Petrobras Fosters Digital Transformation, Considers Blockchain Technology

RIO DE JANEIRO—Petrobras is evaluating the implementation of blockchain technology for trading, the supply chain hiring process and compliance, according to Augusto Hougaz, a manager with Petrobras’ Digital Transformation Management department.

Blockchain is a disruptive technology that allows digital information to be distributed but not copied and could improve the way companies do business.

Hougaz told Hart Energy that the focus is part of Petrobras’ wider strategy to undergo a digital transformation within the next three years, aiming to revolutionize how the company will manage its future business and oil and gas activities. With an eye toward generating value, the Brazilian major seeks to capture opportunities through the adoption of new technologies to the company’s processes, according to its 2018-2022 business plan.

Petrobras’ business plan includes spending $6.63 billion on infrastructure and R&D, including investments in the digital transformation area.

Although Petrobras has not set a date to implement blockchain technology, the company is conducting a study and designing scenarios for the technology’s implementation. Hougaz said the company is studying possible resources to optimize its managing process, improve efficiency and productivity, and create a better environment for compliance levels.

Blockchain technology, originally designed for digital currency (bitcoin), has a fundamentally different digital backbone tracking architecture for a fully transparent grid. Blockchain is beginning to attract new potential users, including the oil and gas industry.

BP announced in April that it started to experiment with blockchain for oil and gas trading. In an interview with the Financial Times, the company said it was investing in pilot programs to explore the “practical and ethical” implications of using blockchain in the energy sector. “There are uses for blockchain that could give us a competitive advantage,” said David Eyton, head of technology for BP. “Blockchain can be much more efficient in terms of speed and verification of transactions.”

Earlier this year BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Statoil said they were forming a consortium to develop a blockchain-based digital platform for energy commodities trading expected to start by year-end 2018.

“Blockchain technology can help many segments in many industries. The robust nature of blockchain technology allows for the secure transmission of assets and immutable data storage across peer-connected devices, systems, applications and smart contracts,” said André de Castro, CEO of Florida-based Blockchain of Things Inc., which provides blockchain technology for companies.

Castro explained that blockchain technology allows companies and organizations to innovate faster and improve business agility, resulting in clear competitive advantages and significant cost reductions.  

Digital Plans

Petrobras intends to go even further in its quest to transform digitally. The company’s Digital Transformation Management department, which was created March 28 by Petrobras’ board of directors, will seek digital solutions in the areas of workforce, innovation and cooperation, Hougaz said. In taking the move, Petrobras joins other oil and gas companies that have incorporated more digital technologies into their operations.

“The creation of this department is a strong achievement for Petrobras, meaning that the company is committed to generate all conditions to make its digital transformation happen,” Hougaz said. “We want to set the benchmark for the industry.”

Petrobras is currently mapping out several projects related to its digital transformation to pinpoint business needs and establish external benchmarking. Afterward, the company will establish priorities and identify available resources.

“We expect the company’s digital transformation to improve operational safety, the efficiency of the operations and the company’s productivity as well as make the decision-making process faster and ensure better conditions for the development of these activities,” Hougaz said.

Petrobras will design its digital transformation model after studying other companies’ models, he said, adding the company also will define the areas where investments will be made over the next years.

Digital technologies can be applied to various parts of the company’s operations. Such applications could include using drones for inspections and artificial intelligence tools to search and retrieve unstructured data, according to Hougaz.

Petrobras has already implemented various digital solutions, Hougaz said.

An example is a project called Pressure While Drilling Analysis, a real-time data visualization platform developed to support well drilling activity and can be applied in other areas. The platform monitors pressure during drilling operations using data obtained by sensors installed on rigs.