Graham Brander, director of worldwide drilling for Apache Corp, used to think that automation is something that should be left to rig contractors to worry about. That changed after attending the SPE Drilling Automation Workshop in Galveston, Texas, last year. “(I used to think that) if there was some equipment we could pick up that helps us make the well a little bit more efficient, great,” Mr Brander said. “But after attending the workshop, I suddenly recognized that there is an opportunity here that we as a small independent in North America need to take advantage of.”
Mr Brander was speaking during a panel presentation at a joint meeting of the IADC Advanced Rig Technology (ART) Committee and the SPE Drilling Systems Automation Technical Section on 28 February in Amsterdam.
According to Mr Brander, automation – tying surface equipment to downhole functions and making them talk together – has definitely holds value in the well construction process, particularly well planning. “I believe that automation can address not only the nonproductive time but the considerable invisible lost time that we have in the business,” he said. “We see that if automation can be successfully deployed, there will be a significant change in well planning.” Controlled processes could help to make operations become more consistent and predictable.
There are a large number of stakeholders interested in automation technology, but there are also a number of challenges. “Are there technology elements missing?” Mr Brander asked. “There certainly seems to be everything on the shelf that we need right now, but I think that one of the things that we need to be aware of is that we might be inventing some new technologies as we go along and we might be radically changing the way that the rig looks.”
Automation does have the potential to help address a number of industry challenges, including the competency level of the workforce and implementing a step change in EHS. “I think that automation can come to the table and bring improvements in EHS performance,” Mr Brander said. “We already have a shortage of people… I can see a rig operation staffed with 20 people right now being staffed with an automated crew of four or five.”
The use of automation can also help to enhance with the public image of our industry, according to Mr Brander. “The public is not aware of the good things that are done in our industry, and I want to change that. I want to be vocal about the good things,” Mr Brander said. Automation can offer a way to change negative public perception.
In order for automation to progress further in the industry, he believes that changes in organizational behavior are needed. “Organizational behavior is an element that has held things back to some degree,” Mr Brander said. Another key issue is how new equipment processes will be funded. “The industry needs to look at a business model that can be used to sustain cost leadership,” he said.
In providing recommendations for the adoption of automation in the drilling industry, Mr Brander suggested that learnings from other industries, such as mining and food, be incorporated and applied. Cost solutions and cost structure are other areas where our industry can learn from others. “There’s a huge bright future here that a lot of companies can take advantage of,” he said.