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Oil, gas executives expect quantum computing to change the face of industry

The next big breakthrough for the oil and gas sector may come from applying quantum computer technology to the industry's data-intensive processes, executives said at KPMG's Global Energy Conference in Houston.

Quantum computers, powerful machines that build on the principles of quantum mechanics to solve complex tasks, can dramatically speed up the pace of processing data for oil and gas companies. Though quantum computing is still in its infancy, Woodside Energy Ltd. COO Mike Utsler said it has remarkable potential.

"It can speed up the [time needed for data processing] from 12 hours to 12 minutes to 12 seconds," he said. "That's the level of potential of quantum computing in the hydrocarbon supply chain."

Time savings are not the only big change in store for industry, the energy executives said. Many companies will need to step back and take a look at their hiring and technology management. Some have neglected to keep pace with computer technology and are "in catchup mode," BP PLC Vice President of Digital Innovation Morag Watson said.

"I'm looking at emerging digital technologies that will change every single aspect of how we do business. In fact, it will make some elements redundant," she said. "[Quantum] speeds things up so much that it will radically change them."

As computers become more of a part of the oil and gas industry, executives are learning that they need "pure scientists" operating their systems, not ones with familiarity with hydrocarbons. Those who have that knowledge tend to mold their answers toward specific scenarios, not all situations.

"We … stopped trying to teach our computer analysts about the oil and gas industry," Utsler said. "What we did learn was that if our problems were discovered at a practical level, from reservoir to customer, we would need a translator [to get the information from the field to the 'pure scientists']."

Applications of enhanced computing powers and technology could help limit maintenance downtime. "Without metallurgical printing, you're looking at a best case of 48 hours. But now, you hit a button and two hours later, you have a part," Utsler said. "We've actually done that in western Australia, where there are very few people. That took what was going to be an eight-week outage and made it eight hours."

Watson said that keeping up with cutting edge technologies is no longer optional for the industry. "If you don't want to get with this technology, someone will [use it on] you," she said.