Universal Drilling Language Aims To Improve Safety and Efficiency

This paper’s proposal is based on the need to communicate commands, requests, affirmations, and more with precision and accuracy. Creating an architecture for rig communications is essential for the next generation of engineers and operators to work more safely and more efficiently.

2 silhouettes of oil workers and a pump
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Communication is a universal and fundamental human skill required to live in harmony and work together toward any set of common goals. With the petroleum industry’s subprocess of drilling being team-oriented and high-risk, the necessity of its workers to communicate effectively is paramount. Moreover, the drilling industry has an unconditional obligation to keep its people safe while delivering performance and profits to its shareholders. Thus, the industry must improve communication training continually. Fortunately, training the drilling workforce to communicate more effectively is now more possible than ever, thanks to recent technological advances in computers and their constantly evolving applications.

As it pertains to using computing technology to advance the human condition, no advancement has built a better bridge than the advent of simulators. Early on, most simulated exercises were motivated by a hardware-in-the-loop methodology, which focuses on using physical equipment and its inputs to change the outcome of a simulated process. These hardware-in-the-loop simulations have been helpful for learning and training work processes in a safe environment. But now, with today’s simulators being so advanced and high-fidelity, can we reverse the role and use them to improve the human inside the simulation?

This paper, and its findings, suggest that human-in-the-loop simulation training is the petroleum industry’s newest tool for advancing its workforce. Unlike the hardware-centric simulation model, this paper’s methodology shifts the focus to the human inputs and reactions. Coming off the heels of big data and a pervasive digital transformation, this push for human-in-the-loop simulation training is positioned as a much-needed nexus between human-factors research and the incredible advancements in simulation and data science.

Unfortunately, modern innovation has become overly focused on technological improvements alone. With the line between humans and machines becoming more blurred, the industry must understand it has an obligation never to neglect its humans. This research is motivated by the need to innovate on the human side of the equation, and it begins with the fundamental human skill of communication. The Driller’s Roadmap language experiment described here uncovers many unintentional deficits from the preexisting language architecture. Furthermore, the experimental results also show how these deficits translate into red dollars by quantifying time lost because of ineffective communications. For example, just 10 minutes per day of cumulated lost time (from communication inefficiencies) on a $500,000/day drilling rig may add $3,472 to the rig expense. And this does not factor in the potential of time lost because of accidents. This paper proposes the standardization of a language architecture unique to drilling because a clearer-communicating industry is essential for another stepwise improvement.

Fortunately, language standardization is not new. Other industries, such as aviation and medicine, have benefited for decades from creating and streamlining their own application-specific language protocols. These high-risk industries have become safer and more reliable by consistently using language that leaves zero room for misinterpretation.

In a simplified example from aviation, when an experienced Australian captain says “approach completed, begin landing procedures,” a German copilot knows exactly what to do. The copilot deploys the landing gear and returns with a confirmation: “Landing gear deployed.” These two pilots might speak different native languages, be of different genders and ages, and routinely fly different planes, but, together, they safely and efficiently get their cargo and passengers to their destination.

Is this a reality for a drilling team and its intended target? What if the shale drillers of America were sent to work with a geothermal drilling team in Romania? Would they be able to navigate a dangerous and life-threatening event, or would communication gaps lead to a worse-than-necessary result? Would the management team in the office be able to communicate the presection requirements? Probably not … yet. It is this dangerous uncertainty that calls for a universal drilling language concept to help reduce nonproductive time and loss of life.

Download the complete paper from SPE’s Health, Safety, Environment, and Sustainability Technical Discipline page for free until 19 April.

Find paper SPE 210304 on OnePetro here.