Logo: University of Southern California

The USC–Chevron Center for Smart Oilfield Technologies (CiSoft) Celebrates its first decade

USC representatives celebrated ten years of successful partnership between Chevron and Viterbi School of Engineering.
By: Angus McColl
May 24, 2013 —

Viterbi School faculty and staff recently joined Chevron executives at the Hyatt Huntington Beach Hotel in Huntington Beach, California, on April 25, 2013 to celebrate ten years of the highly successful research partnership between USC and Chevron in the USC – Chevron Center for Interactive Smart Oilfield Technologies (CiSoft).

The event featured a review of the on-going research projects, highlighting both the fundamental academic accomplishments and their field applications. It also showcased CiSoft’s history, anticipated future opportunities, and celebrated the vision and leadership that have made this unique partnership so successful.

“We succeeded because of a compelling shared vision of “Digital Energy. The partnership brought together the right people at the right time to capture the emerging intersection of IT and energy,” said Dr. Donald Paul, former Chevron VP and CTO and now the Executive Director of the USC Energy Institute and William M. Keck Chair of Energy Resources. Paul recapped the history of CiSoft and articulated a vision for continued collaboration.

Honored by the Society of Petroleum Engineers as a pioneer in the field of “digital energy,” Paul was the key person that envisioned the concept of “i-field,” Chevron’s unique label for its digital oilfield efforts, in 2001. This is a concept of a “smart” oilfield, instrumented with wireless sensors connected and integrated by information technology to effectively analyze and exploit the avalanche of “big data” for better defining, managing and optimizing work processes. The i-field creates a new process framework to continuously improve oilfield safety, efficiency and performance at a relatively modest cost in terms of research and applied technology.

Paul noted that by the mid-1990s most companies were restructuring their proprietary research organizations and were creating strategies to expand programs in leading research universities that would analyze and solve fundamental engineering problems. He noted, however, that there were limitations to traditional industry-university research structures in that “there was simply not enough scale, not enough funding, and not enough drive from the business side to accomplish something great.”

Believing that a new research model was needed – a joint venture driven by real-world needs but also fully utilizing the best available academic talent and aligning with the academic priorities of graduate education, publication and research – Paul approached in 2002 Dr. Max Nikias, current USC President, who at the time was USC Viterbi’s Dean of Engineering. Said Paul: “We were already aware of USC’s long-standing expertise in petroleum engineering, computer science and advanced media technologies – the opportunity of ‘Digital Energy’ was to build the intersection. The most important part, however, was that Max got it.”

By the Fall of 2003 a common vision was framed, that brought together a strong team of Chevron engineers and USC engineering faculty. This lead to the signing of a formal agreement to establish CiSoft and make a strong research for Chevron’s i-field concept a reality. Dr. Yannis C. Yortsos, current Dean of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, and also part of the faculty in petroleum engineering, noted that “CiSoft has become our flagship research partnership and one we want to replicate whenever possible. It has been a true win-win for both the School and the company, , as it adds to both academic research and its translational component to the industry, every year.” In his remarks at the event, he also congratulated the CiSoft team on their recent selection as the 2013 Engineering Project of the Year by the Orange County Engineering Council.

Dave Dawson, General Manager for Upstream Workflow Transformation (UWT) captured the full magnitude of CiSoft’s “value added” for Chevron noting: “The technology developed for i-field, to which CiSoft has contributed, has resulted into significant economic benefits through improved real productivity to many of Chevron’s processes, one which we anticipate that will continue to grow.” Dawson oversees the UWT organization, which includes the R&D for i-field, as well as the development and deployment of i-field solutions globally.

Warner Williams, Vice President for Chevron’s Gulf of Mexico Business Unit with oversight for all of Chevron’s operations in that region summed up CiSoft success by noting, “the partnership of engaged leadership between the two co-directors Mike Hauser and Professor Iraj Ershaghi has been the key to our success. You guys and your team made my business better and I appreciate it.”

Mike Hauser, Chevron’s i-field Manager and CiSoft Co-Director since its founding, was honored during lunch on the occasion of his pending retirement. In his remarks describing his satisfaction with CiSoft he noted that the partnership has succeeded because he and his USC counterpart, Professor Iraj Ershaghi, work together seamlessly and with overarching goals the development of mutually beneficial solutions.

Hauser also noted that CiSoft began with and continues to benefit from a strong future vision of integrated asset management. “Alliances are hard, so you have to stick to your vision. The CiSoft vision has not changed. We will need to periodically refresh our tactics but our strategy is proven. CiSoft remains the right thing to do.”

Vega Sankur, Chevron’s day-to-day CiSoft Manager at USC, echoed that theme in a short tribute to Hauser. “Mike always did the right thing. He has been a great example for all of us. Now we’ve got to keep doing the right thing.” Williams and Yortsos concluded the day’s events by signing a new CiSoft agreement that will keep the partnership strong while ensuring sufficient funding for many years to come.