Data critical for exploration in petroleum sector —Fagbami

Oil and gas companies are increasingly gathering data across every element of their supply chains, from oil fields to pipelines to refineries and power stations. However, in this interview with OLATUNDE DODONDAWA, the national president, Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE), Nigeria Council, Mr Debo Fagbami, speaks on the relevance of big data in exploration business ahead of the forthcoming annual conference and exhibition of the council.

Could you explain the importance for procurement and sourcing of artificial intelligence (AI), big data and mobile technology in Nigeria oil and gas industry?

For as long as there is need to utilise and manage large volumes of data, there would always be the requirement to employ analytical tools to make sense from the complex wave and volumes of data available. This will certainly bring about the need to resort to external sources and commercial data sources to provide bespoke and mined datasets to facilitate the effectiveness of exploration business processes.


How has the skills transfer and foreign investment changed over time within the oil and gas industry?

In recent years, skills transfer has become more of a necessity than ever before. As the world tends towards the concept of a global village or global market place, talent has to remain competitive with global standards. I said before that the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) remains an enabler or provides a platform to create investor confidence to encourage foreign direct investment. It is long overdue for this to be signed into law.


Without the PIGB, what will be the culture of the future for the upstream industry?

The culture in the upstream industry would transform from one that sees data as a burden to one that sees data as an asset. The more organisations tend to find themselves immersed in data, the more the need to have ways to analyse, validate and authenticate such data and information.


What is the best time for the adoption of a significant new technology paradigm and how associated organisational challenges can be counteracted?

Like the Chinese say, the best time to plant a tree is a hundred years ago, while the next best time is now. Adoption of new technology and the required paradigm shift to a big data mindset to deal with organisational changes is now and this cannot be overemphasised. The oil and gas industry is possibly a late comer into the realms of the big data revolution, but quite a number of organisations like Shell and BHGE are at the forefront of embracing big data as a means of improving their business process.


Will further regulation, perhaps similar to that of the telecommunication sector, be required to rebuild investment trust and confidence in the upstream segment of the industry in the absence of PIGB?

The oil and gas industry in Nigeria is already largely at par with global standards as far as practice goes. The regulatory bodies in the country have done a fantastic job at regulating the various activities in the industry particularly as regards standards of practice and compliance. In the upstream space, activities are further governed by subsisting laws including the Petroleum Act amongst others and these create a baseline level playing field for all industry players in the sector. In our industry, additional regulation is not and should not be on the front burner at this time. The clamor for the PIGB is essentially borne out of the need to create an enabling environment to shore up investor confidence and stimulate activity in the industry to drive commerce and enhance the socio-economic landscape. The vibrancy of the upstream sector remains a key enabler to the economic development of our country.

What do you see as some of the primary challenges and opportunities that the wave of data will create?

The challenges associated with the wave created by big data in our industry would stem from the fact that big data in itself is a complex terrain. Obvious challenges would come during its integration with existing business processes and methodologies as well as the uncertainties created by management of large and complex data by an industry only beginning to adopt it. Added to this would be the in-house talent gap as well as the complexities associated with migrating existing data into a big data structure suitable for use in the AI. Synchronising data across multiple data sources and user groups or function also create a challenge and added to this would be costs associated with migration and providing solutions for specific scenarios and end-user applications. Having said this, big data and AI in our industry would open doors for new talent as well as cross-training and skills conversion which is not unfamiliar territory for petroleum engineers to explore and exploit. As more organisations recognise the importance of big data as a means of realising and entrenching competitive advantage, it would be used as an in-road to gain insight and make more informed decisions.


Security is a hot topic regarding big data. To what extent will big data be responsible for new security problems and challenges?

I will throw a curve ball to this question as big data in itself presents a powerful means of storing large amounts of data that can help analyse, examine, observe trends and irregularities within a system or network. Big data analytics tools can be used to identify and combat a cybersecurity threat which remains a concern for most organisations today. Having an in-house structure and talent pool that is adequately equipped to utilise the concept of bid data for business process enhancement as well as to protect the system is a fantastic bargain for any serious organisation. Cyber threats remain a clear and present danger and oil and gas companies generate and store large volumes of data on a daily basis in support of the energy value chain from exploration to production and a threat to any remains a threat to all, hence the responsibility lies with all industry players to ensure that standards are set to utilise robust analytical tools to combat the threats imposed by cybercrime.


How has SPE NAICE event grown since it started?

The SPE Nigeria Annual International Conference has certainly grown since inception 43 years ago. On a personal note, my first attendance at NAICE was in 1997 in Port Harcourt and since then I have witnessed NAICE hosted in various Nigerian cities including Lagos, Abuja, Calabar and more recently settled in Lagos having found a venue large enough to accommodate the spread of programmes and attendees that NAICE commands. The exhibition component has seen a quadruple increase in participation from organisations in the last 10 years alone; our panel session style discussion forums have grown from three to six in recent years not to mention the quantity and quality of peer reviewed technical papers that have been presented at various NAICE events. NAICE continues to be the leading technical conference in sub-Saharan Africa and it remains a pacesetter that has opened up the technical space in our industry. In the coming years, I envisage NAICE to expand beyond the shores of Nigeria beginning first with hosting it outside Lagos to other oil and gas enclaves in the country like Port Harcourt, Bayelsa etc. and ultimately staging it outside Nigeria which is a prospect I sincerely look forward to witnessing.


Should we expect to see a bigger and innovative NAICE 2019 and SPE in the coming year?

Absolutely! SPE and NAICE continue to break new grounds and explore blue ocean territory and our team of volunteers will always come up with innovative programmes and activities designed to share technical knowledge and provide avenues for professionals to develop their technical expertise. My would-be successor in office, Joe Nwakwue, would be unveiling the theme for next year’s conference during the closing dinner of NAICE 2019. NAICE 2020, as the name implies, promises to be a “visionary” event and all I can say to you is “stay-tuned” and watch this space.


How will the structure of the NAICE 2019 programme support or encourage the participation of mid and downstream sector of the petroleum industry?

First off, NAICE has always supported and continues to support participation from the midstream and downstream sectors and at some point, in the past, the NAICE theme has actually focused on natural gas being a key enabler to the economic development of Nigeria. For a gas-focused conference at the time, there is no way discussions would not center around processing, transportation and distribution via pipeline infrastructure, and these are areas that are well covered by the aforementioned sectors. Similarly, other sectors like banking and other financial services have been fully integrated into our NAICE programme of activities. This year, we would be having quite a number of power packed panel discussants trashing out issues in the area of AI and big data and quite a few of these discussants would be coming from the financial services sector.