Why real-time insights are imperative for gas and oil companies

Louise Smyth

Jonathan Barrett discusses the real-time imperative for oil & gas companies

In the oil and gas industry companies must take every precaution to ensure that their employees and infrastructure are safe in the face of unexpected events. However, with extended supply chains and operations in some of the most unpredictable parts of the world – and with so much remaining outside of a company’s control – incidents that lead to crises are almost inevitable.

Moreover, without an accurate read of the latest developments, even the best plans can go awry, meaning that potential crisis scenarios grow in variety and complexity. Regardless of how much time and effort it takes to create a business continuity plan or incident response policy, a company’s response is only as good as the information it relies on to shape its efforts.

Organisations that excel in dealing with disruptive events typically have 24/7 access to resources that create a 360° view of the situation they face and, therefore, the ability to adopt a proactive versus a reactive approach to managing their operations in times of crisis. Professionals are then able to act with confidence and speed, knowing they have the full picture.

A clearer picture for oil and gas companies with diverse data sets

Although relying on traditional media outlets for news of breaking events used to suffice, with oil and gas operations in remote corners of the world, such coverage can be late or sometimes fails to materialise at all. With coverage lacking, corporate security teams struggle to gather the information they need to respond to breaking events and drive real-time decision-making.

For example, oil and gas companies often shoulder a significant burden in the face of natural disasters. Mitigating effects depends in great part on access to the latest information regarding conditions on the ground. That data often resides within vast pools of publicly available information, such as social media, blogs and information sensors.

Given what is at stake, the oil and gas sector can benefit greatly from gaining access to real-time insight regarding any events that have the potential to adversely affect their operations. In particular, social media can illuminate the status of events as they unfold in real time. With access to real-time alerts, companies can feed a steady stream of information to their business continuity and incident management teams at the right moments, allowing them to limit the resulting damage so that the business returns to normal as soon as possible.

Nonetheless, given the breadth and depth of public data sets, businesses need help in uncovering information that matters the most to their operations. Artificial intelligence (AI) plays a critical role in processing enormous volumes of data – in multiple languages and formats such as text, sound and video – and identifying potentially actionable nuggets of information that are especially relevant to a particular team or company.

Knowledge is key for oil and gas companies preparing for natural disasters

When it comes to extreme weather events and natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, earthquakes and tsunamis, advanced knowledge is critical, particularly when it involves evacuating personnel from the affected zones. For example, real-time data from flight sensors could be used by an oil and gas company’s travel security team to learn of alternative routes taken by commercial aircraft that are diverted by aviation officials in severe weather. These few nuggets of sensor information could help mobilise teams on the ground in the assistance of any employees who could be on board a rerouted flight.

Moreover, social media can inform recovery efforts with real-time information, which often includes images, videos, and first-hand, eye-witness accounts of events. Information gathered from social media can provide clear and compelling evidence to justify major decisions, such as the evacuation of personnel, rerouting of shipments or the temporary closure of company facilities.

Real-time alerts also assist corporate security teams in staying up to date on local conditions, capturing an accurate picture of the threat landscape surrounding a facility or entire country, and updating their threat assessment proactively as the events on the ground dictate. Historical analysis of alternative data can help companies determine where to position their emergency-related resources in the future, for maximum effect.

The challenges of political instability for the gas and oil sector

Geopolitical risk is another area of keen attention for oil and gas companies. Many countries with plentiful oil and gas reserves have experienced political instability – over the course of decades, or as a consequence of more recent events. Consequently, the potential for political instability leading to the emergence of new political leaders is ever present.

Such events can unfold quickly and result in local mistrust of foreign companies, particularly those deemed as having close connections to an unpopular government. In that respect, oil and gas companies may find face ire from incoming authorities and their supporters. Paying close attention to fast-moving events as they unfold can ensure companies know the severity of the threats they face and, therefore, how best to protect their employees and assets. Moreover, a real-time view of a challenging situation can prepare organisations to make sometimes difficult decisions that keep people safe and ensure business continuity.

In an industry where uncertainty is the norm, a wide range of public data sets and the real-time insight they provide can help corporate security, logistics, risk management, and other teams detect and respond to a broad range of threats.

Furthermore, such data can make the difference between an incident’s limited impact and one that creates a sustained, complex, and extensive problem affecting the business and its brand.

Jonathan Barrett is with Dataminr