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Operators debate technological threats to oil sector


In line with the recent advocacy to digitalise operations in the Nigerian oil and gas landscape, industry players are divided on the effect of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on certain aspects of the industry. In their argument, AI, and big data, considered the new crude oil have tendencies of either causing opportunities and breakthroughs or dislocations in some key roles in the sector.

In his supplication during a panel discussion titled, “Transforming big data and technology to business values; challenges and strategic options,” at the just ended Society of Petroleum Engineer (SPE), NAICE, the Executive Operations Director of Seplat, Effiong Okon said even though AI and big data are seen as a game changer, the fundamentals in petroleum engineering would never be irrelevant because critical decisions, insights and conclusions can never be made if there is lack of basic understanding of field.

According to him, the only concern is that the mindset, tutelage, ways of working, behaviour, as well as the collaborative space is going to change drastically.He added that one issue around big data in the industry is that at each functional level, formal data is key, but to add value in the new world of AI, there are needs for platforms that allow seamless integration across all the silos.


To this end, he expressed optimism that younger generation pursuing careers in petroleum engineering still have a future in the industry irrespective of the various threats posed by technologies in the area like AI, development of electric cars and also renewables.

Contrary to this, Founder of FASMICRO Group, Prof. Ndubuisi Ekekwe, explained that the Nigerian oil and gas industry is considered to be at its infancy stage of AI and big data, so some of the dislocations caused by it are not glaring yet.

When the sector grows, he said a replication of what happened in the banking industry with financial technology should be expected. Adding that the competition would then be between humans and machines just as Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) have replaced people’s jobs in the banking Industry.

Ndubuisi, who likened AI and big data to a fire invasion, maintained that the new revolution just like the ones before is going “to redesign the architecture of the global economy; there would be opportunities and breakthroughs but there would also be dislocations across all sectors and the oil and gas is not left out.

“So don’t just think that because you are a Petroleum engineer you would be exempted from this because AIs are going to be created to solve major petroleum problems”.He stated that if 100 people used to do a seismic analysis, AI can achieve about 90 people’s job , hence the impact can only be imagined.

However, Founder, Future Software, Resources, Nkemdilim Begho, remarked that regardless of the threat AIs seem to pose, jobs won’t disappear, as they would only evolve, giving an instance where petroleum engineers might be doing something else. This she highlighted is the major reason why oil and gas players are supposed to keep learning and looking out for key trends in AI with regards their jobs.


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