Devon Energy hosted its third annual “Halloween Hackathon” on October 28-30, 2019. Programming teams from a variety of industries and companies met at the Devon Tower in downtown Oklahoma City to tackle some of the challenges facing today’s energy companies. The event was open not only to Devon employees but to teams from other energy companies and industry partners.
“We started this event as a way to inspire our employees and partners, focus on key problems in our industry, and allow teams to really dig into challenging problems without the distraction of their daily work, and to have fun while doing it,” explains Devon Energy’s Vice President of Technology Trey Lowe.
The rules were fairly simple. Each team had to write the code while at the Hackathon. They were able to use commonly available software libraries. Once the project was complete, all code must be shared publicly on the Devon Energy public Github site, available to anyone to freely use.
At the start of the event, Devon engineers outlined two challenges for the teams. Each team could choose to tackle one of the challenges, or they could bring their own oil-industry challenge and develop a solution to solve it.
CHALLENGE 1 – Count the Pipe
The first challenge was presented by Mark Matalik, a senior advising drilling engineer at Devon. The challenge was to count the drilling and well casing pipe stacked up at the drilling site. Before drilling begins, the drillers know how much drilling pipe has been delivered to the well site. One way to verify how much pipe has gone “downhole” is to count the remaining pipe stacked at the drilling site. Currently, two experienced employees hand-count the remaining pipe, comparing it to each other to come up with the amount of pipe left at the drilling site. This tells engineers how deep the well has been drilled.
Devon was hoping to find a faster, more accurate way to “count the pipe” by developing software that runs on a smartphone. A user would snap a picture of the stack of pipe and software would analyze the photo to determine how much pipe was left at the site.
CHALLENGE 2 – Is the Well “ON” or “OFF”
The second challenge was explained by Travis Stephenson, advising production engineer for Devon. The challenge seemed simple – to determine, real-time, whether a well was “online” or “offline.”
“Devon has over 8,000 wells and we get a constant stream of real-time data from these wells,” explained Stephenson. “There are a lot of factors that can determine if a well is producing or not. It can be oil or gas flow, noxious gas that makes the well dangerous, electrical problems, equipment failure, you name it. We need a simple, graphical way to determine if a well is producing or is offline. And we need to know what is happening now, not what happened two weeks ago.”
Each Hackathon team consisted of 5 people. Team members didn’t all have to be programmers, but the intent of the exercise was to develop software, so most participants were coders or database administrators. Teams consisted not only of Devon employees. Companies such as Heartland Payment Systems and Baker Hughes Drilling were also represented. Accenture even sent a team all the way from India to participate.
Devon provided actual data and photographs from producing wells for the teams to utilize in their development. Microsoft provided free access to its Azure cloud to process the data. Other partners such as Hashmap and Palo Alto provided lunch, refreshments, and sponsorship.
On Wednesday morning, after two days of planning, analyzing and coding, teams prepared presentations to demonstrate their solutions to judges. Set up like a science fair, Devon employees visited the exhibits, heard the presentations for each team and voted on the winners.
A Halloween-appropriate team named “Dead2TheWorld” won first place by designing an application to capture and store employee and training certification information in a database. Dispatch personnel could geo-locate qualified personnel closest to the well site with the necessary qualifications to tackle the problem and dispatch the employee by sending a message from the dispatch computer to the end user’s mobile phone. This solution replaced huge Excel spreadsheets and hundreds of pages of paperwork for each trained employee, allowing dispatchers to quickly see who was near a well with the proper training to solve the issue, thereby saving Devon time and money.
“I love seeing how talented teams of people, when given enough time to focus solely on a problem, can come up with innovative solutions. While we may not directly use the code generated from this exercise, we will use the ideas as a jumping-off point for our own efforts,” explains Lowe. “Business is different today than 5 years ago. The data we have today is much cleaner than what we had then. We need to make better use of today’s technology to make better decisions.”