Electronic Lab Notebooks and Automation Software Can Help Oil Companies Choose Alternative Ways to Transport Oil


alternate transportRail is just one way to transport crude oil to refineries. Choosing a transportation method presents a major challenge for oil companies, but data management software can support the process. Image Credit: Flickr user Randen Pederson

The transportation of oil has attracted a lot of national news coverage lately. In September 2016, protesters stalled the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, citing concerns about water supply contamination, damage to sites sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and unfounded claims of eminent domain.1 Only the year before, the Keystone XL Pipeline, which was designed to carry crude oil from Alberta to the Gulf Coast, was the subject of national political outcry until the Obama administration shut down the fourth phase of the project in November 2015.2

This growing political pushback complicates the already complex decision that oil companies make about how to transport crude oil to refineries. Research management technologies enable researchers to organize and leverage critical data in order to decide whether to transport crude oil from a particular well by pipeline, truck, rail or boat. Given recent events, it is even more important that financially feasible, environmentally friendly and socially conscious alternatives be reached.

Weighing the Costs and Benefits of Oil Transportation Options

One of the most logical ways to determine which transportation method to use is to consider the outcomes of choosing different transportation methods for similar sites in the past. Unfortunately, this isn’t always as simple as it seems. Researchers must take a wide variety of factors into account, which can mean combing through massive amounts of old data. Some of the most important factors to consider in the decision-making process include:

  • Cost

The least expensive crude oil transportation method for a particular well site isn’t always immediately clear. Companies should compare a wide range of complex factors, such as the cost the materials used for the construction of a pipeline, the price of gas to fuel transportation trucks and the amount of time it takes to get crude oil to market for any of the methods under consideration.

  • Environmental damage

Each transportation method carries the risk of possible environmental damage. Ballast water discharge from ships can contaminate aquatic ecosystems and introduce invasive species,3 and collisions with wildlife, such as whales, are often fatal.4 At the same time, trucks and trains emit large quantities of harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, especially when they are used to transport crude oil long distances. Finally, an analysis by Richard Stover, Ph.D. and the Center for Biological Diversity estimated that since 1986 there have been nearly 8,000 pipeline related incidents (nearly 300 per year on average, resulting in more than 500 deaths, 2,300 injuries and nearly $7 billion in damages.5

  • Human health concerns

Periodic spills are practically inevitable. In fact, there were more rail-related spillage incidents in 2013 than in the previous thirty-seven years, often in populated areas.6  There is an ever-increasing chance that a spill could contaminate the water supply, affect agricultural crops or damage property.

  • Damage to the company’s reputation

As recent cases have demonstrated, a company’s reputation is bound to suffer in the eyes of the public when a spill occurs, or protesters target a transportation method. These days, when people hear the name “Dakota Access,” they immediately think of the controversial pipeline and its potentially damaging effects on surrounding communities. If possible, it is probably wise to steer clear of such detrimental connotations.

In order to figure out whether the benefits of any transportation option— a pipeline project, a new fleet of trucks, or a contract with a ship or rail company—outweigh the risks, researchers need to be able to access large quantities of data related to cost, environmental issues, health concerns and possible public or political backlash. A workflow authoring application makes it possible to automatically aggregate all  of this data for each option, and conduct relevant scientific analyses. That way, when it comes time to make a final decision, all of the necessary information is at hand and ready for interpretation.

Enabling Collaboration Between Researchersdownload movie 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi now

Given the wide range of factors that must play into the oil transportation decision-making process, oil companies rely on the expertise of researchers in many different departments. For example, the findings of environmental researchers conducting ecological studies in the field must be compared to the results of chemists examining interactions between crude oil and pipeline materials in the lab, and both must be considered in light of the financial forecasts of economic researchers. Electronic lab notebooks enable interdepartmental collaboration, allowing colleagues to share both old data and recent findings in real-time, no matter where they are located. That way, all of their findings can be integrated into the final decision of which transportation method to pursue.

Compliance Considerations and a Changing Regulatory Environment

As researchers conduct tests and make plans for crude oil transportation, they must always keep an eye on compliance risks, since any breach has the potential to be financially costly and damage the company’s image, especially given the recent national attention to the subject of crude oil transportation. Plus, as more citizens and lawmakers become aware of the issue, local governments may begin passing stricter regulations. Innovative technology makes it easier to keep track of all governmental regulations, regardless of the oil well’s location.

Because choosing an oil transportation method is such a complex decision, it only makes sense for oil companies to adopt new technology that simplifies and streamlines the process. BIOVIA Electronic Lab Notebooks offer data management and information sharing capabilities that can help companies make the best possible choice. BIOVIA Pipeline Pilot assists with the aggregation and processing of disparate data related to the transportation method decision. Contact us today to learn more about the wide range of innovative software we offer.

  1. “The $3.7-billion pipeline that became a rallying cry for tribes across America,” September 13, 2016, http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-sej-dakota-access-pipeline-20160912-snap-story.html
  2. “Keystone XL pipeline: Why is it so disputed?” November 6, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-30103078
  3. “Ballast Water Management,” 2016, http://www.imo.org/en/OurWork/Environment/BallastWaterManagement/


  4. “Vessel Collisions With Whales: The Probability of Lethal Injury Based on Vessel Speed,” January 2007, http://www.phys.ocean.dal.ca/~taggart/Publications/


  5. “America’s Dangerous Pipelines,” May 30, 2013, http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/americas_dangerous_pipelines/
  6.  “Pick Your Poison For Crude — Pipeline, Rail, Truck Or Boat,” April 26, 2014, http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2014/04/26/pick-your-poison-for-crude-pipeline-rail-truck-or-boat/#57a6c55f5777