Drilling automation

True Rig Automation Stymied by Lack of Interoperable Drilling Tools, but Industry Study Offers a Way Forward

The SPE Drilling and Wells Interoperability Standards group proposes a dual-path strategy to overcome the technical and commercial barriers facing the advancement of drilling automation.

Working, Drill, Shale, Drilling Rig, Natural Gas, Tools
Source: Sasacvetkovic33/Getty Images/iStockphoto.

A recent industry study argues that despite 2 decades of progress, the oil and gas industry’s drive toward drilling automation is staring at a bottleneck that threatens to stifle future innovation.

Authored by professionals from the Drilling and Wells Interoperability Standards (D-WIS) work group, IADC/SPE 217748 puts the spotlight on systems interoperability—or rather, the lack of it.

The paper brings together expertise from big players such as Noble Drilling, Hess Corp., and Baker Hughes, among others. The group was formed in 2020 under the SPE Drilling Systems Automation Technical Section (DSATS) and its recommendations reflect the input of more than five dozen entities, including most of the supermajors, the big four service companies, the world’s largest drilling contractors, and several smaller technology and research groups.

D-WIS points out that the automation tech we’ve seen hit the market so far has been limited to distinct components and segments of the well-construction process. Notable advancements include automation offerings for pipe handling, rotary steerable systems, and rate of penetration.

Such innovations have taken people out of harm’s way, lowered drilling costs, and helped make better wellbores. However, they are standalone, isolated applications that generally do not interact with each other unless they are owned by the same company.

According to the new D-WIS study, reaching the next level of drilling efficiency through a truly automated system requires data to be shared seamlessly between different rig technologies regardless of the manufacturer.

The workgroup’s authors assert that not only have the low-hanging fruits been largely picked when it comes to making major gains in well construction but that “the current siloed approach has begun to reach its limits and is consuming capital and resources.”

Reasons why interoperability on the rig doesn’t already exist range from concerns over the exposure of proprietary information to third parties, to a lack of incentives for equipment makers and service providers to oblige.

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