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Big oil taps big data

Russian Oil Drilling And Pumping Operations At Tatneft OAO OilfieldRussian Oil Drilling And Pumping Operations At Tatneft OAO Oilfield
Oil prices are on course for their biggest weekly rise in six years.Getty Images

Plummeting oil prices have forced the world’s largest energy companies to slash costs and increase efficiency. Enter big data.

While oil companies have been putting billions of dollars into information technology for decades (BP (BP) operates what it says is the world’s largest supercomputer for commercial research), the industry is now leaning on those investments to pay off. Here, a few of its biggest big-data bets.

1. Sensors on everything
From smarter pumps to drilling systems, sensor-laden hardware in oilfields is producing enormous volumes of information, which can be used to reduce downtime and increase automation.

2. Every last drop
New tech that measures sound and temperature is bringing transparency deep inside the well, letting operators adjust drilling based on where oil is flowing in real time.

3. Predictive maintenance
Thanks to big data and machine learning, operators can estimate with increasing accuracy when an important and expensive piece of oil equipment will need repairs or replacement.

4. Bring in the drones
When the view on the ground isn’t good enough, companies can tap satellite data and even drones equipped with thermal imaging to monitor gear and flag leaks.

5. A different wavelength
Forget Verizon (VZ), oil companies are building their own private wireless networks, bringing data from oil fields back to headquarters to be analyzed.

A version of this article appears in the October 1, 2015 issue of Fortune magazine.


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