drilling has not progressed as far as previously thought. As an industry, we
silo parts of the autonomous system. This needs to change to a full-system
approach to progress further.
TALYA and ANIKET
As an industry, we have not yet
fulfilled the vision of autonomous drilling despite the industry focus for the past
several decades. One of the reasons is due to the automation of siloed, sub-systems.
A change in the industry is needed to shift to system-level autonomous
this article, we define autonomous drilling as the ability of a system—software
and hardware—to learn, adapt and evolve in response to a dynamic drilling
environment to consistently deliver wells at the highest drilling performance that
maximizes reservoir exposure. An effective autonomous system requires a
seamless end-to-end solution, not disparate parts, or sub-systems.
directional drilling, this means the system automatically takes in a well plan,
uses real-time sensors and a digital twin to realize the most recent state of
the well, autonomously determines what actions to implement, executes those actions—adjusting
drilling parameters or steering decisions in real time—and then repeats these
steps until total depth is reached. One reason the industry has not seen
widespread deployment and adoption is a lack of focus on the complete autonomous
In 2012, the SPE Applied Technology Workshop
in Vail, Colo., convened to draft a Drilling Systems Automation (DSA) vision.
The published vision states, “In 2025, well plans are uploaded into an
interoperable drilling system that automatically delivers a quality wellbore
into the best geological location, installs the casing and zonal isolation
according to plan, installs the completion system according to the program,
updates remote operators and experts in real time to changes in the situation,
and identifies potential paths for success for the experts to input control” (DSA
In 2022, at the joint symposium
organized by the SPE Drilling Systems Automation Technical Section and IADC Advanced
Rig Technology committee, the DSA vision and timeline were revisited (Jacobs, 2022). The industry has made significant strides toward achieving
this vision, as evident in the multiple successful demonstrations, pilots, and
commercialization of different automation sub-systems, but it has not achieved a
unified autonomous system yet.
proliferation of sub-system-focused solutions is one of the reasons the adoption
of autonomous solutions is lagging. When autonomous solutions are developed for
discrete drilling areas, instead of viewing what is required for the entire
system, gaps are created. This article addresses three key gaps in automation systems:
integration between the rig and the downhole sub-system, integration between
drilling and sub-surface (formation evaluation), and the interaction humans
have with the system.
AUTONOMOUS SYSTEM GAPS IN INTEGRATION AND INTERACTION
downhole sub-system integration. As an industry, we have focused on the development and
deployment of autonomous projects and solutions, based on our role and responsibility
during the drilling process. The rig owner or contractor owns the rig sub-system,
and their focus has been on creating automated workflows and processes around the
rig system. The service companies responsible for the downhole sub-systems
required to drill the well have focused on creating autonomous workflows and
processes related to their specific sub-systems.
Since it is realistically
impossible for humans to repeat the same actions consistently for a prolonged period
and repeatedly deliver the same flawless results, operators, service providers
and contractors are extending their research efforts to accelerate automated
applications across the lifecycle of the well.
From a traditional,
capital-intensive approach, focused on designing and building automated rigs,
rig contractors, such as Nabors, have recently started to retrofit previous
generation rigs (Nabors, 2022). This approach reduces capital investment and serves as a
potential opportunity to upgrade rigs without having to replace them entirely.
This approach opens up new opportunities, especially when workforce resources are
a challenge and drilling performance is a priority for operations.
comes to rig automation, repetitive drilling activities like tripping-in/tripping-out,
making pipe connections, pipe handling and others can benefit most from
automation and deliver optimized, consistent performance. Systems like Auto-driller
and TripMonitor maintain consistent performance by following a preset
configuration to meet drilling objectives, with minimum interference from the
driller. While drilling a well with a mud motor bottomhole assembly (BHA), a
driller can set up the auto-driller system to seamlessly adjust weight-on-bit and
differential pressure, without changing the auto-driller settings. It allows
further optimization to improve on-bottom performance, by automatically
regulating surface parameters like differential pressure, weight-on-bit and
companies have historically focused on automating the directional steering
process, such as steering to a pre-defined well plan, while avoiding drilling dysfunctions.
For example, a typical well plan includes kickoff from vertical, a curve
section and then a tangent or lateral section. Halliburton’s autonomous system automatically
ingests the well plan and autonomously performs kick-off, followed by drilling
the curve to the landing point. The landing point can be adjusted, based on the
current well position and the geologist’s requirements, and can change in real
time. The system automatically switches to geosteering on the well plan as soon
as drilling the lateral starts, and the geologic targets can be updated, modified
and transferred to the autonomous system. A few years back, these steps were done
manually by directional drillers and geosteering engineers.
Today, we don’t have standards or guidelines that allow for
seamless integration with the variety of rig control systems available in the
market. Depending on the rig system, multiple ways exist to get data from the
rig and send set points and commands to the rig controls. The Drilling and
Wells Interoperability Standards (D-WIS) industry group has been working
diligently to develop standard interfaces to enable a seamless exchange of data
between the different sub-systems (D-WIS
Industry Group, n.d.). Service providers, such as Halliburton, have
taken an approach to develop a rig-agnostic system to connect and communicate
to the rig system (Fig. 1) to allow for bi-directional data flow, as
well as send parameter set points to the rig (e.g., WOB or flow set points,
recipe parameters). It uses industry
standard communication protocols, such as OPC-UA, modbus, etc., and proprietary
protocols that are specific to certain rig control systems (Grøtte, Marck, Parak, Laing, & Kvammen, 2022).
a pilot program for autonomous directional drilling was rolled out in Norway,
to drill three-dimensional wells in an automated mode, where steering commands
were carried out autonomously (Heredia,
et al., 2021).The
rollout plan used remote operations to relocate personnel from the rig location
to remote drilling centers. Three rigs implemented the autonomous solution, and
the data were compared with the drilling performance of three-dimensional wells
drilled by the conventional method from the last two years.
This pilot project proved that autonomous drilling can drill
smoother wells, by reducing friction factors and tortuosity. This translates to
direct cost-savings per foot (or meter) and a reduction in the overall well
delivery time, while achieving remote execution and well performance monitoring.
Northern Kuwait provides another example of a successful autonomous
steering system deployment. The deployment resulted in a best-in-class
performance in that area (Farhi, et al., 2022).
Additional work is still required to make the integration to
the rig control system seamless. Data needs are being addressed, while the requirement
for an integrated or systems approach to provide critical information to the
driller is getting the attention needed to be addressed too.
Drilling and sub-surface (formation evaluation)
integration. The primary objective of drilling a well is to produce oil, so
the goal for the drilling industry should be to increase production by
maximizing reservoir exposure. However, for a long time, the goal was only to
drill as close as possible to the pre-defined well plan, in the fastest
possible time. The industry focused on maximizing on-bottom rate of penetration
(ROP), celebrating the breaking of basin ROP records and footage/day records. With
the introduction of formation evaluation tools and real-time interpretation of their
data, the drilling process started to shift toward making real-time changes to a
well plan, based on the data interpretation. This real-time data interpretation
capability, and the maturity of geometric-based steering automation, allows us
to autonomously incorporate real-time sub-surface insight, to drive changes in
the well trajectory and autonomously drill to the adjusted trajectory.
The manual process to modify a well path, based on
geosteering decisions, involves the geosteering engineer communicating a new target
to the directional driller. The driller then performs multiple calculations and
uses manual steering to reach the new target.
Recently, Halliburton demonstrated the industry’s first
fully automated workflow (Fig. 2) to incorporate geosteering-based
target changes into its LOGIX® autonomous drilling platform. The automated
process to modify the well plan takes seconds to complete. Automating communication of geosteering target changes eliminates communication hurdles between the
geologist, geosteering engineer and directional driller, and it eradicates the
need for manual projections. The result is accurate well placement, delivered
consistently. In addition, the autonomous steering system maintains the
drilling performance simultaneously through the whole process.
The next step in this process is to automate the geosteering
data interpretation and decision-making, to further reduce the overall cycle
time and drive consistency in the data interpretation.
Humans and autonomous system interaction. Even with autonomous
systems, people will
continue to participate in the drilling execution process. Autonomous systems
are designed by people; design verification and validation are required. The human
role initially shifted toward monitoring and intervention, with a management-by-exception
strategy. The autonomous system (hardware and software) will detect, analyze
and act in real time to deliver the well, while people monitor and intervene when
the autonomous system is unable to make a decision or fails to deliver.
An autonomous solution focused on an individual sub-system,
without consideration for how someone will interact with the overall system, will
result in an increased cognitive load on the individual user, who must manage
multiple automated sub-systems and determine the correct course of action, by
using the data provided by each. This becomes more complicated in a remote,
real-time operation setting, where an individual is responsible for monitoring
A focus on human factors—human performance, technology,
design and human-computer interaction—is now considered pivotal when designing
automated systems, developing training and planning deployment. The drilling
industry recognizes the need for this expertise, and it is discussed in section
11 of the DSA Roadmap Report (DSA Roadmap, 2019). Recently, SPE and the
Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) signed a letter of cooperation, to
drive engagement between the two organizations, in order to accelerate the
application of human factors in the oil and gas industry and, by extension, achieve
the oil and gas automation vision (JPT, 2022).
Halliburton has taken the systems approach, working with
customers to develop a human interface (Grøtte, Marck, Parak, Laing, & Kvammen, 2022) for the driller,
with a focus on presenting context-specific information and integrating different
views of the operation. The philosophy is to consider the system as an active
collaborator in the decision-making process, where the automation system not only
alerts the operator to take control but also provides options/solutions to help
make the decision.
Conclusion. The industry continues its pursuit
towards a complete, closed-loop autonomous drilling system, where sub-systems integrate
to form one end-to-end solution that can deliver wells seamlessly. On this quest,
Halliburton has embraced a system-level autonomous drilling approach to close
three gaps: rig and downhole integration, drilling and sub-surface integration
and humans and autonomous system integration. As additional companies
collaborate toward this system-level autonomous drilling, the industry should
see faster progress toward autonomous drilling. WO
Lead Photo: The industry needs to adopt a full-system approach, so that
autonomous drilling can progress further.
TALYA is the global product
manager for Drilling Automation and Digital Solutions at Halliburton. He has
over 25 years of technology and product leadership experience and has worked in
the energy, healthcare and aviation industries. Dr. Talya is a member of SPE
and is the chair for the SPE/DSATS Drillbotics Competition. He holds a B.Tech.
(BS) degree and a PhD in mechanical engineering.
ANIKET SANYAL is the global
product champion for Drilling Automation at Halliburton. He has 12 years
of experience, specializing in Directional Drilling (DD), Measurement and
Logging while drilling(M/LWD), technical sales, technology, and product
development. Mr. Sanyal holds B.Tech.(BS) degree in petroleum engineering from
Pandit Deendayal Energy University (PDEU).