Data are critical for drilling and subsea operations. Without them, you’re blindly navigating extreme environments. As far as extreme environments go, working thousands of feet in the air or thousands of feet below water takes the cake. For clients partnering with a company that has experience working in both extremes, the door of new opportunities opens wide. GE Oil & Gas houses those possibilities in its “GE Store.” Working together, an environment of open innovation and sharing is encouraged, where with a little tweaking of a technology, a solution that works in flight can be fully realized for an under-the-sea application. From the multitude of sensors transmitting the operating data to the algorithms doing the deciphering, the future of drilling and subsea is digitization.

This transition into digitization brings with it disruption, something that Lorenzo Simonelli, president and CEO of GE Oil & Gas, said encourages “a new mindset that challenges tradition and bureaucracy.” Speaking at the 2017 GE Oil & Gas Annual Meeting held in Florence, Italy, earlier this year, Simonelli said the company “heads into 2017 with the ambition of disrupting the status quo by harnessing disruption in many ways.”

E&P spoke with Neil Saunders, president and CEO of subsea systems and drilling for GE Oil & Gas, on the growing importance of digitization and Big Data in subsea and drilling applications, disrupting the status quo and how technology transfer is changing the subsea landscape.

E&P: What advantages have digitization, Big Data and condition-based monitoring created to enhance drilling and subsea technologies?


Saunders: Our starting point is to bring digital to life, and bringing Big Data to life is really around condition-based monitoring of our equipment. We can look to the GE Store. If you think about that from a subsea standpoint, we always have had to a point a significant amount of telemetry that’s available to tell us the conditions of what’s happening subsea. We know how the tree is being operated. We understand how the valves are cycling. We understand how the control system is functioning. We have sufficient telemetry down there to do some pretty impressive diagnostics already, and we can follow that all the way from the wellhead all the way back to the host.

In drilling we have our SeaLytics package, which we can add to a drilling stack. We can do much the same. We understand how the BOP is being used. We understand how the RAMs are operating. We have some clever instruments as well that we leverage from inspection technologies where we also can listen to the BOP from a vibration standpoint and almost create a digital twin of the stack in operation. Once you have that information, you’re able to look for themes and get a far better understanding of how the equipment is performing. Over a period of time, when you triangulate with additional data that you get from other systems, you get to a point where you can start to predict failure. If you can predict failure, then you can optimize any intervention.

E&P: How does this disrupt or change the supplier/ client relationship?

Saunders: By doing this, it moves us from a break/fix scenario to a preventative scenario, where we can be pretty cost-effective. We can do that on an advisory basis. However, if you took it to the full effect, then you have GE managing that work in something that would be an equivalent to a contractual service agreement [CSA]. That is something I think in time you’re going to see a company be prepared to provide—that kind of outcome. That takes you into the drilling space where we already do have a drilling CSA, where we are on the rig and we are managing the condition of the blowout preventers— eight of them across four drillships.

We have a contract with Diamond Offshore that said, ‘Hey, when the rig, the stack specifically, is operational, we’re getting compensated. When the stack is not operational due to equipment performance, we are not being compensated.’ We have our commercial incentive. To help us really deliver and live up to that commercial incentive, clearly understanding how the stack is performing, gathering data and triangulating it with data we have on other stack performance allows us to really do the second thing, which is to reinvest that information into the product to get it to perform even better, so that we start to move the needle on the availability curve.

I think in time we’re going to see us reinvesting that knowledge not only in the drilling equipment but also in the subsea production equipment to ultimately improve the reliability and the availability of that equipment. The less intervention we have to make, the less commercial pain, and the more commercial gain we make. Therefore, that becomes us improving the performance of the equipment. In theory, we get some commercial gain and obviously the client gets more equipment uptime.

E&P: What are the needs your clients are bringing to you? What are you hearing at the moment?

Saunders: We’ve always heard from customers that they understand the need for standardization, and they’re very aware of how they drive cost by being custom, unique and having their own specification. Now we’re hearing companies talking about supplier-led solutions. A cost-effective solution is a must-have. They need their projects to work commercially.

I think with the digital discussion we get some traction. Customers understand the long-term value of GE Oil & Gas being able to optimize equipment performance, but it is not a must-have. We’re typically going to the customer and having to articulate that value as opposed to the customer coming to us saying, ‘Hey, we want some of that digital value.’ We have to explain it, and we’re really making a bet on it by moving into different commercial models, like the Diamond Offshore one. The incentive for getting the analytics out of the equipment is actually ours, before it’s Diamond’s. It’s an enabler for us to have the equipment perform better.


Contact the author, Jennifer Presley, at