Automation is a key component to reducing the carbon
footprint of operations and increasing drilling efficiency. Using A.I.-driven
power management systems optimizes power usage while minimizing fuel
consumption and carbon emissions.
JAMES HALL and
NELSON JONES, Canrig
Responsible drillers are always looking for
ways to reduce the carbon footprint of operations. Being competitive, however,
means not only producing each incremental barrel in a cleaner manner, but
producing it more efficiently as well. In the past few years, innovative
technologies have introduced many pathways to cut emissions and use less fuel,
and one of the most effective tools for achieving emissions reductions while
maximizing performance is automation.
That was then. This is now. A
decade ago, the oil and gas industry considered drilling to be art rather than
science, and it was an accepted fact that master drillers who practiced this
art made a difference to the bottom line. Applying the knowledge gained over
years spent honing their skills, veteran drillers could get good performance
from a rig, but they could only deliver superior drilling results on one
drilling program at a time. And while less skilled and less proficient drillers
could hope to develop an intimate understanding of a rig’s capabilities and use
that knowledge to improve drilling performance, there was no guarantee that
they would realize the elite level of master driller.
Over time, it is increasingly difficult to hire master drillers, who could deliver
consistently exceptional results at the time when the oil and gas sector was facing greater demands to improve its performance. Demographics have dramatically changed within the drilling section, with more than 50% of the workforce having less than two years’ experience. Relying on a handful of experts was clearly not a sustainable long-term plan. It became imperative that the industry produce a better solution. The answer lies in capitalizing on drilling data to execute faster and more efficient drilling programs.
Drilling contractors had been using sensors to track equipment performance on
rigs for decades. In many cases, the information gathered was used to better
manage equipment usage and schedule maintenance more cost-effectively by using
definitive asset integrity data. Some drilling contractors took things a step
further and began analyzing data from the engines and equipment after a section
was drilled to determine whether the driller was getting the best performance
from the rig.
Eventually, data was gathered and analyzed in
real time to provide drillers with input to improve drilling speeds, but there was no tool that collected performance data to solely improve how well
engines are managed. For drilling contractors to achieve efficiencies
across the board, there had to be a way to automate engine management and
track fuel consumption and emissions.
Industrial automation gains ground. Other
high-tech sectors have relied on robots and automation for decades. Not
surprisingly, the aerospace industry is one of the leaders. NASA deployed its
first autonomous robotics system, the Sojourner Rover, in 1997 to collect data
on Mars. Honda introduced a humanoid robot, ASIMO in the early 2000s that could
carry out basic daily tasks. The 2011 release of Apple’s Siri triggered a new
age of automation and A.I.-driven assistants. And in the automobile industry,
automation is now enabling the use of self-driving cars.
The incentive for these major advances in
automation is that it streamlines operations, delivering time, cost and
resource savings by basing activities on accurate data and drastically
minimizing the effects of human variability. The many examples of successful
applications to date demonstrate that automated processes can be applied to complex
Applying automation in the oil field.
There was a longstanding belief in the oil and gas industry that drilling is
different from other processes and could not be automated, but that belief has
changed. Over the past few years, automation has been adopted in many facets of
the industry. Process and drilling automation was introduced in waves, in
upstream oil and gas operations, with advances in automation increasing
downhole drilling efficiencies and reducing safety incidents and flat time on
the drill floor. With the introduction of these capabilities, companies can now
measure, monitor, control and report the drilling process.
The next step was to move beyond the drill
floor to automate power and engine management. Getting a handle on power and
engine utilization would not only allow drilling contractors to cut fuel costs
by better managing consumption, but also to reduce their carbon emissions.
Achieving this level of automation is particularly significant, because it
demonstrates the value of ongoing technology innovation that will lead in time
to additional robotics capabilities and enable even greater operational
In recent years, some drilling contractors
have begun to address power management, using manual methods, and have
developed and introduced processes to enable drillers to take generators
offline when they are not needed. Though these processes have helped to reduce
fuel consumption and emissions, they require continuous human intervention. For
manual processes to be effective, the driller has to continuously monitor
engine usage, recognize when power generation exceeds what is required, and
manually take an engine offline.
When executed correctly and appropriately,
manual power management can achieve the goal of reducing fuel use and cutting
emissions, but it adds another task to the driller’s workload. And irrespective
of the driller’s competence and expertise, it is difficult to stay on top of
power management, in addition to the many other functions that are being
executed throughout the drilling process.
Drilling A.I. evolves. Today,
several companies have developed automated
power management solutions that are based solely on engine conditions,
irrespective of what is occurring throughout the drilling process. These basic
systems analyze engine conditions and trigger the addition of another power
source when engine load increases pass a set threshold. When engine load drops
below a set threshold, excessive power sources are automatically turned off.
While this methodology offers improvements
over traditional drilling, it cannot deliver optimal power management
efficiencies. And although some of these solutions are system-agnostic and can
be installed to work with equipment from a range of manufacturers on most rigs,
a majority are designed to work only with the provider’s equipment.
These systems clearly have taken the first
critical steps toward full automation, but for power and engine management to
be truly automated, there must be a way to consistently capture efficiencies
across the board. That means being able to gather and process real-time data,
allow for predictive drilling execution, dynamically manage power usage, track
and calculate fuel consumption and efficiencies, and integrate seamlessly with
any drilling package on any rig.
The A.I.-driven SmartPOWER system is a
standalone solution that takes automation to the next level. The system takes a
proactive approach to drilling and power management by harnessing A.I. to make
power need predictions, such that the available power sources are aligned for
fuel-efficient consumption. It is agnostic by design, which makes it a viable
option for practically any rig. Figure 1 shows a Nabors Pace-X rig that
has the capabilities to be retrofitted with SmartPOWER system along with other third-party
Effectively improving efficiency. The
technology behind the system’s effectiveness is its ability to connect
processes being automated in isolation into an integrated system. The system
improves drilling performance by looking at a variety of real-time drilling
data and predicting what is going to happen in the near term. Using EDR data
coming from sensors throughout the rig, the system not only understands what
the rig is doing but what it has been doing for the past five to 10 minutes.
Knowing how the rig performed historically and
seeing how the rig is performing at present enables the system to consistently
infer what lies ahead. With knowledge of the upcoming operations, the system
determines the power needed to accomplish the tasks that will be conducted in
the next 10 minutes. Figure 2 shows how the system reads the power level
usage and optimizes it based on the task underway.
Because the system knows how much power will
be required for the upcoming task, it can automatically bring the optimum
number of generator sets online. The system prevents the use of unneeded energy
sources during lower power-demand processes, while also eliminating the
possibility of blackouts by precisely managing available power sources during
high power-demand operations. Optimizing power usage at the appropriate times
enables the reduction of fuel consumption and emission levels and maximizes
engine output for more cost-effective, streamlined power management.
Automation allows drilling contractors to be
less dependent on a master driller. By taking in performance data and analyzing
the parameters, the system delivers the same quality results, irrespective of
the experience level of the driller and shows how power is being used on the
HMI screen. Figure 3 shows how a driller can monitor power usage without
having to manually control the generator. Freed from the task of determining
the optimal number of engines needed to meet anticipated power demands, rig
personnel no longer need to focus on power management issues and can instead
focus on higher-value tasks, allowing them to be more productive.
This system can be implemented in two ways. As
described, it provides full autonomous control to start and stop engines.
Alternatively, it can be used as an advisory tool. As the latter, the system
applies A.I.-based decisions driven by real-time drilling data to continuously
advise the driller on the optimal number of engines to run per task. Through
HMI screen alerts, it provides drillers with recommendations on the correct
number of power sources to have online throughout the drilling cycle. Unlike
other systems that suggest actions to the driller, this automated system can
execute while also giving the driller options to intervene in the process.
A.I. in action. Deployments
on land rigs around the world illustrate the value that can be captured through
automation, with results from automated drilling programs providing proof that
the system consistently optimizes engine and power management across the
drilling process, delivers quantifiable reductions in fuel consumption, and
decreases engine operating hours to extend routine maintenance intervals.
In tripping operations, for example, the
system constantly analyzes EDR data to know the bit depth (how deep the drill
string is) and the total depth of the well. As tripping in operations continue,
the bit depth readings increase until the bit approaches total depth. At this
point, the system knows that the bit depth is approaching total depth and about
to tag bottom and anticipates mud pumps will come online, top drive rotation
and torque will increase, and the rig will begin a drilling operation. Using A.I.,
the system predicts the peak power requirements for the drilling operations
being carried out and if needed, brings an additional available power source online
to meet power demand.
Without A.I., it is virtually impossible to
know exactly how much power the rig will need; so the driller has to decide
what to do. The limitations of this approach are evident. Manual engine
management relies on tribal knowledge and crew experience to understand how the
rig is running, when an upcoming task will require more power, and what
adjustments should be made to ensure power output will meet demand. Because
this approach is imprecise, to be prepared for unforeseen power needs, it is
necessary to always have all available power sources online. That means that
often, engines are running when they are not needed for drilling operations. It
is easy to see how this methodology results in extraneous power sources being
online, producing unnecessary emissions and consuming excess fuel.
Employing the system on a drilling operation
that runs all forms of available power, at all times, delivers significant
savings of up to 15%. Even when the system is used on drilling operations where
manual power management practices are implemented, drillers can realize a 4-9%
reduction in fuel and emissions. On a recent drilling program in South Texas, a
rig using SmartPOWER control has seen a 6% reduction in fuel consumption. Figure
4 summarizes the typical efficiencies drillers can achieved using this
Refining automation capabilities. Automating
to optimize power management is proving its value and will be an enabler for
onshore drilling contractors that are moving toward integrating batteries,
dual-fuel engines and grid power for their AC rigs. To date, the system has
been used exclusively onshore, but theoretically, it has the potential for
offshore applications, which would significantly extend the economies and
emissions reduction currently being realized in land-based drilling programs.
Although automation has been applied
successfully in range of power usage scenarios and drilling environments, there
are more improvements to be made. Development work already is underway to
expand the system’s capabilities by adding an engine de-rating module to
account for altitude, coolant temperature, oil condition, and filter condition.
Forward-thinking engineers are continuing to improve and expand system
performance to provide solutions as the industry’s power management needs
JAMES HALL joined
Nabors in 2017 and is currently product line director of the Canrig Drilling
Technologies portfolio. In this role, he is responsible for tactical and
strategic leadership to drive the technical direction and management of
products to grow the traditional and ET product lines. Before moving into this
role, Mr. Hall held numerous technical and management positions within the engineering
segment of Canrig. Prior to joining Canrig, he was with a major OFS company,
with a progression of roles, across multiple international assignments, through
various functions, including engineering manager—leading the new product development
group for liner hanger systems. In this role, Mr. Hall led multi-disciplinary
engineering groups in the U.S. and UAE, delivering products to successfully
grow within new markets. He received a B.Eng. Hons. in mechanical engineering
from Brunel University in London. UK.
JONES joined Nabors in 2017 and is currently product line manager for
SmartPOWER. In this role, he engages in new product developments, with a focus
on identifying and implementing solutions to drive energy transition. Before
moving into this role, he held a variety of roles within the oil and gas
drilling industry to drive operational optimization, increase efficiencies in
procurement and supply chain processes and cost control improvements. Mr. Jones
received a bachelor’s degree in engineering at Mississippi State University.