Despite today’s many global disruptions, the oil and gas industry is focused on business as usual, as much as possible, which is inspiring creative, clever solutions that can do just that. Though not revolutionary, these reimagined approaches are kicking off big, multiyear projects, from various home offices, in a fast, efficient manner, with some making their case for continued use moving forward.

Leverage Existing Technology

Professionals within this industry are hands-on, and always have been as that’s part of the nature of the job and business. But with most in-person meetings put on hold, project teams are filling that void with technology, utilizing it in creative and slightly different ways than before. For instance, instead of traveling, as usual, to the site of a large-scale project at an existing Gulf Coast facility after a recent kickoff, the project team went online. Before meeting virtually with the client, team members conducted extensive preplanning video sessions to align agenda topics and timelines. Using Google Earth Pro, the project team was able to sketch and highlight the scope of the new project, zooming in on existing pipes to identify potential tie-in locations. This software allowed team members to explain the proposed plan via a 3D flythrough of the site to the client.

Implement Augmented Reality

Another technology being utilized on current oil and gas projects is augmented reality (AR), providing the opportunity for oil and gas owners and operators to actually “see” in and around their facilities during these times. With AR goggles, clients can take a video of their site and existing assets and send it to the project team for reference throughout the project life cycle.

Share Screens to Communicate Efficiently

Because of screen sharing, clients are being brought into the mix sooner. The use of screen sharing during virtual meetings allows walk-throughs of deliverables and offers the ability to share progress early and course correct if needed, creating a more collaborative, fluid process. These virtual meetings also open up the possibility to make client adjustments in real-time by inviting computer-aided design (CAD) professionals to the same video meeting as well. For instance, if a pipe needs to move to a new rack location, the CAD professional can make that change immediately and have an update ready to review during that same meeting. With this cloud-based technology, all team members are able to work on the same product, at the same time from any location, and that’s reducing turnaround time and increasing efficiency. Realizing significant efficiency, quality and productivity gains, some of these processes could and should become best practices even after moving back into corporate offices.

Customize Elements of the Process

Despite technological advancements, there are still some parts of the process that simply can’t be done online — tie-ins have to be marked in the field and tags have to be hung. Though all oil and gas jobs include safety plans, a specific COVID-19 Health, Safety and Environmental (HSE) Policy was developed for the Gulf Coast project location, with special considerations given to the number of people on-site, social distancing guidelines and proper PPE. To make sure all COVID-19 safety policies aligned, this plan was reviewed by the client.

With an approved HSE plan in hand, the project team held a formal go/no-go meeting for the site visit itself, which isn’t a part of the normal process, to discuss each area that would be visited on-site. On the day of the walk-through, team members referenced the plan in its entirety, then followed up with the client to see if the plan fulfilled its purpose, was easy to follow and what, if anything, would need to be adjusted for future use.

Embrace Personal and Professional Change

The pandemic has forced us to open up all forms of communication, from Microsoft Teams and WebEx to texting and FaceTiming, some of which were once unusual forms of communicating within a professional setting. While people are opening up their communication preferences, they’re also opening up their homes, because they had to, and it’s forming stronger partnerships. Ditching the suits and ties, the new business setting is bringing entire project teams closer together, faster, with business meetings taking place in homes and around families, which instantly makes it more personal.

In fact, when kicking off that Gulf Coast project a few weeks ago, the project team wanted to do something special and sent individual cookie care packages to homes. Because most of us interact online only, finding ways to stay connected — such as through virtual coffee and lunch meetings, trivia and happy hours — offers a subtle reminder that we’re all in this together. Bringing some of these creative strategies, whether technology focused or locally sourced, to a kickoff meeting can create efficiencies in more ways than one.

Caitlin Geisinger, a chemical engineer at Burns & McDonnell, has worked on refinery and terminal projects for the last seven years. Among them is a large-scale propane and butane export facility in the Gulf Coast, where she supported the project through on-site construction and commissioning. She is a licensed professional engineer in Texas.