Retrofit Kit Makes Robotic Drilling a Reality for Existing Rigs

Nabors' RZR-equipped rig has successfully drilled multiple horizontal wells in the Permian Basin.

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Nabors' X29 drilling rig was retrofitted with the RZR rig floor automation.
Source: Nabors Industries

Land-based drilling rigs have evolved into a highly sophisticated assembly of steel and electronics. It was not that long ago that these once stationary giants obtained the ability to walk around the well pad, albeit slowly, from one well to the next.

Then came the arrival of Nabors' R801, billed as the first fully automated, robotic drilling rig, in 2021. This newbuild rig was put through its paces in the Permian Basin by ExxonMobil.

The two companies recently drilled nine wells with the R801 with zero recordable incidents and well times approaching Nabors' best west Texas fleet averages, according to Nabors.

Building on the success of the R801, the companies advanced to the next phase of their collaboration, validating the use of modular rig retrofits as a viable path to scale drilling rig automation.

This week Nabors launched its Canrig Red Zone Robotics (RZR) Rig Floor module which it said makes it possible to automate existing rigs at a fraction of the cost of a newbuild rig.

About 64% of 2021 lost-time injuries in the Lower 48 involved the catwalk, pipe rack, rig floor, or derrick, according to the International Association of Drilling Contractors. RZR automates activities in these areas, clearing crew members from the red zones.

The electric-powered RZR (pronounced razor) enables completely hands-free pipe-handling and eliminates the need for a crew member to be positioned on the floor and in the derrick. The system autonomously performs repetitive tasks on the rig floor, including making drilling connections and tripping in and out of hole. RZR enables offline stand building and handles casing in upper, intermediate, and production sizes.

All Nabors RZR features are enabled through the SmartROS proprietary operating system, which can be installed on existing rigs and control third-party rig manufacturer's equipment. As the system is modular, it may be deployed on most standard rig configurations to optimize drilling operations.

“R801 proved fully automated land drilling is possible. Now RZR has demonstrated those same levels of automation can be scaled across existing assets at a fraction of the cost of a newbuild,” said Anthony Petrello, chairman, president, and CEO of Nabors.

Nabors retrofitted an existing rig—the X29—with RZR and has successfully drilled multiple horizontal wells in the Permian for ExxonMobil.

“Retrofitted automation capabilities, like what the RZR Rig Floor offers, are an efficient way to support safer operations, increased drilling performance, and meaningful opportunities to upskill our workforce,” said Jesse Chando, Permian Basin drilling manager at ExxonMobil. “We look forward to continuing to collaborate with Nabors on advancing innovative drilling automation capabilities.”