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Leadership Enables Right Decisions on Sea and in Oil Fields

Oct. 29, 2014
Military Skills Translate to Oil and Gas Extraction
About the Author: Jim Montague
Jim Montague is the Executive Editor at Control, Control Design and Industrial Networking magazines. Jim has spent the last 13 years as an editor and brings a wealth of automation and controls knowledge to the position. For the past eight years, Jim worked at Reed Business Information as News Editor for Control Engineering magazine. Jim has a BA in English from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, and lives in Skokie, Illinois.

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The differences between operating a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier group and a partnership between GE and Chevron to recover oil and gas are more than skin deep. However, they also have many data, communications and performance needs in common, so the skills and leadership needed to accomplish both successfully are also very similar.

"It's all about getting the right information to the right people at the right time, so they can make the best decisions possible, and this capability is as important in process applications and manufacturing in this high-tech age as it is in military operations worldwide," said Ron Reis, senior service manager for North America at GE Oil & Gas.

Reis is uniquely qualified to convey this lesson because, until 18 months ago, he was the commanding officer of the $8-billion U.S.S. John C. Stennis nuclear aircraft carrier and its 5,000-member crew, and he led and supported combat operations in two deployments. The carrier has 70 strike aircraft, two 550-MW nuclear reactors, 280,000 shaft horsepower and four propellers. During his 28-year military career, Reis also flew 100 combat missions over Iraq and Afghanistan. He described his experiences and their applicability to the process industries in his presentation, "Leadership and the Industrial Internet" on the second day of GE Intelligent Platforms 2014 Users Summit in Orlando, Florida.

"Technical leadership and persistent intelligence affects operations, so it's important to enable leadership at all levels to accomplish missions, whether they were part of my naval experience or related to how GE unlocks the language of machines to partner with customers to accelerate the power of the Industrial Internet," said Reis.

The former captain added that his carrier's operations often occurred in the multi-threat, multi-mission environment of the Persian Gulf, where one of the main tasks is to keep the sea lanes in the small and congested Straight of Hormuz open and safe for ship traffic. The difficulty is that the carrier and the support ships in its strike group must monitor conditions and possible threats on and below the sea, in the air, on land and even from space and now, cyberspace.

"These wells have been producing oil, gas and water for many years, and now this partnership is using microwave and Doppler radar to determine the temperature, pressure and other conditions in the reservoirs." GE's Ron Reis on the similarities between military organizations and the oil and gas industry.

"All of the information from the sensors on the group's ships and aircraft are sent to the carrier's combat information center (CIC), where all of this data is gathered and analyzed to help the bridge make critical decisions," explains Reis. "The drawback is that the U.S.S. Stennis was engineered in the 1970s and built in 1995, so we were also living with 20th-century infrastructure, while operating in a 21st-century world, and found we weren't capitalizing on what we needed to do."

Reis wanted to empower his high-level officers to make more tactical decisions, but found they were constrained by some communication and cybersecurity issues. Consequently, Reis and his staff leveraged existing and available technologies over a four-month period and developed much closer communications pathways from the CIC to the bridge. This allowed them to basically see the CIC's displays and make faster, more efficient and better decisions.

"We identified the key stakeholders, determined a shared vision and brought the CIC to the bridge," added Reis "This allowed us to execute the most demanding aircraft carrier schedule in recent times during two deployments and 640 days at sea."

More recently, Reis used this know-how to leverage tactical advantages in the process industries. For instance, GE formed an alliance with Chevron in February 2014 to improve oil and gas extraction from the 11,000 wells in the historical Kern River oil field near Bakersfield, California.

"These wells have been producing oil, gas and water for many years, and now this partnership is using microwave and Doppler radar to determine the temperature, pressure and other conditions in the reservoirs," explained Reis. "We're using the Safire and multiphase technologies that Chevron and GE developed together, and this helps us make better decisions about the most appropriate method for drawing out and cleaning the oil. Previously, samples were collected every 30 days, but now we can find out about reservoir conditions immediately, and this means much better optimized production."

About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control. 

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