The term, "Intelligent Well," conjures up visions of a 21st century oilfield where wells are drilled into highly productive formations, and the recoverable reserves approach 100%. In this state-of-the-art concept, the drilling and production operations are managed from an office in a tropical paradise, the completion equipment is reconfigured so that it automatically meets the changing production needs, and all maintenance operations are performed without the need for an intervention. Is this grand and glorious prophesy of things to be science fiction? Perhaps - but this is how the industry wants to envision its future - and it is already taking the initial steps to turn these Jules Vernian dreams into reality.
This paper will discuss the challenges that the industry will face as it moves more deeply into the era of the multilateral well and on into the era of the "Intelligent Well." The predominant areas of question include some basic philosophical concepts that are raised in the well design, the concerns of application of the technology, the risk factors that must be carefully weighed against the economic benefit, and the integration of personnel and equipment interfaces.
Multilateral concepts, which allow several laterals to be connected to a parent wellbore so that all laterals can be accessed and production from each can be isolated or commingled, are now considered a viable and economic solution to many drilling programs. The benefits from these completions include greater productive capacity, lower drilling costs, topsides capital expense reduction, and because the directional drilling may provide more efficient drainage, upgraded recoverable reserves. Any one of these advantages might provide the justification for the expense and risk of a multilateral well; and together, they provide a significantly strong economic case for adopting this drilling and completion philosophy as part of a standard reservoir management program. When combined with the superior control of the production process that the intelligent well concept can provide, additional benefits are achieved. "Intelligent well" in the generic sense is a term that can be applied to a well that has a pressure and temperature transducer in place to monitor reservoir conditions along with a sophisticated multilateral well configuration that provides isolation of the laterals and has flow controls and sensors to control the production processes in real-time. Regardless of the actual completion hardware, a very important part of an intelligent well system is its capability to apply the knowledge gained from the ongoing analysis of the production data. Although initial completion costs may be greater, the value will be realized when the completion configuration controls production to provide a more efficient or effective production plateau.
Drilling horizontal wells became the vogue during the decade of the 80's. Directional drilling techniques improved at a geometric rate, and many case histories describe the economic benefits of these practices.