What key technologies are advancing oil and gas drilling?

What key technologies are advancing oil and gas drilling?

By Jorge Hurtado

Oil and gas (O&G) remains a booming industry that manages $1.7 trillion USD per year and needs to supply over 94 million barrels of crude per day globally. It is predicted that such demand for fossil fuels will likely increase by about 25% in the next 22 years. Thus, in an era when automation and digital process control and IoT are considered common innovation processes,” O&G companies have begun adopting technologies that can help them gain access to small isolated offshore reservoirs and as well as areas characterized by extreme environments.

The 2016 Upstream Oil and Gas Digital Trends Survey identified eight crucial areas that the O&G industry should adapt to start reaping those benefits throughout their extractive landscapes. From these areas, robotics and drones, artificial intelligence, and wearable technologies were identified as the fastest growing.

Digital Trends Survey identified - PreScouter

Why automation and digital transformation in the O&G industry is important:

At this moment, more than 80% of O&G companies are currently experiencing a digital transformation that could potentially unlock $1.6 trillion USD by improving reliability, optimizing operations, and at the same time creating new value. In addition, the adoption of “common innovation processes” can help the O&G industry gain environmental credibility because robotics and drones, artificial intelligence, and wearable technologies present palpable options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, saving water, and avoiding oil spills, for instance. Finally, the current operating technology also translates into more efficient and less risky operations, and overall has the ability to provide a wealth of process data to optimize the O&G extraction processes.

Key benefits of automation and digital transformation in O&G:

A number of emerging technologies can facilitate production, help comply with health, safety and environment issues, and are cost-effective for the O&G industry.

Robotic drilling systems (RDSs) offer robotic technology for a fully unmanned drill floor for both land and offshore operations.  RDSs are capable of handling pipes and tools and replacing casing crews and tongs, and they can handle machines with spinning operations.  In addition, state-of-the-art drilling technology also offers self-movable automated drill rigs that can be moved around an oil field from one well location to the next.

In-pipe inspection robots (IPIRs) are capable of detecting cracks, corrosion, and major defects in pipes that can lead to pipe failures and halt production.  These robots are equipped with nondestructive testing sensors that are inserted within the pipeline network. At this stage, IPIRs operate autonomously. They have the ability to transmit data and control signals; for instance, IPIRs are equipped with wireless sensor networks (WSNs) that not only monitor pipeline integrity, but are also capable of detecting sand build-up, pipe damage, vandalism or theft, and fluid leakage. WSNs are designed to communicate throughout the relay node, sending information to a single base station.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) represent another alternative for the inspection of O&G facilities. Drones are now fairly commonly used to inspect tanks, pipelines, and refineries. Drones are often operated from a ground control station and require robust flight control techniques, inertial navigation, data fusion, and tracking control. These traits make drones effective for the exploration of O&G reservoirs located in extreme environments unsuitable for human exploration. Drones can be equipped with a thermal camera, lighting, and optical camera operators to perform faster and safer inspections.

Besides the use of smart sensors and machine interconnection, the latest advances in 4D seismic data acquisition and computing power are helping O&G companies capture more accurate subsurface geology for identifying deposits of fossil fuels.

Oil and gas companies that are already looking into the future:

Following the operation of the first unmanned, fully automatic, and remote operating platform — the Norwegian Oseberg H, located on the Norwegian Continental Shelf — Maersk Oil has set a new unmanned platform as well — the Tyra Southeast-B, located in the Danish North Sea. Tyra is expected to add 50 million barrels of oil equivalent (MMBOE) of reserves over the next three decades.

Companies such as Statoil, Enegi Oil (Nu-oil), the Wood Group, and the China Offshore Oil Engineering Company are focusing on operations to tap more small reservoirs. Small reservoirs are defined here as less than 20 MMBOE of recoverable reserves. Enegi Oil reported that there are 88 fields in the North Sea that contain less than 15 MMBOE that can be exploited by utilizing buoy technology, for example. Others are starting to pay attention to the area north of the Arctic Circle thatmay contain around 30% of the world’s undiscovered gas and 13% of the world’s unexplored oil reserves.

Statoil and Husky Energy in Canada are exploring drilling of oil and gas resources localized in deep-water, far-offshore oil 500 km off Canada’s east coast, in the Flemish Pass Basin, in which ocean and subsea technology, remote sensing, and autonomous underwater vehicles are being used.

In sum, automation and digitalization may help the O&G industry accrue some benefits in terms of safety,  environmental performance, public health, productivity, operations, efficiency, reliability, and investment. O&G companies should evolve to remain competitive, as the ways in which energy is produced, consumed, and distributed has changed dramatically. We are facing a time in which users have more decision power that is based on real-time information.

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