Directional drilling and surveying methods and capabilities have advanced considerably over the last four decades. Progress in this field represents some of the most innovative and notable technical achievements in recent years. However, these successes have introduced a level of complexity which may be hampering further progress. Some of the consequences are identified and examined and suggestions made as to how these might be managed.
The developments have resulted in greater accuracy and reliability of tools and systems with associated economic advantages. Step outs have grown four-fold, horizontal laterals are routine and closely spaced wells can be drilled with confidence. Using steerable systems, well inclinations have reached 164.7° and more recently a horseshoe shaped well has been reported. The earlier software tools and analytic methods did not envisage these situations, but their capabilities have evolved. In this specialist field, heavy reliance has been placed on the work and de-facto standards of the various sub-committees that comprise the SPE Well Positioning Technical Section (WPTS) involving both operators and service companies. The tradition of cooperation between these volunteers is strong and together they have produced a range of technical papers, error models, e-books and training courses. Formal regulation and recommended practices have not kept pace with these developments. Work on the proposed API RP 78 has progressed more slowly than the ambitious timeline envisioned at the outset. With the burgeoning introduction of new systems and methods, complexity has also grown. The accumulated material poses an increasing maintenance burden, increasing cycle times and slowing both technical and administrative developments. By their nature, models are approximations and a balance between simplicity and complexity is required to ensure their predictions are fit for purpose and control can be maintained over their development without stifling innovation. Many of the tasks associated with managing the WPTS knowledge base are administrative and do not require extensive technical expertise. Alleviating this burden from the volunteers would free up valuable time to address important technical advancements and refine the framework in which these are managed. The loss of expertise in this specialist subject is being accelerated by the recent down-turn and exacerbated by the COVID pandemic.
We conclude that there is a need to move the administration of the WPTS resources onto a more sustainable footing and that external funding will ensure that the knowledge base is consolidated and keeps pace with continuing developments. Funding alone is not a guarantee of success as the activities are still subject to the vagaries of volunteer commitment and careful management will be required. However, the WPTS has a sound 25-year track record of proven delivery and it remains the natural choice to spearhead these activities.