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BP funds AI development in oil and gas

Liz Wells

BP Ventures, the investment arm of global energy giant BP, has awarded $20 million (£25.9 million) of funding to artificial intelligence and cognitive computing firm Beyond Ventures.

It is hoped the investment will accelerate the delivery of industrial-grade AI software, previously used in space missions, to combine human knowledge with machine learning and provide the energy sector with new levels of operational insight and process automation.

Caltech start-up Beyond Limits was launched in 2012 to commercialise cutting-edge IP after more than 20 years of successfully supporting NASA and the US space program.

Eyad Elyan, senior lecturer in computer science at Robert Gordon University, told Professional Engineering that the deal is much needed in the sector.  “There is an urgent need for disruptive change, machine learning and data science to improve the sector’s existing practices. BP is trying to develop solutions that think like humans, actually which could think better than humans, because humans are subjective. A minor human error could cost millions of pounds, therefore they need to capture this human knowledge, the only way to capture it is to automate it.”

Elyan said that the amount of money being invested suggests that BP wants to push data-driven practice in the sector. “When companies plan to drill a well, they bring in some experts together for a discussion, but they could use data already available to decide this. BP is making an excellent investment and it will pay off sooner than anyone will expect."

The companies said the BP-Beyond Limits partnership could change the way the energy giant locates and develops reservoirs, produces and refines crude oil and markets and supplies refined products.

“Many companies within the industry are exploring the opportunities that artificial intelligence can make to oil and gas extraction, both to existing and new facilities," Mike Tholen, upstream policy director at Oil & Gas UK, told PE. "Many companies are looking to bring their experience in AI from other industries and see how they can be adapted in their circumstances.”

Tholen said the technology has the potential to facilitate remote operations and allow the facilities to adapt more actively to the changing process parameters as fields progress through their operational life. It also offers the opportunity for increased efficiency.

“The industry recognises the opportunities presented by new technology and the advantages companies gain by adopting fresh technologies appropriate to their needs. It must also be recognised, however, that innovation has to be balanced with the proficient deployment of existing technologies,” Tholen added.


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