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It's difficult to think of careers without a digital component these days. The influences of technology are transparent in fields related to retail, entertainment, telecommunications, and healthcare. We seldom hear about advancements in sectors related to natural resources extraction or the oil and gas industry, yet the term digital is everywhere. And it's quickly becoming synonymous with everything, especially oil and gas.

In fact, a significant portion of government funding is being invested in the development of innovative technologies in oil and gas organizations. Oil refineries won't be going out of business anytime soon, so advancements in this particular sector can and do impact everyone. But if technology can make oil and gas safer, cleaner, and cheaper to extract, the cost of energy and overall quality of life will improve substantially.

And so comes to light the notion of the digital oilfield, a buzzword of sorts that major oil and gas companies have familiarized themselves with. A 2011 McKinsey report discusses the emerging era of big data and describes a digital oilfield where instruments constantly read data on wellhead conditions, pipelines, and mechanical systems. That information is analyzed by clusters of computers, which feed their results to real-time operations centres that adjust oil flows to optimize production and minimize downtimes.

What does that even mean?

In other words, more instruments are being developed in order to make better, faster decisions, reduce risk, and maximize recovery. Organizations like EMC, Baker Hughes, and Schlumberger use digital oilfield technologies to better process, understand, and apply big data, which are essentially large volumes of data that require organizing and analyzing. Today, it's not a matter of how much data you have, but what you do with it. With this comes a sudden increase in technological innovations and a flux of new business opportunities.

Baker Hughes, for example, recently announced a drilling fluid system called MPRESS, which increases rates of penetration, provides more power to motors and bits, and saves wear and tear on surface equipment. Essentially, it allows for the efficient and timely drilling of difficult lateral sections in unconventional reservoirs.

Also, EMC Corporation is currently undergoing a $100-million project to construct a research and development centre in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The facility will house an applied research centre, solutions laboratories, and an executive briefing centre.

The R&D centre is located in Brazil, but it's not for Brazil, says Dr. Karin Breitman, general manager of Rio de Janeiro's research and development centre. All of the new inventions, innovations, methods, tools, and techniques that are being developed by the centre need to be general enough so that they can drive value all over the world. If you think about arctic exploration, that should be useful to the new algorithms that we're developing, the logistics models for extraction, and the distribution of resources should be useful or should be easy to transpose to shale gas situations as well.

According to Breitman, the digital oilfield is the Holy Grail of every oil and gas company; it's the combination of newer technologies'cloud technologies'that enable the pooling of resources, the rational use of those resources. It's also about the ability to process data that comes in every other second, measuring and monitoring things like pressure and temperature of reservoir fluids.

Along the lines of new technology, some companies are discovering ways to turn waste into energy. SunCoal Industries, for example, regularly turns organic waste (compost, manure, and straw) into carbon-neutral coal. Enerkem has pioneered a technology that allows actual garbage to act as a form of petroleum. Advancements such as these are the reason Breitman and EMC decided to invest in the Brazil facility: the centre of the world for ultra deep water and oil exploration.

Today's sexiest career

According to an article in Harvard Business Review, the sexiest up-and-coming job'and Breitman agrees'belongs to the data scientist. Hundreds of scientists are already working at both start-up and well-established companies. Businesses are now dealing with a vast assortment of data that haven't been measured or even seen before. As Breitman describes, the job is a huge world of opportunity and it relates to oil and gas, it relates to retail, it relates to finances, to health, to just about any area where there's human activity. It's amazing how important data is going to be, but more so people who actually know what to do with data.

A job catered to people in all stems of the sciences: science, technology, statistics, and mathematics, it also holds a special place for people from the humanities.

We need to have people who are able to ask the right questions because that's what big data is really all about.

Fun fact

Cloud computing is another buzzword being tossed around businesses, organizations, and perhaps even your own household. But what the heck is it? Basically, it allows you to process and store your data on computers based away from your own premises. You use computing power that you do not own; it is located somewhere else, or in the cloud.

For instance, Microsoft now incorporates full integration with cloud computing software, which allows you to save and make your files retrievable wherever you go'on nearly every mobile device, tablet, or browser. The oil and gas industry demands data, high performance, and collaboration tools, which requires servers, networks, data storage, power, and a place to run it.

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