The oil and gas industry generates enormous amounts of data in its operations. Essentially it is a data-driven industry with volumes of data in varied forms such as structured, unstructured, technical and commercial. For instance, in the upstream sector each production platform has approximately 40,000 sensor tags attached to the instruments deployed in the oil production operations. These sensors generate continuous real-time data on the performance and operating condition of the equipment, which is then transmitted to control rooms for performance monitoring. (Learn more about this technology in Steering Smart Operations through the Digital Oil Field.)

Gathering and analyzing this voluminous data is an important part of "big data", with the aim of gaining valuable insight into the operating efficiency of the plant.

Big Data is Revolutionizing the Way the Oil & Gas Industry Works

While the oil & gas industry is known for handling voluminous data akin to its nature of operations, what has changed in recent times is the advancement in processing the data. The emergence of big data has brought a new perspective in looking at copious amounts of data to gain valuable insights that enhance operational excellence and avoid financial losses.

Guiding Crucial Business Decisions

In the context oil & gas, every business decision, particularly at the strategic level, has a long-lasting effect on the economics of the business. For example, with oil reserves fast depleting, a business decision whether to explore new wells or to extend the life of the existing well is a big decision management faces.

To make a well-informed business decision, it will be an apt idea to use analytical tools to analyze the production history of the existing reservoirs and well production numbers over time so as to quickly decide whether to focus on enhanced oil recovery of existing wells instead of exploring new wells. Indeed, new wells could entail additional capital expenditure that would add to cost pressures in a downward oil price trend. Hence, for a well-informed decision, big data guides these critical decisions with business conviction. (Related reading: Steps to a Successful Field Appraisal.)

Key Characteristics of Big Data

As seen before, conventionally the oil & gas industry generates large volumes of data. With the advancements in technology and digitization of operations in particular, data traffic in oil organizations has compounded. Let us briefly examine the main characteristics of big data in the industry.

Data Volume

Implementing new technologies chiefly in the information technology (IT) and production space has resulted in exponential data generation. An integrated oil company’s CIO indicated that their IT department handles data exceeding 1.5 terabytes per day, which is phenomenal. Upstream organizations are ever on the lookout for new frontiers of oil exploration. Hence, they adopt various technologies both onshore and offshore to hunt for oil reserves.

These modern technologies and gadgets generate real-time data and transmit the same to the data processing center for further analysis on a continuous basis. For example, powerful multi-sensors attached to ships are deployed on the seabed to discover oil reserves beneath the sea. These sensors pick up vibrations and send the data to the data center where they are processed.


With the deployment of high performance sensors, the ability to capture data and relay it has become remarkable. Data is continuously sent in a streaming feed and in real time. It is possible for rig operators to swiftly change the course of the operation depending on the data feed sent from the underwater sensors during the drilling operations. Prowess for smart interpretation of raw data is clearly a high competency skill required in this environment. For example, it can avert an accident or a critical equipment failure that could result in financial losses.

Variety and Diversity

Data is generated in varied forms, such as structured and unstructured (e.g., pictures), which are stored and processed for further analysis. Harvesting these data sets could provide crucial insights into operational enhancement. Organizations should formulate the appropriate strategies to be able to store the data and retrieve it whenever necessary for future analytical insight.

Transforming the Oil & Gas Industry

The industry is selective when adopting new technologies and tools due to the complex nature of their operations. However, the benefits can have far-reaching implications on the way activities are carried out. For example, by employing high performance analytical tools, the critical equipment in a gas turbine deployed at an upstream production platform can be monitored on a continuous basis with the help of sensors. Again, this analytical tool provides a clear insight into when particular equipment is likely to fail given the existing operational parameters. With this actionable intelligence, the operators are in a position either to adjust the operating parameters so that the equipment will not fail, or to schedule unplanned interim maintenance work so that the equipment can continue to function and accept the current load.

With big data, the oil & gas industry has moved to smart operating practices. They are able to make well-informed business decisions with the help of data analytics. They have become more efficient, leading to operational excellence in all spheres of operations.

The potential of big data and analytics in high value areas such as reservoir sizing, microseismic data analysis and well spacing are huge and potentially provide substantial financial gains. The complexity and diversity of data generated in these areas poses challenges on handling large amounts of data. Companies are upskilling by outsourcing or harnessing internal talent. In the coming years, big data will play a larger role in driving business decisions in the oil & gas industry.