I Abstract

This paper covers the recent developments of drilling systems automation and demonstrates that this technology application is at a tipping point; this is a point at which immense change is about to occur. The authors are key members of the SPE Drilling Systems Automation Technology Section; one organizes key industry workshops and panel sessions, the other implements autonomous drilling systems. Knowledge of the status and imminent growth of this revolutionary application of technology is vitally important to businesses within the upstream oil and gas industry.

Understanding the recent history, the drivers and barriers and the expected future applications of automation in drilling and completion operations is critical to extracting maximum value from oil and gas field developments. Automated drilling of shallow multi-lateral wells using downhole directional data as surface equipment input has been demonstrated. Improvements in re-entry operations using automation of downhole processes have also been proven. Significant increases in reliability of downhole drilling tools (a doubling of mean time between failure) have been accomplished by improvements in drilling control systems.

The paper provides a review of recent developments in drilling systems automation and describes how this technology is expected to evolve. This information is current, known to a small group within the industry and of huge value to everyone involved in reducing drilling and completion costs.

The subject matter will enable customers to take good decisions on selecting new technology, reduce drilling and completion costs by applying a technology that can consistently operate at best in class performance and offset the limitations in the number of experienced industry personnel available for hire.

II Introduction

Automation of drilling systems offers significant value through many arenas: consistency in performance, maximizing performance, reduction in operating costs, improved safety. Pursuit of drilling systems automation is growing rapidly with many applications being published but equally as many or more going unpublished as companies seek to gain the advantage in application. This "hidden" growth will result in a faster adoption rate than the industry perceives from public knowledge.

Drilling automation can be traced back to early applications in the 1970's / 80's. The earliest complete drilling rig automation application is the National Automated Drilling Machine (NADM) - a singles rig with hydraulic power under central control built and tested circa 1980. Although this early leader was not commercialized due to technical issues operating fragile sensors in a drilling environment, it was certainly a bold step in technology application. The significant application of variable frequency electric drives and the advancement in sensor technology provides the basis for rapid and successful application of automated control systems.

In the 1990's, significant work has been accomplished in the application of control systems to surface equipment particularly in handling pipe. Rotary steerable systems also demonstrated closed loop control. While these progressed, areas of significant opportunity involving automation of drilling processes are only recently being addressed.

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