mitigated both the environmental consequences and saved lives.

Fig1. NOAA image of Deepwater Horizon Disaster and Contamination

While most have a perception of the blowout being due to a poor cement job, the post-mortem analysis sheds light on the root cause. The cement job failure was actually the result of drilling from highly over-pressured intervals into a less pressured interval which led to loss of hydrostatic pressure immediately following shut down of the cement job and before the wellhead seals were set and locked. Furthermore, according to the technical postmortem report of the Deepwater Horizon blowout, a sharp decrease in the pore pressure at the M56 reservoir sand (Figure 2) was accompanied by an increase in the average mudstone velocity, resistivity and density reflecting increased compaction due to increased effective stress. This, in combination with the extreme pore pressures within overlying strata, drastically narrowed the range of safe operational borehole pressures. These geologic phenomena produced challenging conditions for drilling, prevented successful temporary abandonment of the well, and contributed to the well’s failure.