Developing link between downhole systems, rig enables automation

Posted on 21 June 2012

By Joanne Liou, editorial coordinator

The integration of better surface sensors and data recorders into a closed-loop drilling process is key to reach higher levels of automation, Schlumberger’s Mike Mannering said at the IADC World Drilling 2012 Conference in Barcelona on 13 June.

Within the last decade, technology has significantly surpassed implementation, Mike Mannering, president – Rig Management Group, Schlumberger, said, making available new technologies that are not being readily received by the risk-averse industry. The availability of new technologies plus the need to drill a large number of wells at significantly lower costs in unconventional plays has lit the path toward drilling automation as technology links downhole systems to the rig, Mr Mannering said at the IADC World Drilling 2012 Conference & Exhibition in Barcelona, Spain, on 13 June.

To illustrate the added value of automation, Mr Mannering discussed Sheriden’s three tiers of automation. In Tier 1, data from sensors is processed to guide drillers’ actions. In Tier 2, or semi-autonomous drilling, decisions are made and approved by the driller. In Tier 3, or autonomous drilling, the driller monitors automation and intervenes when necessary. Throughout the process, “the driller must be fully aware of what tier he is in and specifically what the automation system is doing to be ready at any time to intervene if required,” Mr Mannering said. “The human involvement in automation of the well construction process is going to increase rather than decrease, even in autonomous drilling.”

For industry to push ahead to the higher levels of automation, one key element is the surface sensors and data recorders. The link between downhole systems and the rig enables data to be processed to support Tier 1, Tier 2 and, ultimately, Tier 3. “Drilling contractors are going to have to decide when and how to integrate the improved sensors and data aggregators that are a pre-requirement for automation,” he said. The driller’s screen or screens also must present the right data in the right manner to allow drillers to control, intervene or suspend automation. As automation develops, industry standards also must be established to “enable a ‘plug and play’ option between the drilling contracting world and that of the downhole.”

Mr Mannering envisions that a suite of elements, such as auto-ROP, will help integrate the rig, downhole tools and knowledge-based automation algorithms. Auto-ROP would optimize the drilling ROP performance, auto-drilling mechanics would monitor and minimize associated shocks and vibration, auto-steering would place the well where desired and auto-integrity would monitor wellbore health.

Given the two extremes of well construction – shallow, repetitive development wells and the ultra-deepwater HPHT exploration well – the benefits of automation vary. “For repetitive, development wells, automation will enable consistency at the right cost,” Mr Mannering explained. “For complex, exploration wells, automation will enable optimization and problem avoidance.”

The semi-autonomous Tier 2 can be considered a form of closed-loop drilling under supervisory control if there is access to algorithms, but the real value of automation will be realized when those algorithms are put to work on the longer closed loop of downhole to surface, Mr Mannering explained. “The emergence of (closed-loop drilling) in a managed pressure drilling environment will enable not only lower cost reservoir access but access to reservoirs, with wells being drilled that were un-drillable or non-economical.”

As automation continues to develop, the well construction environment will define the level of automation necessary. The cost of automated rigs, especially for deepwater rigs, will definitely increase, Mr Mannering said, but when you look at the benefits, such as increased ROP, the benefits will be even greater.

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