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Interview with Richard Eyers, Remote Sensing Consultant at SHELL International Exploration and Production

In this issue of EOMAG, EARSC has an opportunity to feature an interview with Mr Richard Eyers to talk about the oil and gas sector and its links with EO downstream services.


1. From the point of view of geo-information, how can EO service industry better understand the oil & gas sector (business structure, strategy, potential growth technologies and prospects)?

For the EO service industry to understand this sector the oil and gas businesses first needs to understand the benefits of using earth observation data. Some companies, like Shell, are already embracing the benefits of using satellite imagery in exploration and other business activities but we could do more. There needs to be more collaboration between the service sector and the oil and gas sector. A good example of this is a radar workshop that I’m working with ESA to organise next year, bringing together key players from the two sectors. The understanding needs to increase from both sides.

2. Could you please introduce how Shell collects, manages and utilises spatial information to help achieve its business goals? And what are the processes and workflows that support those geo-information activities?

The Geomatics group in Shell lead these activities, guided by our own geo-information strategy. I’ll focus on EO data as this is the area where I’m working. We’ve simplified acquisition and licensing as much as possible by working with external service companies to provide data and services to the group. Licensing data appropriately makes sharing much simpler and reduces the risk of duplicated acquisition. As the remote sensing lead in Shell, it’s also my job to follow developments in the EO sector closely, so that we can deploy new technology to the business quickly.
Like many big organisations, it’s taken us time to organise our enterprise raster data management. Getting remote sensing and other raster data into the strategy was the turning point. Rather than develop our own in-house solutions we’ve worked with vendors to identify the technology we need to meet the requirements of our internal customers. Although it has taken time and effort to break new ground, I’ve seen the market changing over the last couple of years, with ESRI in particular putting real focus on enterprise solutions. There is also an increasing emphasis on external services, with more EO data being made available via web map services, which are available for subscription. This gives us access to data without having to manage it in-house. The other way in which we are reducing the amount of data we’re managing is by utilising external hosting, reducing the burden of data management.


1. I understand, technology is seen as one of the key differentiators for SHELL, and an area in which the company can gain significant competitive advantage over its rivals,.. could you please comment on the relation with service providers, the main products and services using geo-information?

Shell has a good working relationship with the main satellite operators (for example Digital Globe, Geoeye and SPOT) and I work hard to maintain these connections. These relationships help the operators to understand our business and helps us to make the most of EO technology. I focus on deployable EO and there is also a group in Shell focusing on research which I collaborate with.

2. Is there a role for geo-information community in the oil and gas sector? Could both sectors work together? What type of dialogue mechanism already exists or could take place with the EO service industry?

The two sectors have to work together. I’m fortunate that Shell sees the value of engaging with piers in other oil and gas companies, and in EO, but there needs to be more cross-sector engagement. I’d also hope to see more focus from remote sensing organisations on the energy sector. There are limited opportunities for us to influence EO developments, including new satellites, and we need to make the most of these opportunities by collaborating.

3. In your opinion, what milestones in last two decades have made an impact in the growth of EO downstream products in the oil and gas sector?

This is obviously only an opinion, but I’d say the two biggest milestones are the availability of high spatial resolution imagery, first from optical satellites, and more recently from radar, and Google Earth. Now almost everybody has had some experience of EO data. This translates into a better understanding of what is possible, but also sometimes can set unrealistic expectations. Seeing your house in glorious detail via satellite, doesn’t mean you can see an exploration license with the same level of detail.

4. Please tell us about your opinion on the possible growth of the EO service industry within the oil and gas sector. What trends your foreseen?

There’s considerable unrealized potential for the EO service industry, providing data and flexible access to services. The demand for recent high-resolution imagery will increase, reducing health and safety risks, aiding exploration and development of new resources, particularly if the trend for increasing positional accuracy continues. If we’re going to make the most of the new generation of radar satellites (Radarsat 2, COSMO Skymed, TerraSAR-X) the operators and service providers must help us to understand their potential and develop new applications.
There’s also greater potential for elevation data for remote locations, and for surface deformation monitoring, but this isn’t exploited as much as it could be because of the perceived high cost and long lead-times. The EO service industry needs to work to reduce the complexity of licensing, and cost. As EO data become more accessible, the use will inevitably increase.

5. Where are SHELL geo-information investments (business development opportunities)? And who are the most important stakeholders?

We’re investing in data management, investing in training and in raising awareness of the value of EO internally. I believe that EO has value across the business, and also can help us engage with communities and governments, illustrating our focus on minimising the footprint of activity and maintaining the natural environment.

6. Where is SHELL announcing opportunities for the EO service industry and what can you advice to our members who like to start business with SHELL? Would there be a role for EARSC to help finding potential contractors for doing business with SHELL?

I often receive unsolicited approaches from companies, which I file away for future reference. I’d suggest creating more opportunities to bring EO and oil and gas professionals together for focused and effective engagement. Illustrating capabilities by relevant examples is also very helpful, as this material can also be used in internal education and promotion.


1. Images from remote sensing satellites have been used for geological and environmental mapping since the 70´s . Today, imagery from different sensors is being used to support exploration and production activities within the oil and gas industry…but which satellite sensors you will see relevant to your services? And what type of information can EO service providers supply your sector? what is the added value of those services?

My view on this is simple – in many of the places we work there is little or no quality mapping available and having any remote sensing data available is helpful. I’d hope to see more focus on higher spatial resolution constellations, regardless of spectral resolution or sensor type, to fill in the white space on maps. The minerals sector has demonstrated that multispectral and hyperspectral sensors can provide unique geological and environmental data but the oil and gas sector first needs to realise the value of looking at the surface in black and white, or colour, before it will be ready for more complex data sets.

2. Innovation within the oil and gas sector is usually important, can we (EO service industry and oil and gas) do take actions to bring the research and industry in both sectors together? Do you co-operate with industry to improve and innovate in terms of your products?

As I mentioned previously, I see this as very important and Shell is very active in this. I see excellent cooperation from satellite operators but the service delivery sector needs to engage more effectively. I would rather know that something is new and experimental, so that I can balance the risks, than be promised the world and subsequently be disappointed.


1. At the end of the interview, here is the opportunity for your final thoughts on the future, what do you see as the task ahead?

The world is more familiar with EO than ever before and the EO service industry and EARSC and the rest of the EO community needs to make the most if this visibility, educating potential consumers about the possibilities, and the limitations of EO.
I see considerable potential from radar sensors, both as a qualitative mapping tool and as a means of quantitative surface measurement. These sensors provide valuable information offshore and onshore and I for one certainly need to better understand how to make the most of the potential.

2. Would you like to give some message to the entrepreneurs interested in helping your company with his long term goals

This might be a hard message, but focus on educating your current and future customers and understanding their needs, rather than selling solutions in search of problems.

3. What do you see as the biggest long-term challenges?

Maintaining the talent pool of remote sensing professionals is essential, as is ensuring that satellite programmes continue to be well funded and accessible to multinationals and to individuals.

Thank you for your time Richard…, and specially for sharing your thoughts and comments with the EOmag readers.

Richard Eyers’s Summary
Team leader and Principal Technical Expert, supporting Shell projects around the world and providing advice on remote sensing and raster data management. Current business focus is on developing remote sensing capability, delivering a Remote Sensing Business Plan and developing a global raster management solution.
Richard Eyers’s Specialties: Data management and publishing, remote sensing, GIS, image processing, spatial analysis, knowledge of satellite image and software vendors