Three ways how AI can help decarbonise the oil & gas sector

09 May 2022 4 min. read

Companies in the oil & gas sector face a harder path to decarbonisation that other organisations in the Middle East. According to research from Strategic Gears, artificial intelligence could be key to solving this – improving efficiency and reducing emissions, while opening opportunities to scale new clean energy offerings.

While it is more difficult for oil and gas companies to transition their operations away from carbon emissions, those who delay their efforts will be poorly positioned to thrive in the post-carbon energy marketplace. This is especially the case across the Middle East, where many of the region’s leading economies are looking to wean their economies from oil dependency.

In response, major players like Saudi Aramco, BP and Royal Dutch Shell have set carbon-reduction goals, pledging to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Three ways how AI can help decarbonise the oil & gas sector

But realising this goal is all easier said than done. Fortunately, the digital revolution of the last decade is opening up new opportunities to execute (and speed up) the energy transition – and according to management consulting firm Strategic Gears, artificial intelligence can be particularly helpful, in three key ways.

Business monitoring

The speed and accuracy of AI processing means that huge amounts of data can be input and analysed, producing reports in minutes that might once have taken months. This not only produces invaluable insight for businesses looking to track their performance, transformation programmes or carbon footprints, it can also free up human talent to concentrate on more value-adding work.

Pointing to how AI could help oil and gas players transition to greener models, the researchers from Strategic Gears noted a key example from Saudi Arabia.

Aramco uses AI in its operations to improve efficiency and save costs, using the technology to monitor the performance of its infrastructure, and enabling predictive maintenance to take place. Today, at its Khurais oil field, AI technology has helped Aramco cut overall energy consumption by 18%, maintenance expenses by 30%, and inspection times by around 40%.

Optimised carbon capture

Robotics, drones, and autonomous systems, as well as sensors, are among other emerging AI and related technologies which can help oil and gas companies lower costs along their distribution chain. As firms need to invest money elsewhere in their net zero transitions, this could ease pressures on investment budgets (and bottom lines).

As an example, Strategic Gears points to BP, which teamed up with Kelvin (a US-based AI-powered control application developer) to install sensors, including methane-detecting cameras, at one of its gas wells. Within six months, methane leakage from the well declined by 74%. Along with cutting operational costs, this is helping BP rapidly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in the Middle East.

Scaling green hydrogen

Beyond snuffing out emissions, AI can also help oil and gas players scale their ambitions in growth markets, such as hydrogen. Demonstrating the potential – according to research from Facts and Factors, the green hydrogen market revenue is expected to rise from $755 million in 2020 to $1.4 billion by 2026.

As reliance on oil and gas falls in the coming years, demand for alternative fuels such as hydrogen will grow, and so the utilisation of hydrogen in the energy sector is already beginning to gain traction. Again, pointing to Saudi Arabia, Strategic Gears noted that the Kingdom is utilising AI in its efforts to successfully develop green hydrogen production.

Notably, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia is working on custom AI algorithms for process control and optimisation, which will eventually help oil and gas firms with green hydrogen generation.

Further reading: GCC well-positioned to capitalise on green hydrogen boom.

Beyond sustainability

Beyond contributing to sustainability, AI of course comes with many other benefits. Strategic Gears added that it also presents oil and gas companies with opportunities to boost market forecasting, improve safety measures, and discover untapped resources, among others, all of which can contribute to improved efficiency and bottom lines.

“Operational optimisation, forecasts, and predictive maintenance are the most common applications,” the researchers added. “The key is to use ethically, and to ensure that AI algorithms remain state of the art, they need maintenance!”