BP Drills Web

An oil giant is showing other businesses how to use the Internet to bolster the supply of technical experts.

An oil giant is showing other businesses how to use the Internet to bolster the supply of technical experts.

The problem: BP — the worlds third-largest oil company — has hundreds of leases in the Gulf of Mexico, but doesnt have the resources to analyze the boatloads of seismic data from each tract in order to decide where to drill for oil next.

The solution: BP is using the Web to recruit free-lance geologists and geophysicists interested in analyzing the properties. Despite the fact that hundreds of millions of dollars are riding on its strategy, BP is all smiles. And other oil companies are expected to mimic its strategy.

Last year, BP — formerly known as British Petroleum — teamed up with IndigoPool.com, a Web site owned by oil field services and technology giant Schlumberger, to develop the technology needed to disseminate data about BPs untapped oil fields on the IndigoPool site. In November, BP said it would release seismic data from five leases it owns in the Gulf of Mexico to qualified independent analysts. The quality of the respondents was so good that BP added eight more Gulf tracts to the program in May. This month, it will add another 10 tracts.

BP, with 2000 revenue of $148 billion, doesnt appear to need free-lance help. But its frenetic drilling program in the Gulf of Mexico is overtaxed. "It would take us four years with our current manpower to get all these properties analyzed," said Steve Decatur, a staff development deployment leader at BPs Houston office.

BPs unorthodox program has gained a great deal of interest among oil companies and could become a model for other technology and data-intensive industries that need help from free-lance technical experts.

Under BPs system, if the independent analysts develop suitable drilling plans, BP pays them $50,000. If the wells begin producing, the analysts get a cash bonus. If BP decides not to drill, the analysts can take their proposal to other exploration companies and negotiate a royalty interest in the project.

BPs offer appealed to Clint Wainwright, a petroleum engineer in New Orleans. For four months, he and his partner, Jeff Sporl, pored over seismic data from a 27-square-mile lease owned by BP located off the Louisiana coast. In June, Wainwright and Sporl turned in their drilling plan to BP. "We decided it was worth trying," Wainwright said.