Within the hydraulic fracturing domain, automation has begun to play a substantial role in logistics, supply chain, and manufacturing. A review of automation opportunities generally focuses on cost reduction arising from throughput improvements for service delivery. Although cost reduction efforts are important and are delivered in many ways, the automation efforts discussed in this paper take a different approach. Automation now plays a larger role in how stimulation operations are performed from the subsurface perspective.
The automation processes reviewed in these studies focus on making more consistent decisions while breaking down the formation to promote an even distribution of fracture fluid placement for all stages. The metric for success is not necessarily focused on cost or time reduction; although these outcomes are occurring, the success metrics focus on the concept that more effective fracturing treatments can be consistently delivered by removing human inconsistency through automation during stimulation operations. This is accomplished is by automatically controlling the pump rate, based on the pressure response from the formation in real time.
This paper highlights a series of cases in North American shale basins that include wells that are instrumented with fiber optics and downhole pressure gauges, as well as non-instrumented wells with wellhead pressure and flowrate measurements only. It reviews how automation improves placement consistency in stimulation operations, eliminating some of the risks associated with traditional approaches that can lead to inconsistent outcomes. All of the results communicated are based on the capability to place fracturing fluid and proppant with more uniformity and consistency across the target interval while making real-time automated rate adjustments during pumping operations. The studies include work conducted in all major North American plays. The major findings include a discernable capacity to treat more clusters within a given stage, using automated rate controls, and achieving more even distribution of proppant to the target clusters within a given stage.