Digital oilfield

Shell’s Well Pad of the Future Is Open for Business

The international major is calling its latest multiwell project in the Permian Basin a “beacon of innovation.” The goal is to see if combining digital technologies will lower the operating costs of its shale assets.

Shell’s latest well pad on the East Slash Ranch in west Texas. Source: Shell

A defining feature of the oil and gas industry’s ongoing digital transformation is that it has never been done before. That means every company is allowed to have a different playbook on how to carry it out.

For its unconventional assets, Shell’s plan was to build a team to seek out and mold emerging innovations to match the rigorous needs of its production assets. Launched in 2017, this program is known as iShale and its first major test is underway in the Permian Basin where the international major operates nearly 500 oil wells.

In November, Shell brought online two pads with a total of eight wells at the East Slash Ranch in west Texas. Each are connected to multiphase gathering systems and a “mini-modular” processing facility. The multi-well project represents a “kitchen sink” approach to digital technologies and aims to find out if combining several of the latest innovations all at once will reduce over all development costs, cycle times, and carbon footprints.

So far, Shell reports that it delivered the wells and facility systems using 40% less in-field construction hours and with 20% reduction of its baseline costs. The expectation is that the project will also reduce typical greenhouse gas emissions by 60% compared with its traditional pads and gathering facilities.

Shell also highlighted that it is incorporating technologies used primarily in the deepwater sector “where space is limited, and efficiency is critical.” These include high- and low-pressure separation units which eliminate the need for storage tanks on location. Multiphase flow meters—rarely used in the onshore sector due to their historically high cost—have also been installed to replace pad level separation and metering.

To realize the project, Shell tapped legacy service firms such as TechnipFMC, Emerson, and Schlumberger along with smaller startups Rebellion Photonics and Flutura Decisions Sciences & Analytics.

There are no plans to immediately scale up the iShale project to Shell’s other unconventional assets in North America or Argentina. The operator said it needs time to acquire learnings and assess the limitations and advantages of the suite of technologies that have just been deployed.

What Shell Says Is New & Novel About The iShale Pilot

  • Wireless controls and process automation to reduce well pad construction and instrumentation costs
  • Digital reporting to optimize vendor communications and reduce inefficient reporting during development and construction operations
  • Multiphase meters on well pads to minimize work required for routine well tests, and reduce HSE exposure
  • Simplified well pad design to remove pad separators and enable separation at central processing facilities
  • Multifunction central processing facility to reduce site storage requirements at central processing facilities
  • Remote sensors and analytics to minimize production deferment and remotely detect incidents
  • Exception-based ways of working for efficient operator routes and surveillance
  • Mobile personal productivity tools for faster decision making and work efficiency
  • Failure analysis and advanced analytics to enable system-wide optimization and reduce cost