How Big Oil Uses XML

By Mel Duvall Print this article Print

The oil and gas industry is leveraging eXtensible Markup Language (XML) to ease integration headaches.

Almost every industry, from financial services to pharmaceuticals, has struggled with integrating data from legacy software or multiple vendors. The oil and gas industry is no different.

In the process of drilling for oil and gas deposits and producing those finds, companies regularly grapple with the problem of integrating data from a wide range of internally developed or vendor-provided systems. Now, a group of oil and gas majors, including Chevron, BP, ExxonMobil and Shell, are leading an initiative to apply industry standards based on eXtensible Markup Language (XML) to relieve some of the headaches.

In the drilling operation, companies may have standalone applications or devices to monitor everything from how deep the well is, to how fast the rig is drilling, the amount of mud flowing into and out of the hole, the pressure at the bit, and surrounding temperatures. Each data point provides the driller with vital, real-time information to determine how the drilling is progressing and whether the well is on target to hit the pay zone.

On the production side—that is, once the well has been completed and oil or gas is flowing—there is another multitude of monitoring devices and applications. They include everything from devices to monitor the behavior of various components of the production system, such as the rate of flow of oil or gas, to more advanced applications that model the behavior of the well or underlying reservoir.

A prototype of a standard for the various drilling data and applications, called Wellsite Information Transfer Standard Markup Language (WITSML), was released in September 2001 following a collaborative effort by most of the major oil and gas companies and vendors, and has now been widely adopted by the industry. It basically allows a wide range of vendor-provided systems that monitor drilling to exchange data easily with proprietary or vendor-provided office-based applications used by oil companies to monitor and analyze drilling activities.

A follow-up standard called Production XML, or PRODML, designed to integrate devices and applications that monitor production activities, was launched in August 2005. The founding members, which include most major industry players, are aiming to release a working version of the standard in late 2006, following testing from March through August.

The goal? The industry will move closer to the realization of what has been dubbed the Digital Oilfield, says Jerry Blaker, an oil and gas industry specialist with IBM and project manager of the PRODML effort. Under the Digital Oilfield vision, companies will be able to monitor, analyze and direct all aspects of drilling and production from the desktop—something that most companies can only do to a limited degree today.

"The reality is, data has to be moved between multiple applications and multiple vendors, and because there is no standard, a good amount of money and effort is spent making custom linkages between those applications," he says.

Drilling fluid, "or mud," for example, is an essential component of drilling, and precise monitoring of the volume of mud circulating in and out of a well is essential to safe, efficient operation. The mud is pumped down through the drill pipe, where it blows out through nozzles in the drill bit. It then flows back up the hole to the surface, clearing the hole by carrying formation cuttings along with it. A variety of vendors, such as Baker Hughes and Geolog, provide systems to monitor the flow of the mud and to detect the presence of oil or gas in the cuttings. Prior to the development of the WITSML standard, companies spent a great deal of time and effort integrating the data provided by those devices into their own applications.

By implementing a standard, and getting all of the parties to play at the same table, oil companies will be able to spend less time on integration and more time on developing oil and gas.

Story Guide:
Straight shooter: CEO Rex Tillerson Doesn't Play Games

  • Big Oil's Big Challenge
  • R&D Like Launching a 'Moon Shot' Every Decade
  • Exxon's Balanced Methodology
  • Virtual Drilling: Exxon's Technology Edge
  • Business Intelligence Guides Exploitation of Oil Resources
  • Oil in the DNA: The Exxon Culture
  • ExxonMobil Base Case
  • The Technology of Oil Exploration

  • How Big Oil Uses XML
  • Roadblock: Getting Oil Business Managers on Board
  • Gotcha: Don't Let Grid Computing Trip You
  • Vendor Profile: A Look at IBM's Supercomputers and the Oil Business

    This article was originally published on 2006-05-06
    Contributing Editor
    Mel Duvall is a veteran business and technology journalist, having written for a variety of daily newspapers and magazines for 17 years. Most recently he was the Business Commerce Editor for Interactive Week, and previously served as a senior business writer for The Financial Post.

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