Data, considered by many to be the world’s most valuable resource, is offering the oil and gas industry more precise information to create better wells and safer operations, an Amazon executive said earlier this month.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) CEO Andrew R. Jassy, who oversees the behemoth’s cloud computing business, sat down in a one-on-one conversation during CERAWeek by IHS Markit with Dan Yergin, who chairs the Houston conference.

CERAWeek, long a confab to discuss new discoveries and how to make old reservoirs better, this year took a sharp turn toward the virtual world. Yergin noted as much, pointing to the conference’s Innovation Agora, where new technology was previewed.

“A great wave of innovation and technology is transforming the industry and reshaping the energy future,” said Yergin, vice chairman of IHS Markit. “What happens in tech matters to energy, and what happens to energy matters to tech.”

Many energy companies are moving their data to the cloud, some more quickly than others, but it will be routine in 10 years, Jassy told the audience of industry executives. “In reality, the biggest challenges aren’t technical,” but rather “cultural, leadership and process oriented…”

Jassy joined Amazon in 1997, three years after its foundation. He helped to create AWS in 2003 with a team of 57 people, and in 2016 became its CEO.

AWS, one of several companies providing on-demand cloud computing platforms on a paid subscription basis, owns an estimated 34% of all cloud services, while Microsoft has 11%, Google 8% and IBM has 6%, according to Synergy Group.

NASA, aka the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Netflix and the Obama administration's 2012 re-election campaign are among the AWS most notable customers. The oil and gas industry quickly is becoming a top customer too.

“A lot of the things that we have built and released recently have been very much informed by conversations with our oil and gas customers and partners,” which include Royal Dutch Shell plc, BP plc, ConocoPhillips, Halliburton Co. and Woodside Petroleum Ltd. “It’s a pretty broad group,” Jassy said.

“For instance, if you have a lot of data, you need a lot of different ways to be able to cost  effectively move that data into the cloud. Of course, you can send it over the wire, but we have a private connection called DirectConnect, your data centers in our cloud regions. You can stream data in through a firehose.” A secure file transfer protocol, or FTP, server is available for customers that still prefer to move data that way too.

“We have a lot of customers in the oil and gas space who have sites that don’t have great connectivity, only a little bit of connectivity, or they need to actually take some action remotely,” he said.

Snowballing To Success

AWA built Snowball and Snowball Edges, “which are really 100 terabyte appliances that people deploy fleets to. They can run a little bit of compute on that.” Each Snowball Edge device can transport data at speeds faster than the internet by shipping the data in the appliances through a regional carrier. The edge device brings the power of the cloud to an on-premises location, with local storage and compute functionality.

“There certainly are analytics that people want to be able to diagnose on premises and make changes to their assets there,” Jassy said. However, “a lot of what they are doing is filling up all that data from the assets at the edge and sending it back to us, mailing it back to us...in a secure container that’s encrypted three ways…We have high speed congestion to do mass scale analytics in the cloud.”

Data “is one of the biggest challenges for customers. They want to move to the cloud. They need lots of ways to move it. We built lots of ways to allow them to do that then we built high performance computing capabilities.”

How long it takes to migrate oil and gas data to the cloud depends on what is being moved, he explained.

“When we go through the portfolio analysis, there are large groups of applications that we have helped our partners and customers move to the cloud in just a few months,” Jassy said. “If you are motivated, and you break out what you want to move in an intelligent way,” it can be done by oil and gas companies over a relatively “short” time. “Usually, most moving to cloud do it in a three-to-five-year timeframe in a series of tranches.”

Technologies are on the horizon are going to upend how the cloud will expand opportunities for the energy sector, according to the AWS chief.

Intuiting Machines

“I think most applications in five to 10 years will be infused in some way with machine learning, in an artificial intelligence,” or AI, he said. “You’ll have expert machine learning practitioners that will build models for you on the frameworks. You’ll have everyday developers and data scientists...managing services to build, train and intuit when to deploy machine learning models.

“And we have a lot of customers who would do what we typically think of as ‘AI,’ services that closely mimic human cognition…Text to speech, speech to text, translation across lots of languages, natural language processing,” various pathways that would allow anyone within the stack to recognize text, video or images.

Machine learning already is impacting the oil and gas industry. For example, Royal Dutch Shell plc’s open subsurface data universe, aka SDU, retrieves well and data log images, cleanses the data, tags it and uses machine learning algorithms to access the characteristics and patterns to better create successful wells.

The ultimate goal by Shell and its peers is to use AI “100% to target which wells to go pursue,” Jassy said.

Another technology that should make an impact is a hybrid model of the Internet of Things, or IoT, which are underway for edge computing.

“We don’t think the ‘on premises’ part will be in data centers,” Jassy said. “We think the ‘on premises’ part will be billions of these devices that sit at the edge in our houses, in our offices, in factories and oilfields and agricultural fields, planes and ships, automobiles. Everywhere.”

The devices, with relatively small central processing units and disks, would make the cloud “disproportionately important in supplementing all those devices.”

Already, there are loads of examples.

At Australia-based Woodside’s liquefied natural gas facilities, AWS IoT capabilities are on all the sensors, “where they are able to now detect well in advance when foaming is happening so they don’t have to take all unplanned downtime, and they save money and time.”

Another example is at John Deere, which has tractors now collecting information in real time, performing analytics and then sending information back to the planters to take different actions depending on what they are learning.

‘Real Gamechanger’

The new IoT devices are building machine learning models in the cloud and “pushing the predictions and inferences to the edge....You are going to see that as a real game changer in this space,” Jassy said.

Already a ubiquitous part of the culture, robotics are going well beyond performing factory functions and as drones flying over installations.

“No, it doesn’t mean there are going to be no jobs,” Jassy said. “We’re not going to run out of those anytime soon…” However, many oil and gas companies already are using drones to do intensive detective work.

“They are starting to build these drones that go into the rigs and evaluate whether there are safety issues, whether there is a leak, whether the gates have rust,” Jassy said. “All kinds of things that are dangerous, arduous for human beings to do, you are going to have robots do…

“We’ll use the human beings on more value-added activities, where their safety and their intellect are better utilized.”

During CERAWeek, several companies announced initiatives to improve their technology abilities.

Microsoft and many other technology companies also made headlines at CERAWeek. In recent months, Microsoft has launched partnerships with operators that include BP plc, ExxonMobil Corp., Chevron Corp., Equinor SA, Halliburton Co. and Schlumberger Ltd. to use its Azure and various applications to improve operations.

One collaboration with Microsoft’s Manufacturing and Resources Industry division was announced to integrate Maana’s Knowledge Platform with Azure.

“Digitalization is a combination and roadmap of hundreds of use cases, and the speed of development and deployment is paramount to success for an oil and gas major,” said Microsoft’s Caglayan Arkan, global lead for manufacturing and resources industry.

“When we started in 2012, our technology was designed and developed for on-premise deployment,” said Maana CEO Babur Ozden. “As experimentation with big data led to digital transformation journeys, we started seeing more and more industrial majors committing to the cloud to house their digital ambitions.” In 2016 it rebuilt the platform, and today, more than 80% of its customers use Azure to host their digitization.

St. Louis-based Emerson, a global engineering and technology company, also unveiled a collaboration with Spain’s Repsol SA to deliver advanced subsurface geophysical technologies, with an aim to reduce the time to prospect and produce first oil. Emerson plans to partner with Repsol to implement and deploy advanced subsurface imaging technologies, with core technologies developed by Repsol as part of Kaleidoscope, its 10-year innovation project.

These technologies already have contributed Repsol’s exploration success where there is complex geology, as in Brazil, Peru and Bolivia.