Good directional drilling practices have a huge impact not only on drilling costs, but on improved reserves recovery, as well as on production costs such as submersible pump failures and pump rod wear. These are all helped by improving wellbore quality, lowering tortuosity, and more accurate well placement with increased percentage of the wellbore in the target zone. The very high rates of penetration being achieved today in build and hold sections require the processing and action speed of automation to supplement the directional driller’s ability to achieve these goals. In addition, there are widespread industry drives to reduce personnel at the rig site, and to automate drilling systems.

A Levels of Automation Taxonomy (LOAT) was introduced by the Drilling Systems Automation (DSA) Roadmap initiative (SPE 178841). The DSA LOAT is based on incremental automation of the four cognitive functions of interaction, which are Information Acquisition, Information Analysis, Decision Making and Action Selection, and Action Implementation. Levels of human to systems interaction are described on a nine-point scale ranging from fully manual, through levels of system support for the human, through levels of automation overseen by the human, to full automation.

Directional Drilling Automation systems are being progressively accepted by the drilling industry. This paper describes those systems’ progress along the cognitive functions and levels of automation defined by the LOAT. It highlights the usefulness of the LOAT to help users understand their current levels, provide a path forward, and manage expectations of potential users. Successful automation is neither an all or nothing proposition, but rather a progression to increasing levels of each cognitive function that balance desired goals for automation against the risks and uncertainties requiring human consideration.

Best practices in wellbore placement are being adopted as automation is advanced; the value being demonstrated by automated directional drilling requires suppliers to implement and manage all necessary data flows on a consistent and reliable basis.

Appropriate automation systems can improve cross-functional communications, increase organizational efficiency, and enhance geosteering involvement for timely target revisions and improved reservoir exposure.

Automated Decision Making can improve consistency between individual directional drillers, wells, and of delivery of best practices developed by individual companies.

Higher levels of automation require the involvement of Rig Control System builders, and increased acceptance and implementation of the automated decisions.

Automation should not be seen as an end goal in itself, but a means to add value through appropriate application. In the case of automating directional drilling, value is being added through reduced HSE impact and overall cost efficiencies such as reduced dollars per foot and reduced dollars per barrel.

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