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Oil and gas insider: Technology is the only solution to the “double black swan” of 2020

Mark LaCour is known for his popular podcasts where he often refers to hydrocarbons as the “most valuable molecules on earth”. An oil and gas enthusiast, he says the industry is finally ready to embrace technology for its future.

Tech adoption in oil and gas exploded in 2020

The global pandemic struck the oil and gas industry like a lightning bolt. Industry insider (and part of the Oil and Gas Global Network team) Mark LaCour called it a “double black swan” event, hitting both the upstream and downstream businesses equally hard by “rare, severe and unforeseen” events - as the black swan theory coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb denotes.

“No one was flying, driving, or buying soccer balls and lipsticks. The entire industry was trying to figure out which one of their legs to cut off to survive. And the only option to fix it was through technology.”

LaCour says that technology adoption in oil and gas grew “a million times more” in 2020 than over the last 20 years combined.

“When all is said and done, 2020 hit at an awesome time. We have new capabilities, new solutions and a younger workforce that has grown up with technology. They are the ones asking, ‘why are you still using Excel?’, and there’s no one around anymore saying, ‘because I said so’.”

Mark LaCour has been watching the development of the industry with an eagle eye for the past 25 years. He says he’s been waiting for a moment like this, a perfect storm of technological and cultural readiness, mixed with a healthy dose of public pressure.

Photo: Meet Mark LaCour. Mark has lived and worked in the oil and gas industry for more than 25 years. He currently hosts the top oil and gas podcasts in the world. He is a sought-after public speaker, author, board member and he has one of the top oil and gas presences on social media.

An industry under the microscope

There’s no doubt that the oil and gas industry is under enormous pressure to transform as climate concerns dominate political agendas. Carbon emissions are at the center of the debate, putting the oil and gas industry under the microscope when it comes to their sustainability efforts and achievements.

“Sustainability is driving the right behaviors in the industry, in terms of safety and environmental responsibility. It’s also driving investment dollars, meaning we must change. This includes reporting to the public on what we do. We need to share the information.”

Collecting and sharing information has never been easier in oil and gas

Sharing data has become easier for oil and gas operators thanks to a bountiful supply of low-cost sensors that can be put anywhere, combined with affordable broadband and a crop of new cloud providers that simply weren’t around 10 years ago. The cost of technology has fallen so rapidly, according to LaCour, that the industry can monitor things they used to be unable to afford to monitor, such as methane emissions, greenhouse gases and worker safety.

“Bp can’t hire enough drone pilots right now. These drones are collecting petabytes of data, bringing it back and doing the analytics in the cloud. That’s the key to turning around public perception. We can now track everything and go to the public to tell them exactly what we emitted and what we’re doing.”

Technology: Out of IT and into the business

The use of technology has infected all corners of oil and gas operations. The writing is on the wall, and it’s not only the IT department that sees the opportunities.

“I no longer have technology conversations with technology people. I’m having those conversations with business people. I’m talking cyber and cloud with Chevron’s midcontinent business, and they get it. This is exactly where we want to be – in a place where the business understands how to use technology.”

He says that it's in this environment and at this very moment in time that Cognite and the Cognite Data Fusion platform for the industry are flourishing.

“Cognite comes from the industry. Everyone knows it. It’s harder for a purely tech company to talk to oil and gas people. They’ve never been to a well site; they’ve never been in the North Sea. Cognite has.”

Will the next Silicon Valley be in Texas?

LaCour says that one of the best kept secrets of the industry is that the business side of oil and gas is embracing technology and using it to improve their operations – making it safer, more efficient, empowering it to pivot in the direction of new energy opportunities that arise.

“People say I’m crazy, but I think in 20 years, oil and gas will look like Silicon Valley. It’s going to be sexy, high tech, with robots and AI everywhere. I know we will get there. The future is bright for the industry.”

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