SPE Applied Technical Workshop, held in Vail, Colorado, USA, July 16-18,2012

Executive Summary

Automation in drilling and completion operations is coming quickly, and itsrapid adoption will leave many industry players behind if they are not aware ofthe future it will bring. Advances in control and automation of the wholedrilling and completion processes will increase improvements in safety,performance, quality, reliability, consistency and interoperability. Thisprogressive application of automation will also create shifts in skills andcompetencies, and transform the role of the driller, rig crew, and servicespecialists along the way. Advances in automation are being made on multiplefronts today, and many lessons are available from its adoption in otherindustries and the transformation it afforded in the 1990s.

This workshop imparted important lessons learned from these other industriesas well as provide an update on the latest automation developments. Itrecognized the future applications within the oil and gas industry of suchtechnologies as robotics, machine learning, and autonomous task performancewithout continuous human guidance, along with the speed with which thesetechnologies can be applied.

The business case for automation was highlighted by drilling industrypractitioners. It is anticipated that systems integration will enableplug-and-play between downhole and surface tools and machinery. It isanticipated that operators will begin to specific automation in theircontracting documents. Automation will solve the current situation whereby thedriller is overloaded with inputs and tasks. Automation projects require amulti-skilled team that includes well engineering, process automation control /optimization and information technology.

There is a significant division around the need to implement standards forinteroperability. Essentially, standards were the key to enable islands ofautomation to interconnect when industrial automation significantly ramped upin terms of implementation. These standards are universal and areavailable for adoption by drilling systems automation. Advanced roboticspractitioners warn that standards can be a barrier to true innovation whileendorsing standards that promote collaborating systems. The level ofautomation must clearly match the need for rapid reaction closed loop controland not superimpose itself on strategic tasking. Graphical system designtools are available to assist in the development of autonomous controlsystems. Offline programming can significantly reduce the lead time todevelop and implement robotic systems.

The human factors impact on automation is multi-faceted. A lot of the issuesrelate to the human interaction with an automated system and how conditioninformation is relayed to the human in such a manner that an appropriateresponse follows. A significant amount of expertise is available to identifyand address the issues as an automated system is developed. Real timemonitoring systems are being developed that ensure human and automated actionsare effective and auditable. Furthermore, the selection of the level ofautomation and skilled operator interaction must be defined based on the worksystem being automated. Critically, the operator workspace must be designedergonomically to reduce stress from environmental effects and to displayeffectively the information required through content / layout enhancements.

The workshop participants collectively agreed that there will be a big jumpforward in automation of well construction in the next 5 to 10 year time frame.The primary application of autonomous systems will occur on multi well landlocations where the drilling machines will become purpose designed for stagesof the well construction operation. Interoperable systems will becomeplug-and-play; overall program management will be provided by remote controlcenters. The faster time line will be achieved through champions of automationobtaining funding for pilot projects. Automation contributes to improveddrilling efficiency, a safer work environment and increased access tohydrocarbon reserves.

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