Using a SaaS Application and Open Source BI to Track Oil Production in the North Sea

by   |   March 12, 2013 6:59 pm   |   0 Comments

An Apache Corp. oil rig in the North Sea. Photo courtesy of Apache Corp.

An Apache Corp. oil rig in the North Sea. The company uses a SaaS-based BI tool to track pipeline flows. Photo courtesy of Apache Corp.

Out in the North Sea, 110 miles east of the Scottish city of Aberdeen, lies the Forties Oil Field—the U.K.’s largest offshore oilfield, discovered as far back as 1970. Now operated by Houston-based Apache Corporation, output has doubled since Apache bought the field from oil giant BP in 2003, thanks to advanced drilling and extraction techniques.

And critical to the present-day commercial exploitation of the Forties field is an embedded open-source business intelligence capability from San Francisco-based Jaspersoft, which is built into EnergySys, a specialist production reporting and allocation application.

“The previous production reporting software we were using was obsolete and could not readily be modified,” says Ross Littlewood, production engineering team lead for Apache, in a statement on the EnergySys website. “We conducted a study to identify the best production reporting software available on the market, and EnergySys was identified as being the most appropriate.”

In the oil business, the need for production reporting and allocation software is simply stated. Oil industry infrastructure is large and expensive—and to a surprising extent, shared. Rather than build multiple pipelines to bring oil ashore from offshore rigs, oil producers find it cheaper to tap into a common pipeline.

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The problem: figuring out how much of the oil coming ashore at the end of the pipeline belongs to which of the companies putting it into the pipeline at the wellhead. And—from the point of view of the pipeline operator—figuring out how much to charge each oil company for the privilege of using its pipeline.

Nor is this all. There are two further complications to consider. First, different wells can have different crude oil characteristics, adding not only crude oil to the pipeline, but also gas, water, and condensates. It’s necessary, then, to adjust the volume figures to take account of these non-oil contaminants.

And secondly, individual fields—and individual wells—can be subject to different taxation regimes, based on the date they were drilled, and the national jurisdiction involved. Oil fields, it turns out, do not respect national boundaries, and while North Sea oil is mostly owned by the U.K. and Norway, small blocs are owned by Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands—with each country imposing its own taxation laws and requirements.

Roll it all up, and it’s exactly these issues that are the problems faced by Apache and other North Sea oil production companies in respect of the Forties fields and its offshoots.

For when BP sold its oil extraction rights and assets to Apache in 2003, it cannily retained its ownership of the Forties pipeline system, a 36-inch network stretching for hundreds of miles under the North Sea that today carries oil from dozens of seabed wells operated by Apache and other oil exploration and production companies—Shell, Conoco Phillips, BG Group, and Apache itself.

Hence the need for production reporting and allocation software, of which EnergySys is just one provider—albeit a provider focusing not on the oil majors, but on small and medium‑sized operators such as Apache. While the oil majors maintain whole departments of accountants and analysts to perform the task, niche operators need to achieve comparable results, but with fewer resources.

Embedding New Functionality into a SaaS Application
Run from the cloud as a Software as a Service (Saas) application, “these smaller operators find our price point, functionality and ease of deployment highly compelling,” says Peter Westwood, cloud services director at EnergySys. “A lot of the software pricing models out there assume that you want a big installation on the scale of BP.”

But if smaller oil companies want low cost and flexibility in their production reporting and allocation software, they also want to see that same flexibility reflected in the way that those reports are prepared and analyzed, says Westwood.

To be sure, he explains, the EnergySys reporting and analytics functionality covered the usual industry standard reporting requirements—well allocation and production, field and group allocation and production, and various regulatory and commercial reports.

“But we recognized that users wanted to play with data, and analyze it in way that we hadn’t considered when building the core software,” Westwood says. “They wanted to be able to export it, and analyze it, and cut and slice it, but without raising a bespoke request with us each time.”

The result: a decision by EnergySys to buy in an embedded BI tool, in the shape of niche open source business intelligence provider Jaspersoft.

“There’s nothing magical about embedded business intelligence,” says Neil Barry, sales manager at Jaspersoft. “It’s simply taking business intelligence functionality that is usually decoupled from applications, and instead incorporating it within those same applications. You’re inserting a reporting and dashboarding functionality within your application, without requiring users to first export data into a specialist business intelligence tool.”

And for EnergySys, says Westwood, Jaspersoft made a good fit—and not solely on technical grounds, or the features on offer. Being SaaS-based, he notes that EnergySys broke the rules that seemed to govern embedded business intelligence licensing deals, which assumed on-premise installation, and a cut of the purchase price. “There aren’t too many companies in the space, and Jaspersoft seemed the most responsive by far,” he explains. “Rather than get hung up on licensing, they seemed keener to know what sort of commercial arrangement would work from our side.”

Different Data Management Tools for Different Users
The resulting embedded business intelligence capability from EnergySys offers customers such as Apache three ways to analyze and report on their data.

First, says Westwood, EnergySys recognized from the outset that many individual users prefer to work in Microsoft Excel. As a result, the application offers an easy-to-use extraction capability, allowing users to specifying the data that they want, and then export it to Excel.

Secondly, a growing number of users are choosing to stay within the embedded business intelligence capability, seeing it as a more sophisticated way of working—especially when wanting to drill down into events, or construct dashboards.

And thirdly, says Westwood, the embedded business intelligence tool offers a way for users to adapt EnergySys’ standard reports—developed with the business intelligence capability—for their own purposes.

“There were a surprising number of formatting requests,” he explains. “Users wanted to change the order of the columns, or hide a column, or perform a slightly different calculation. Now, it’s easily done, and users can do it themselves.”

Back at Apache, Ross Littlewood is in no doubt as to the value of the business intelligence capabilities now built into EnergySys.

“Production reports are sent out to various end users, including external partners, with minimal intervention required from the production reporting team,” he sums up. “The system is user friendly, the reports are relatively easy to modify, and minimal training was required to operate the system.”

Malcolm Wheatley, a freelance writer and contributing editor at Data Informed, is old enough to remember analyzing punched card datasets in batch mode, using SPSS on mainframes. He lives in Devon, England, and can be reached at editor@malcolmwheatley.co.uk.

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