Innovations Improve Drilling Accuracy and Efficiency Leading to Increased Well Output

By Luis Gamboa, Oil & Gas Business Development Manager, Rockwell Automation

In late November, Nabors Drilling, the largest land drilling rig contractor in the world, invited a few members of Rockwell Automation staff and the media down to Houston, Texas, to see the latest innovations they’ve made in drilling automation to improve drill time, accuracy and efficiency while enhancing worker safety.

Our tour included a look at the services Nabors provides to support rig operation remotely, new software solutions Nabors is engineering to automate drilling navigation, and a visit to a rig build site to tour a SmartRig™.

The Services

The first stop on our tour was the Rigline 24/7™ operations center: a glass-walled area where expert technicians remotely monitor the status of hundreds of drilling rigs in operation all over the globe.

The technicians can view KPIs like rate of penetration, directional path, weight on the drill bit, torques, fluid flow rates and various other parameters throughout all phases of the well construction process.

We visited the largest land drilling rig contractor in the world to see how they are using the latest technology.

They watch for alerts of rig issues, answer phone calls from rig operators who have questions, and intervene if a “red-status” is created. The Rockwell Automation FactoryTalk® suite of information solutions is used to capture all the rig data in real time, and contextualize and display it as useful information.

The level of expertise the staff can provide from afar is impressive – some of the rigs are even equipped with video cameras in key places to provide visual insight in addition to the data coming in from the controllers on the rig. This allows experts to operate the rig remotely from Houston, if needed.

The Software

Next, we stopped down in the software simulation area to learn about the software Nabors has developed to automate navigation, including directional drilling. Nabors sought to fix an industry issue that was causing extra expense and downtime during the drilling process: the need to bring an experienced directional driller on-site when it was time to execute a slide, and the variability associated with relying on human operation.

In the software simulation area, Nabors has a full drilling operator station set up so engineers can test the constraints of this new software, and also to allow for operator training on how to use it. We got a peek at the ways Allen-Bradley PACs and motor control centers are powering the drilling equipment and feeding data to the software to help automate control of the rig equipment and enable this more efficient and accurate drilling.

The Rig

Finally, it was time to drive 40 minutes over to Crosby, Texas, to see a Nabors SmartRig in person. The rig stood an impressive 90 feet tall, with the platform, operator cab, and e-house standing 45 feet in the air.

The rig we saw was a walking side-saddle design, with automated pipe racking capability: which means the pipe can be racked without any human intervention off on the side of the rig.

When drilling a multiwell pad, the entire rig can be walked in any direction to drill the next well without needing to disassemble or move the racking equipment out of the way.

We’re getting closer to seeing completely automated, remotely monitored drilling rigs – which opens up a ton of possibilities.

The modular rig design allows Nabors to rig down and move all the equipment to the next drilling site in as little as 36 hours. Nabors next iteration of the SmartRig, which they’re branding as the iRig, will have a robotic arm that completely automates movement of rig floor equipment and pipe through Rigtelligent™ controls, powered by Rockwell Automation.

It was interesting to see the innovative ways Nabors has leveraged the capabilities of MCCs, PACs and software to automate the well drilling process. The industry is taking giant leaps forward, and we’re getting closer to seeing completely automated, remotely monitored drilling rigs – which opens up a ton of additional possibilities to reduce drilling cost, improve drilling operations and safeguard workers.

For more information on the work Nabors is doing, visit their website. And to learn more about the ways Rockwell Automation technology is supporting greater efficiency and innovation in the oil and gas industry, visit the oil and gas section of their website.

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See How Panasonic’s Rugged Tech Is Making the Energy Industry Safer

Detecting methane gas leaks is serious business—for both worker safety and the energy industry’s bottom line. But manual emissions inspections are time-consuming and costly to execute. To deliver on the promise of a new highly efficient drone-based leak detection system, SeekOps needed a mobile solution that was reliable, versatile, rugged and easy to read in the field.

SeekOps turned to the Panasonic Toughpad FZ-G1 tablet for its streamlined size, extensive battery life, rugged dependability and easy screen readability in bright sunlight. The unparalleled durability and portability of the Toughpad FZ-G1 enables the SeekOps technology platform to bring fast, accurate and cost-effective detection of methane gas leaks to the industry.

“There’s really nothing on the market that could contend with these devices,” said Andrew Aubrey, CEO of SeekOps, “And we knew when we took it out into the field, that we had made the right mobile hardware choice.”

To see Panasonic and SeekOps together in action, watch the video below:

OGCI Invests in a Diverse Set of Technologies Designed to Reduce Emissions

The Oil and Gas Climate Initiative is advancing efforts to develop and commercialize technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions in some unexpected areas.

The voluntary organization of 10 major international oil and gas producers has finalized the first three investments of its billion-dollar investment fund, OGCI Climate Investments, to fund three low-emission technology projects.

The projects, the first in a host of planned investments, seek to make more efficient engines, reduce the environmental impacts of cement, and demonstrate the commercial viability of carbon capture and storage at a gas-fired power plant.

“OGCI Climate Investments’ goal is to deliver GHG reductions by investing in pre-commercial technologies and solutions that are both cost-effective and will scale globally,” explained OGCI Climate Investments Chief Executive Officer Pratima Rangarajan.

The group also has the unique ability to deploy the technologies in the operations of its member companies to amplify the scale an impact of its initial investments.

Promising technologies

The investments include US-based cement and concrete production company Solidia Technologies, which has patented a technology that facilitates the production of cement in a way that generates fewer emissions and uses CO2 rather than water to cure concrete.

OGCI says Solidia’s technology has the potential to lower the carbon footprint of concrete by up to 70% and water consumption by up to 80%. The project is also expected to demonstrate how carbon dioxide can be commercially re-used in an environmentally sound way.

In the OGCI report Catalyst for Change, the organization notes that the conversion of captured carbon dioxide into useable products can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in specific sectors. In fact, the report notes that OGCI is looking to “invest in a range of companies that have developed innovative and commercially viable carbon utilization technologies.”

Another recipient of OGCI funding is Achates Power, a company that is developing high-efficiency opposed-piston engines that have the potential to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions produced by vehicles.  Achates Power plans to use the funds to accelerate the deployment of its technology across the globe alongside a broad consortium of engine makers.

The third project aims to design the world’s first full-scale natural gas power plant with carbon capture and storage, including industrial CO2 sequestration capability. OGCI Climate Investments has acquired the concept for a project in the UK and plans to work with the project team on a commercially viable concept and basic engineering design that can receive government support and attract private sector investors.

The project would also “enable neighboring energy-intensive industries to leverage the carbon dioxide transport and storage network that would be developed. This way, they too would be able to eliminate a large share of carbon dioxide from their operations,” OGCI said it its report.

The project could also advance the UK’s plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 80% of baseline 1990 levels by 2050.

The driving force behind OGCI

Together, OGCI’s 10 member companies claim to account for more than one-fourth of global oil and gas production. Their efforts demonstrate a commitment by these top producers – which include several national oil companies – to lessen the environmental impact of fossil fuels and collaborate on actions to reduce emissions.

The roster of members includes BP, China National Petroleum Corp., Eni, Pemex, Repsol, Saudi Aramco, Shell, Statoil and Total. An eleventh member, Brazil’s Petrobras, is set to formally join the group soon.

By collaborating thorough OGCI, the producers aim to be a catalyst for across the oil and gas industry and beyond. Since they produce so much of the world’s energy, the report says that makes them “important players in ensuring the supply of reliable and affordable energy, and gives us the opportunity to advance the transition to a low-emissions future.”

IntelliRed Software: Catching fugitive emissions

 This article is reprinted with permission from ExxonMobil. 

The wicked-smart algorithm that can see and subtract

When operating large and complex gas-processing facilities, it is critical that energy professionals maintain a safe and environmentally responsible workplace by detecting and mitigating hydrocarbon leaks.  That’s why ExxonMobil developed IntelliRed, a sophisticated computer algorithm integrated with an infrared-based optical gas imager that provides a highly sensitive and accurate early warning of leaks.

So how does it work?

Traditionally, operators used handheld optical gas imagers to find leaks. But that method required them to be in the vicinity of the leak, which meant intermittent monitoring—it also had the potential of putting them at risk. The challenge, therefore, was to figure out how to automate the technology so it continuously monitored a facility for potential leaks, removing the operator from the vicinity and improving the efficiency of leak detection.

IntelliRed uses two infrared cameras that are slightly offset from each other: one tracks the background signature in a given field of view, and the other captures and processes both hydrocarbons and the background signature. The algorithm analyzes the images captured by the lenses and subtracts the background image, making it easier to zero in on a potential leak. This is a continuous process, so that when there is an actual hydrocarbon leak, it takes far less time to find and stop it.

That ensures safety of the operation and reduces the potential for leaks of methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas.

Click here for an illustration of how IntelliRed works

US Producers Reveal More Details on Their Methane Oversight Programs

Many top upstream and midstream companies in the US oil and gas sector are making meaningful methane disclosures to address increasing investor concerns about the gas, according to a report by the Environmental Defense Fund.

The EDF report, The Disclosure Divide: Revisiting Rising Risk and Methane Reporting in the U.S. Oil & Gas Industry, found that nine of the top 64 upstream and midstream companies release comprehensive reports on their methane leak detection and repair programs (LDAR), with many of the remaining companies carrying out some form of methane management program.

“Bright spots in the report include Southwestern Energy, which not only has a quantitative target, but is also committed to continuous improvement,” the report found. Noble Energy was also highlighted for releasing extensive details on its LDAR program in the Denver Julesburg Basin, the Appalachian Basin and onshore Texas.

“Noble’s methodology for inspections is conducted with infrared cameras. These efforts are reported as contributing factors to Noble Energy’s 1.62 billion cubic feet (bcf) reduction in methane emissions in 2016,” the report said.

Top performers also included shale-focused US producers Consol Energy, EOG Resources, Hess, Noble Energy, and WPX Energy as well as diversified international players ConocoPhillps and ExxonMobil and North American pipeline giant TransCanada.

To receive the highest distinction, each of the companies had to disclose three key details about its LDAR program, namely: The scope of the program, the frequency of inspections, and the methodology used for methane detection.

EDF noted that LDAR is evolving rapidly with emerging technologies like continuous mon­itors being piloted by Shell and Statoil, drone-based monitors, and predictive analytics.

Methane, a key component of natural gas, is a greenhouse gas 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide that is linked to climate change, according to EDF.

Activist Shareholders Push for Disclosures

The increased disclosures come as the Trump administration is rolling back aggressive methane-reduction regulations written by the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department, measures that were criticized by the oil and gas industry for the complexity and high cost of compliance.

Regardless, the focus on methane emissions is unlikely to abate as a growing number of investors are pressuring oil and gas companies to increase their environmental disclosures. The EDF report found that five of the seven companies that began offering more details on their LDAR practices in 2017 were targets of methane-shareholder resolutions during the past two years.

EDF bloggers Kate Gaumond and Sean Wright note that 390 investors representing more than $22 trillion in assets have signed a letter supporting the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures, an organization that advocates for a unified set of recommendations for corporate climate disclosure.

Among those calling for these measures is CalSTRS, California’s second largest public pension fund. “As a long-term global investor, we recognize that methane emissions are one of the most financially significant environmental risks we face,” Brian Rice, portfolio manager at CalSTRS said in a press release.

The push appears to be working. Cimarex Energy started providing more information about its methane management practices after it received methane shareholder resolutions in 2016 and 2017. ExxonMobil has likewise been the target of similar shareholder action and last year unveiled a comprehensive methane emissions reduction program focused on its shale-focused subsidiary XTO Energy (SO Jan. 28’18).

Industry is Leading its Own Efforts

The oil and gas industry has created its own group to address environmental concerns. In December, a host of players joined with the American Petroleum Institute to create a partnership designed to reduce the environmental impact operations across the US (SO Dec.24’17).

The voluntary effort, called the Environmental Partnership, is comprised of 26 producers who have pledged to initially focus on reducing emissions of methane and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from their operations.

The move is as a step in the right direction, though many environmental advocates would still like to see more.

“EDF looks forward to working with leading companies and other stakeholders to support methane regulations that build from and improve upon federal and state regulatory models and ensure that we are tapping all cost-effective solutions to comprehensively address oil and gas methane emissions,” EDF business director Ben Ratner said in a press release.

Good Vibrations: How Upending Convention Led to a Game-Changing Drilling Innovation

This article is reprinted with permission from ExxonMobil. 

In 2009, ExxonMobil engineers drilling into deep offshore oil deposits in the Gulf of Mexico unexpectedly encountered a particularly hard and abrasive rock formation. Instead of taking the drill bit half a day to drill through this formation, it ultimately took four runs, or trips in and out of the hole, and three weeks.

Yet just four years later, engineers were able to drill through the same formation in only one run and about a day.

The difference? An innovative approach to drilling that turned conventional industry wisdom on its head and is now reducing time, money and the environmental impact of oil and gas exploration and development.

For nearly a century, drilling engineers grappled with the challenges associated with vibrations along the drill string, which connects the drill bit to the rig at the surface. As the drill bit penetrates rock, the incredible force exerted on the system can cause the drill string to vibrate violently, which sometimes causes the tool to stop drilling, losing precious time.

The traditional approach to researching this problem was to focus on extreme scenarios. Scientists believed that by analyzing the large shocks and intense vibrations associated with extreme events, they would be able to figure out how to minimize damage. However, a team of ExxonMobil engineers and scientists broke new ground by upending that convention, convinced that the solution would come from preventing large vibrations from ever getting started in the first place. Instead of focusing on large vibration events, they developed drilling processes to mitigate vibrations when they are still small and manageable.

ExxonMobil engineers now tune the bottom part of the drill string, known as the bottom hole assembly, using proprietary modeling technology. Jeffrey Bailey, drilling mechanics advisor with ExxonMobil Development Company, compares the upgrade to making music.

ExxonMobil researchers Vishwas Paul Gupta, Jeffrey Bailey, Erika A.O. Biediger and M. Deniz Ertas at the Edison Award ceremony in 2015.

ExxonMobil researchers Vishwas Paul Gupta, Jeffrey Bailey, Erika A.O. Biediger and M. Deniz Ertas at the Edison Award ceremony in 2015. Photo via ExxonMobil.

“We now approach bottom hole assembly design in an analogous way to playing a stringed instrument,” he said.

“We now approach bottom hole assembly design in an analogous way to playing a stringed instrument,” he said. “If we need to modify the design to run at a higher rotational speed, then we shorten the length of the pipe between contact points, just as a musician moves his or her finger closer to the bridge to play a higher note.”

The research team also figured out how to identify and measure vibrations happening at the drill bit, using only measurements recorded by the rig equipment at the surface. This method is applicable to every well that we drill, is less expensive than measurements recorded at the bit, provides real-time data, and enables further optimization methods. The patent describing this methodology was recognized with an Edison Patent Award in 2015 by the Research & Development Council of New Jersey.

Bailey and his colleague Deniz Ertas aren’t new to drilling vibrations. They first developed the models that helped inform their winning approach to vibration mitigation two decades ago. Today that patient research is steadily proving its effectiveness in places like Qatar, Abu Dhabi and the Gulf of Mexico. The technology is also helping drillers reach incredible depths. In 2015, ExxonMobil and its partners drilled a 13,500 meter extended-reach well at the Chayvo field, which lies in Pacific Ocean waters off the eastern coastline of Russia’s Sakhalin Island.

“It took several years to build up to the point where we have the amount of confidence in the method that we do today,” said Bailey. “It’s just been a matter of conviction that the technology works and then persistence and seeing it to completion.”

 

RPSEA Outlines Oil & Gas Research Needs for the Next Decade

The nonprofit research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEAhas unveiled a comprehensive 10-year plan for advancing research into sustainable oil and gas technology that aims to help cement the status of the U.S. as a leading global producer well into the future.

The wish list of research needs addresses a diverse roster of topics that ranges widely from studies on streamlining the development of offshore reservoirs to improving well recovery in shale plays and advancing environmentally sensitive practices.

“No one knows what the energy industry will look like in the next 10 years, but we do know in order to maintain our leadership position, the United States must compete on a global basis, (and) take full advantage of rapidly evolving technology and address the variety of challenges we will face,” RPSEA President Tom Williams said in a press release.

The Research & Development Plan (R&D Plan) is being released at a critical point in the history of the U.S. oil industry.

Fueled by the shale revolution and development of complex deepwater reservoirs, U.S. oil production surged to a 37-year high of 10 million barrels per day in November and output is expected to continue climbing to a fresh all-time record this year, according to the federal Environmental Information Administration.

U.S. oil production hit a 37-year high of 10 million b/d in November 2017. Source: EIA

With output pushing higher and an oil-friendly administration in the White House, the need to focus on sustainable, environmentally conscious development practices is more apparent than ever.

The R&D Plan draws heavily on input from industry stakeholders and RPSEA’s network of subject matter experts, including universities, national laboratories, as well as large and small energy producers and consumers. It also builds on the foundation of RPSEA’s successful program in the past decade working with the industry, academia, and the Department of Energy National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL).

Onshore Research Needs

Included in the research needs outlined in the R&D Plan are calls for studies into the most effective strategies and technologies for developing unconventional reservoirs, such as the Marcellus Shale in Appalachia, the Bakken Shale in North Dakota and the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas.

The report notes that the average U.S. shale well currently recovers less than 10% for oil production and 15% for gas production, making the enhancement of reservoir recovery an issue of great interest for all stakeholders. It suggests research into better reservoir characterization to improve the well design and wellbore placement to boost recovery.

As shale development increases, the R&D Plan also recommends examining of issues surrounding flowlines, pipelines, and stray gas especially in areas where population growth has occurred on top of old and sometimes abandoned flowlines that were not mapped or identified.

This need was highlighted last year by an incident in Firestone, Colorado. A home in relatively new Front Range neighborhood was destroyed in an explosion linked to an old flowline that was thought to be out of service. The accident led to two deaths and prompted state regulators to call for the inspection of wells and flowlines across the state.

“The domestic unconventional gas resource has dramatically altered the energy picture in the U.S.,” the report said. “As attention turns toward shale gas resources around the world, the technologies developed through this program and applied to the environmentally responsible development of domestic resources will keep U.S. companies and universities in the forefront of global unconventional resource development.”

The R&D Plan also included a call for documenting the impact of shale gas production on regional air and water quality, with proposed projects on environmental baseline monitoring, fugitive methane emissions and fracturing flow back water characterization.

Water management was highlighted as a universal issue, with the cost of recycling being an important factor. Though the report noted that advances are somewhat restricted by regulations, liability, risks, transportation, sourcing, and disposal. It also highlighted a need for research and better technologies to monitor and manage water disposal related to induced seismicity.

Offshore Research Needs

Offshore production research needs were also a subject of significance in the R&D plan. In recent years, several big deepwater developments have come online that pushed the technological boundaries of the industry to new limits and helped to propel production from the federal Gulf of Mexico to a record 1.7 million b/d in November, EIA data show.

Deepwater reservoirs are particularly challenging and costly to develop. They require years of advance planning and pose unique operating challenges and risks.  The R&D plan recommends further research into a variety of issues associated with this output to find ways to streamline the process of bringing new wells online while minimizing environmental impacts.

“The goal of Offshore Program is to develop environmentally sensitive, cost-effective technologies to identify and develop resources in increasingly challenging conditions and ensure that the understanding of the risks associated with deepwater operations keeps pace with the technologies that industry has developed,” the R&D Plan said.

Becoming a Safety Leader

The research model RPSEA has developed includes actively engaging stakeholders across the entire community of energy producers, researchers, technology providers, regulators and environmental groups.

And while the R&D Program was primarily developed to promote the safe delivery of energy resources to U.S. citizens, any discoveries could also be extended to oil and gas production in other countries across the world.

“While the U.S. is currently a leader in terms of the development of oil and gas (in particular, the onshore unconventional shale resources), other nations are beginning to see these resources as an important component of a plan to move toward a lower-carbon, sustainable energy mix,” Williams said.

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