Drilling automation

Drilling Automation and Innovation

Drilling automation and innovation continue as dominant trends despite market downturns and unprecedented challenges in the past year. In many ways, the drive toward new efficiencies and step changes in well-construction performance has taken on an even greater sense of urgency.

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Drilling automation and innovation continue as dominant trends despite market downturns and unprecedented challenges in the past year. In many ways, the drive toward new efficiencies and step changes in well-construction performance has taken on an even greater sense of urgency. Further advancements in automation and innovation in well construction are recognized globally as keys to unlocking new opportunities in the ever-changing world in which we live.

OTC Live sessions in late 2020 included a fascinating session titled “Opportunities and Challenges in Frontier Basins and Emerging Offshore Areas.”

Despite pandemic-induced uncertainty, a significant number of high-impact exploration efforts, including projects in deepwater Gulf of Mexico, Brazil, west Africa, the Mediterranean, and Asia were ongoing. Panelists agreed, given world population and energy consumption being forecast to grow 20% by 2040, that increased hydrocarbon supplies, in addition to renewables, are essential to meeting future demand. The discussion also highlighted increased emphasis on carbon footprint reduction.

Leaders from Shell, Expro, Wood Mackenzie, and others spoke to a CO2-intensity/barrel of oil equivalent chart comparing relative values for deep water, unconventionals, oil sands, and liquefied natural gas. It is noteworthy that deepwater production represents the lowest carbon footprint of all hydrocarbon sources by a significant margin. This advantage, combined with the potential for large resource size, high flow rates, and low well count, suggest that deepwater assets will compete in long-term portfolios for many operators.

Referring to the current selection of SPE drilling-related manuscripts, automation of land rigs within onshore unconventional basins remains a widely published subject. More specifically, automation of the directional drilling process continues to yield improvements in performance and efficiency. It is often noted that well costs have been reduced by more than 50% with advancements related to horizontal technology, digitalization of well construction, and rig automation. These technologies were largely initiated within onshore, unconventional projects, but application is now widespread for offshore, complex wells.

Selected papers in this feature are chosen to highlight the latest achievements and near-term opportunities across the full spectrum of upstream projects. A consistent message from paper SPE 203251 regarding drilling automation in the digital age reads, “industry has yet to benefit on a large scale from these advancements and…significant value remains untapped.” This reoccurring theme appears across operator and geographical boundaries, revealing significant opportunity and the need for ongoing emphasis.

Software and hardware evolution progresses along with more-comprehensive integration of rig equipment and functionality. Industry now is more focused on moving from automation of individual tasks toward automation of the full well-construction process from plan to completed borehole. This idea is presented in paper SPE 201763. Change management remains a key issue within the process to ensure adequate control, early buy-in from stakeholders, and strong leadership.

In summary, impressive examples of ongoing innovation span domestic unconventional plays, remote/international locations, geologically complex thrustbelt fields, and deep water with managed-pressure drilling in narrow pore pressure/fracture gradient environments. The few selections that appear here are a reflection of many more published by SPE in the past year and are a powerful testament to the ingenuity and perseverance of those involved.

This Month's Technical Papers

Implementation of an Intelligent Drilling Automation System in the Middle East

Data Exchange and Collaboration Realize Automated Drilling Control Potential

MPD Well-Design Process Optimizes Design, Delivery of Deepwater Well

Recommended Additional Reading

IPTC 20267 Virtual Reality: New Concepts for Virtual Drilling Environment and Well Digital Twin by Paolo Ferrara, Eni, et al.

IADC/SPE 199556 Directional Drilling Automation: Human Factors and Automated Decision-Making by Bill Chmela, Helmerich and Payne Technologies, et al.

IADC/SPE 199574 Foothills Drilling Performance Improvement—A New Transversal Approach by Carlos Augusto Rojas-Mendizabal, Total, et al.