Disrupting oilfield conventionality

One of the catchphrases of the modern computer-based, digitised world is ‘disruptive technology’ which for those unfamiliar with the term is an innovation that changes the way an industry or even the world in general does something or even the way it thinks.

It is difficult to recall an oilfield technology which has really turned the industry on its head, being essentially so conservative and hidebound that doing something 180 degrees from the norm is just about unthinkable. There have been a few innovations – eg horizontal drilling and wells, 4-D seismic and automated drilling systems – which have come close, but really are no more than offshoots or advances on what was done before so it is difficult to see them as really scene changers.

I bring this up because something came across my desk last week that was so mind-boggling that it really was a look into the future. Check out the video on www.skai.co, it will blow your mind, because it is something out of Back to the Future.

In a way, it might seem silly because of the inability of the modern generation to call a spade a spade. What Alaka’i Technologies is presenting is a ‘hydrogen powered air mobility system’. The hydrogen powered is exciting enough and what they mean by ‘air mobility system’ is an innovation of the helicopter, an electric powered vertical take-off and landing (e-vtol) vehicle. It is just what the modern world, which is about to get packages delivered by drone, will use to get around. It is a five-rotor system which should make it safer than a conventional one rotor helicopter and by powering it with hydrogen makes it totally non-polluting. It will always be argued – to be fair, accurately – that no manufacturing process is non-polluting, so there will be some emissions, whether from the composite-making technology or from producing the cabling for the electronic system or the smelting from whatever metals are used in parts of the chassis for strengthening.

So now that we have had our minds expanded in a non-Jefferson Airplane sort of way, what can the oilfield do to change some of its staid thinking? Now some people might say – and with some justification – that what Alaka’i is proposing is not totally new, but a tangent of a chopper. Maybe, but put the whole package together – hydrogen power and alternative vehicle design – and it is something pretty new and might be a gamechanger in terms of moving people around. Likely it will take some time to prove that this e-vtol unit is flight safe and airworthy, but that would be a given as all new airships must be safety tested. Hopefully this is a real event, not a repeat of Theranos blood testing fiasco. So now it is time for our engineering based industry to stand up and prove that it can do game-changing innovation. Or not.

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I would be remiss if I did not mention two industry stalwarts who picked up awards from ASME during the recent OTC in Houston. Anyone who has been around the subsea production business for more than a few years and had contact with what was FMC’s hardware division will have come across Brian Skeels. Brian has always attracted attention for a number of reasons, but it is for his superior technical achievements, as it should be, that he has been honoured by ASME. Picking up a ‘gong’, as the Brits like to say, alongside Brian was Tyler Schilling of the eponymous rov company. This is all of a bit of a Pac-man scenario – FMC took over Schilling and Technip gobbled up FMC to form the newer bigger oilfield conglomerate. I always like it when folks I actually know are rewarded for their skill, excellence and achievement. Let’s drink to them.

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I have really enjoyed the last three months of ‘blogging’ back into the subsea world. I hope that all of you readers have done so as well. The readership has reached an average of 800 oilfield professionals per blog. While it is not as many as read Subsea Engineering News in its heyday, it is building. So if you think that your company would like to get its logo in front of this audience, get in touch. Lots of opportunities.

Off now for a week or so. Back for the beginning of July. See ya!

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