Upstream E&P Needs Operations Research

Operations Research (OR) is not new. The development of the field took off following World War II. Industry took up the pursuit not long after. Today, the Franz Edelman Award finalists for 2018 were announced. This award presented by INFORMS is named to honor Franz Edelman who was a pioneer of OR/MS. He led the Operations Research department at RCA Corporation, where he envisioned using mathematical optimization to manage business better.

A petroleum entity, China National Petroleum Corporation, is included in the finalists this year. Previous years have had petroleum companies make the list of finalists, like Chevron in 2013. Last year’s inclusion of BHP Billiton is the finalist that I know of nearest to E&P operations, but it is in mining production, not the petroleum business. The common thread in the petroleum sector finalists has been midstream applications. CNPC applied ORMS to natural gas pipeline networks. Chevron optimized refinery operations.

Optimization methods are applied to E&P operations by companies such as ExxonMobil and BP. I applied OR to hauling at Noble Energy and discussed the models in my thesis. I believe this is rare. The reason I propose has to do with the common dialog that accompanies the historically volatile oil & gas markets. Producers are too happy to keep business as usual when prices are high. The most common response to low prices is to renegotiate contracts, drill less or not at all, pinch pennies and await the “recovery”. The shale explosion has been fueled by technological improvements that make development economic at lower prices. OR can help to make production operations economic at lower prices. A nice side-effect to making production operations more efficient is lowering the energy input to get the production output, reducing pollution.

I want to see OR topics become common in the conference rooms of E&P companies of all sizes, not only the majors. Let’s apply mathematical optimization to production operations and reduce LOE to make more profit.

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