Drilling digitization covers crown to ground

Upstream oil and gas industry has been one of the more resistant to automation, but changes in drilling well complexity are making it more automated.

By Kevin Parker, CFE Media December 11, 2017

Across industrial sectors, upstream oil & gas industry has been one of the more resistant to automation. This follows from the work’s nature, but perhaps also is due to the industry’s wildcatter heritage.

Be that as it may, drilling well complexity is being automated. This is true for downhole control, but also for surface operations. It’s part of a drive for efficiency, but also addresses safety.

Nabors Industries owns and operates the world’s largest land-based drilling rig fleet. "To decrease times to first oil or gas, our rigs need to be standardized and smarter, including an integrated operating system that takes many of the control elements out of operators’ hands," said Clint Ford, a Nabors company vice president, during a tour of the assembly yard where two of its most modern rigs were nearing commission.

Those responsible for assembling these behemoths, which stood tall and stark against the Houston sky, were justly proud of their work.

All together now

"The global oil & gas industry spends about $160 billion a year drilling wells," said Gavin Rennick, president, Software Integrated Solutions, Schlumberger, at the recent Rockwell Automation Perspectives event. Schlumberger found that drilling a well involved 4,000 discrete steps that mapped into more than 200 workflows and engaged 20 to 30 separate companies.

Cloud-based planning solutions allow all the companies to work in a single integrated system. Ten operating companies have evaluated Nabors’ system, Ford said, and found a highly engineered plan is generated in weeks rather than months.

With the emergence of these collaborative solutions, said Scott G. Boone, vice president, rig automation and downhole tools, Nabors, "Services providers won’t install their own sensors. The key is to have access to the controls to make use of the information."

Already, integrated automation, motor control, and information technology is available in real time at central locations. Analytics and key performance indicators (KPIs) lead to digital twins enabling closed-loop control, including for directional drilling and pressure management.

Surface operations will be transformed by sophisticated robots, especially for pipe handling, and incorporation of what formerly was considered ancillary equipment into the rig infrastructure. [subhead]

Changed environments

"During the boom years, if a supplier had drilling rigs available, that was enough to ensure success. Today, providers must strive to be the ‘performance driller of choice’ based on quality results," Ford said. "Standardization and smartness is being retrofitted onto existing rigs."

Today’s operators look to drain wells completely. With multi-pad wells, rigs are capable of in-service movement. Longer laterals are being drilled, to exploit more of a production zone.

A typical rig includes about 10,000 tags, a controller, and data historian. To that has been added automated drilling sequences, such as for the transition from vertical to horizontal drilling. The future lies with high-fidelity models that incorporate operator best practices into well programs.

"To get from 30-day wells to 8-day wells, the key is no tool breakdowns downhole, which happen if you go too fast or too hard. Better to have all the rules in the system and KPIs for every drilling step," said Boone.

Original content can be found at Oil and Gas Engineering.