Drilling automation

ExxonMobil Testing the Next Step—Total Drilling Automation on Land

ExxonMobil has drilled a horizontal well with a rig billed by Nabors as the first fully automated land rig. The big question now is whether ExxonMobil will come back for more after this three-well test.

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The PACE-R801 concept rig in the Permian Basin earlier this year.
Source: Nabors Industries.

International rig contractor Nabors Industries has drilled the first of three wells in the Permian Basin for ExxonMobil, testing what it said is the “world’s first fully automated land rig.”

The specially upgraded rig was built to test where drilling is heading. Nabors likened it to the concept cars that automakers use to show off their vision of the future.

The PACE-R801 certainly looks the role with a team of automated machinery doing all the work on the drill floor.

Below-the-surface automated systems managed directional drilling along the nearly 20,000-ft path of the first of three horizontal wells planned on the pad.

For ExxonMobil, it is the latest step in a methodical testing program designed to measure how much value digitally controlled functions will add, which has led the company to follow the industry toward adding automated functions on its rigs.

For Nabors, this is a major milestone of a five-year project in the development of the rig. “The experience and insights gained from this concept rig will be used to forge the next generation of Nabors technology,” said Anthony Petrello, chairman and CEO of Nabors.

It is hard to know how ExxonMobil is grading this test to determine whether to go all-in on automation. The release from Nabors said only that the well was drilled successfully.

“This first well was drilled to a total measured depth of 19,917 ft. Consistent with the practices of drillers and operators on test pads, Nabors and ExxonMobil do not plan to publish performance data and results.”

A big win for Nabors and other selling drilling automation is getting a high-profile operator to try a next step.

ExxonMobil’s Operations Manager for Unconventional Drilling, Jason Gahr, said in the press release they are trying to maximize the “power of robotics, automation, computing, and data.” Payroll saving is not on the list.

“Crew size on the PACE-R801 is similar to other Nabors rigs, but the duties change,” the release said. The driller’s job description is little changed, though the controls have changed.

Others on the crew will handle rig moves, service, maintenance, and inspections of this sophisticated collection of computer-controlled electrical equipment. Notably, none of these drilling technicians will be expected to spend time on the drill floor where automated equipment is now doing the work.

Below is a brief drone video of the automated rig from Nabors: