HOUSTON—With technology set to revolutionize the energy sector, humans will not be able to stack up against automation, at least not the ordinary ones. That was the sentiment John Gibson, chairman of energy technology at Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co., shared with attendees at Rice Energy’s “Reminder for Revolutions in Energy? The Roles of Markets, Technology and Policy” on Oct. 11.
“One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man,” Gibson said quoting American writer Elbert Hubbard.
In his speech, Gibson listed the differing characteristics between humans and automation that place humans more in the liability circle than the asset circle when compared to robots.
“Humans tend to be unreliable, inconsistent, hard to train, attrite, unpredictable and difficult to improve,” he said. “Also, data capture from them is often extremely hard, they fatigue quickly, they are injury prone, litigious, high maintenance, costly to relocate and they require supervision and demand wages.”
To accommodate those faults, Gibson said companies have to design their companies and regulations around people and how they work like lost time incident rate, benefits, overtime and fatigue issues. Those measures are very important for work environments with human labor but completely inessential for robotic ones, which begs the question if people will still be the best option in the long run.
In comparison, Gibson said the perks of automation is that “we get reliability, consistency, loyalty, predictability [and robots are] easy to monitor, indefatigable, they capture data by design and have preventive maintenance, they have no rights yet, are easy to relocate and perform without supervision,” and as a result, will have a strong impact on the industry in the future.
He added that automation does have operational costs and robots can be hard to train too, but comes out to be the more alluring option especially for energy execs looking to appropriately adapt and build their companies for the future.
“We as a people have to understand what’s about to happen because all of those things I listed are true,” he said. “When I look at these two lists and balance them it’s evident where companies are going to go. [Automation] is much more inexpensive and predictable.”
Gibson went on to say that he’s seen automation, and robotization, overcome all of the issues that he said comes along with humans just being humans, let alone workers. Because of that, he said “we’re at a point where being human is not going to be profitable.”
“To be truthful, I can see that a lot of automation today is creating the next generation of automation without human input,” he continued.
To combat that, Gibson emphasized the need for extraordinary people particularly students coming out of universities interested in entering the energy workforce.
“If you don’t really strive to be extraordinary everything on the [human] list is going to cause you to not be valuable…you’re going to be replaced.”
In July, International Data Corp. (IDC) reported in its Robotics and Drones Spending Guide that worldwide spending on robotics and drones solutions will reach $201.3 billion in 2022 (on a compounded annual growth rate of 19.6% between 2017 and 2022).
Though the oil and gas industry hasn’t immediately jumped to adopt robotics, IDC expects to see significant investments from the resource sector this year.
Syzygy Plasmonics, a developing chemistry company, is using photocatalysis—developed at Rice University—that essentially converts hydrogen from natural gas through LED lights without the use of temperature and pressure (burning fuel), according to Gibson. Through this process the company said both the cost of chemicals and emissions will be reduced while expanding the hydrogen fuel cell in the industry.
For Gibson, advancements like this will transform every resource sector.
“If I had to list what the revolution was going to be, I’ve reordered things based on what I think is coming: solar, natural gas, fuel cells, nuclear, oil, biomass, coal, wind and then waves,” he said.
“There is going to be world in energy where oil is going to be very important, but we’re not going to talk about it very much. It’ll be the industry that use to dominate conversation and be very profitable, and will probably supply a larger volume than natural gas, but it’s not going to be on people’s minds because they’re going to be focused on all the other things that begin to emerge to the top of the list.”
Mary Holcomb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.