"Just watch the hookload weight indicator" is a statement made countless numbers of times by toolpushers, instructing drillers on how to focus on what's really going on during the drilling process. Just the thought of a driller diverting attention from the console probably makes toolpushers and company men squirm in their seats.
The hookload indicator was, and still is, the most important measurement drillers have at their disposal for monitoring the drilling process. This measurement, in conjunction with mud pump pressure, rotary surface torque, mud pit levels, and flowline gas measurements, is enough to keep any driller alert and on their toes. Add to these, measurements supplied from other new technologies like real-time directional, measurement while drilling, and logging while drilling tools, and you've set the stage for "sensory overload" of any normal human being. Time for new and improved electronics technology to help out.
As electronics and computer technology have advanced, the driller's world has started to change. Traditional instrument consoles are now being replaced with more automated measurement systems, push button controls, and joy-sticks. A driller's chair or stool, once the proud rendering of a creative rig welder's construction skills, is now an ergonomically designed center of operations control. Video and interactive computer screens now assist drillers in directing crews, where the Gaitronics rig phone and speaker system filled this need in the past.
PC technology is staking its claim in this new, streamlined control process, and has caused a revolution in the way high-volume, oilfield data management is performed.
New data solutions for reservoir modeling and seismic interpretation are constantly being developed. Software improvements and modifications are providing efficient solutions for the drilling and exploration industry. An example of this new focus area is the use of virtual, visual immersion techniques, primarily used for seismic data analysis and reservoir development planning. The transition from this broad reservoir-type viewpoint to a smaller individual well viewpoint has been relatively easy. A simple change of perspective was all that was needed.
Looking from the reservoir - up to the platform - gives well planners a powerful tool for maximizing reservoir potential and optimizing platform placement and utilization. Some software packages available today can estimate total cost of project, updating immediately for movement of the planned well program across a super-imposed grid of the respective reservoir. Parameters such as depth and extensiveness of reservoir targets in relation to the planned well program are used in the cost algorithm. This technique has already been used to save operators millions of dollars before rig/platform placement was even decided.
These new PC applications are very complex and require lots of processor power. Software platforms allowing for more efficient data management and transfer via networks are the ones best suited for these type of applications.
Windows versus Unix in industry IT race
The recent Breakthrough '99 and Windows in Energy presentations in Houston introduced a number of new Windows-based software solutions for the oil and gas industry. Both "front" and "back" office solutions were discussed. "Front" office is business management, assets, and client relation functions. "Back" office is day-to-day operating functions.
Bill Gates, Microsoft CEO, gave a 1-hour speech emphasizing recent breakthroughs in technology and their relation to the achievement of business goals. The one dominant point throughout was "how you gather, manage, and use information will determine whether you win or lose."
According to the presentation, information technology (IT) architecture in today's corporate business world has to integrate more efficiently with a respective company's operational processes. Successful integration will yield a greater competitive stance with competitors. This integration should have versatility for broad process changes and structural flexibility in to allow quick changes.
Software platforms used most of the time in oil and gas industry include Microsoft and Sun Systems products. Windows NT and Unix are the predominant softwares of choice.
"Windows NT is currently the number two or three hottest topic of discussion in the oil and gas industry," explained John Pohlman, President of Pohlman International, during his Breakthrough '99 presentation. Some service companies have already made the transition to NT and others are following suit. The move to more networked, real-time functionality is driving this transition.
"Ninety-eight percent of oil and gas industry companies use it currently, in some form or other," Pohlman continued. These companies do not use Microsoft or Sun Systems exclusively, but a healthy mix of both systems has been the norm to present.
"The oil and gas industry spends $6 billion on IT related issues annually." Pohlman cited. The shear amount of this estimate puts things in perspective. When looked at on a company-by-company basis, numbers may not be alarming and considered as just a cost of doing business, but when illustrated in a total for the industry, it emphasizes the point that IT related issues are quickly becoming a critical topic to be considered in project management.
Pohlman said estimates showed that 60% of all reservoir, seismic, and other data intensive applications use Unix systems. "Sun Systems currently ships an estimated 750,000 Unix units each year; Microsoft ships approximately 30 million Windows NT units each year." Future growth of the IT function in the oil and gas industry will put demands on availability of system hardware.
"Further, estimates show that conversion of Unix to NT would cost $3 billion dollars over next three years, and that 70% of all oil and gas industry software will be NT in same time period."
A strong argument can be made that high tech company growth curves are steeper today than in the past. This has been made possible by the fast-evolving computer industry. The oil and gas industry will have a choice available in the coming years. Advancements in both NT and Unix systems are making both platforms more applicable over the spectrum of business IT needs.
Fast technology growth pressuring education
Industries with fast technology growth usually have one thing in common - a shortage of trained personnel. Industries are not ignoring the education of their employees, but sometimes growth outpaces industry's ability to train and develop employees. Companies scramble to rotate their employees through training courses while covering ongoing work.
Specialized technical and engineering training needs cannot be addressed within some company's training structures. Situations like this require companies to consider outsourcing some of their respective training needs to experienced trainers and educators.
TH Hill and Prentice Training Company recently announced the formation of a new company, Prentice & Hill, LLC. This new company, aims to better address the rapid changing energy industry's training needs. The firm will provide instructional classes, software, and books in areas such as well planning, advanced casing design, advanced well control, drilling practices, abnormal pressure detection, drilling optimization, stuck pipe prevention, and drill string failure prevention. Future additions include the continued development of software, books, and new training courses. The two principles - Tom H. Hill and Charles M. Prentice - say they represent over 70 years of drilling engineering experience.
Educating people is a profession some of us were most likely not cut out to do, but some people spend their lives teaching and instructing others, receiving real satisfaction from this profession. Prentice was quoted as saying, "I've always found it gratifying to train others in drilling - it's a fascinating, challenging industry."
For those who know Charlie Prentice, and the fortunate individuals who have had the opportunity to learn from him, have seen firsthand his dedication and no-nonsense approach to teaching. This philosophy combined with the drilling engineering technology and experience from T H Hill gives the oil and gas industry a valuable alternative for industry training needs.