Total in talks with Google, Microsoft on use of AI in oil, gas sector

French oil firm Total is currently in talks with tech giants Google and Microsoft regarding the development and application of artificial intelligence (AI) in the race to tap digital technologies in the energy sector.

Engineers at Total are currently working alongside top software developers to explore how complex algorithms could be applied to its work in oil and gas.

Frederic Gimenez, the oil major’s chief information officer, said the “complete shift” from its traditional energy activities to investigating AI and machine learning has meant the company is working with different stakeholders to broaden its scope.

“We have a strong knowledge of exploration and seismic analysis. But they are the ones who are the best in artificial intelligence. This has obliged our people to work with completely different partners and to merge our knowledge to find a new way to make oil and gas discoveries,” he told delegates of the FT Digital Energy conference.

The supermajor became the second largest North Sea operator at a stroke last month with a surprise US$7.45billion (£5.79billion) swoop on Danish oil and gas firm Maersk Oil which includes oil projects which are profitable even at oil prices of US$30 a barrel.

A spokeswoman for the company said Total is still exploring the digital market before moving into any formal partnerships with a Silicon Valley company.

The digital shift is one part of Total’s drive to adapt to changes in the industry. The other is a modest shift to cleaner energy sources and efficiency.

Total said that it will acquire a 23% interest in the renewable power production company Eren Re by subscribing to a EUR238million (£211million) capital increase. Separately, Total announced a smaller acquisition of GreenFlex, a French company specializing in energy efficiency.

Gimenez said the acquisitions are just one pillar of its strategy, with this part still a smaller focus within the company compared to its move towards digital transformation and its existing activities in oil and gas.