The race for the "ultimate" intelligent completion (IC) system continues, and technical papers continue to focus on the virtues of technical solutions.

The reliability issue in intelligent completions

The race for the "ultimate" intelligent completion (IC) system continues, and technical papers continue to focus on the virtues of technical solutions. Few field examples offer "learning curve" information to improve existing engineering designs. This limited implementation restricts service and tool providers' abilities to further develop products.

Instead, a few oil and gas operating companies have bitten the bullet, and taken the bold step of deploying an intelligent system of some kind or other. Mixed results have been the common outcome.

With little industry-wide direction for applications development, and technology to support those applications, many different solutions to this common industry problem are evolving. No true front-runner or leader in the IC market has been established. A lot of people are talking about what they can do, but only a very few are saying "look what we've done!"

The reliability issue continues to loom ominously over all aspects of technical solutions. Service and equipment providers are developing their own vision in terms of where the market needs to go, delaying wide implementation of IC technologies. This is resulting in fewer installations, reduced learned knowledge, and longer reliable product delivery.

  • Electrical or hydraulic control - Another hot topic of discussion in this technology market is control logistics. Some service providers are offering the complete package, consisting of control, subsea equipment, and downhole tools. Other providers are focusing on one aspect of the intelligent well system - downhole tools, control logistics, and others.

Controlling equipment in a multiple-provider system is sure to become a serious issue. The presence of numerous players involved in only one aspect of the intelligent well puzzle guarantees the chances of this occurring, and appears to be what is taking place. Heated discussions on communication between downhole tools, subsea equipment, surface monitoring, and control equipment are occurring today. These discussions are a result of the diverse solutions currently offered. Each one using a different philosophical approach to the technical problem.

One key decision that must be made at the beginning of development is whether systems operation is hydraulic, electrical, or a combination of both. The answer dictates where the main control system will be located - on the surface or on the seafloor.

If you are in the group of individuals that sees the industry going to a ultra-deep water, "riserless" operating environment, that decision has most likely already been made. Control will most likely be on the seafloor and electrical-based due to reliability concerns.

  • Efficient product development - In this editor's opinion, intelligent well technologies could have used a little industry-wide guidance early in the development of the concept and technologies to address those ideas. We missed an opportunity early in the concept and design phases of IC technologies to define as an industry, the major technical goals and challenges foreseen by operating companies. This would have better focused the design, develop, and manufacturing of products, and more quickly deliver viable technical solutions to the industry.
  • Learn from experience - A perfect example is the TAML classification for multi-lateral systems. This classification resulted from a consortium of operators who identified key areas of multi-well applications and established a guideline for the industry to work within and more efficiently deliver solutions. The classification rested on a sound foundation, was unofficially accepted by the industry, and essentially, shortened the learning curve in this new technology, decreased product development time, and lowered final product delivery cost. The winner was every participant in the multi-lateral business, and most importantly, the industry. Perceived competitive advantages were maintained, service providers knew what to design, and operators had more applicable products to use for their own well construction strategies.

It is not too late for the intelligent completions business sector. Although large capital investments in technology design and development have already been made, an overall industry philosophy of "what and where" would go a long way to defining the "how" part of the problem, and thus speed up development and delivery of reliable, cost effective systems.

Directional drilling market primed for growth

In recent months, Offshore has published a great deal of material on rotary steerable drilling technologies. The editorials focused on actual field case studies, instead of the "drawing board - this is what it can do" approach. Even with drilling activity at the lowest level in decades, service providers reported substantial increases in rotary steerable tool utilization rates.

During this period, Baker Hughes Inteq recorded its one-millionth foot drilled (Q4 1999). Operators drilled almost 400,000 ft of that amount in the last 6 months of 1999, implying significant increases in tool utilization. Schlumberger continues to break ERD records with the use of rotary steerable tools in the UK, South America, and off eastern Canada. Increased frequencies of successful well examples are nurturing heightened operator confidence in this technology.

  • Next technical challenge - Formation evaluation with this technology is the next "holy-grail" to be sought. New tool designs by Schlumberger and Sperry Sun Drilling Services are going into, or just coming out of, field tests and join Baker Hughes Inteq's rotary steering system in the logging-while-rotary-steering market.

Rotary steering technologies have the potential to be one of the most prolific tools for bringing about change in the way that wells are designed and drilled. An era of change not seen since the conventional mud motor was introduced in the late 1960s. Ironically, the simplicity of the conventional mud motor squelched any further development of the hottest conceptual drilling tool of that time - rotary steerable drilling tools. The conventional mud motor went on to dominate the directional drilling business for 30 years, and is still not giving ground easily to rotary steerable technologies.

Applications of rotary steering technologies so far have been dominated by long extended reach drilling sections, after angle-build work has been previously completed. The ease of building angle with a conventional mud motor and the reduced availability of larger rotary steering tool designs, has in most part been the reason. Another application, lateral extension and azimuthal control in horizontal wells have also seen a lot of rotary steering tool activity.

Expect new rotary steering tool designs to take advantage of more two-way communication capabilities with measurement while drilling (MWD) tools. The ability to more effectively monitor in real time the performance of the rotary steering tool will help directional drillers optimize tool performance, and ultimately, well construction goals. Decisions made from logging-while-drilling tool formation data, can then be applied to the rotary steering tool more quickly, and thus result in better finite control of the drilling assembly.

  • A new opportunity - Another interesting development recently is renewed oil and gas operator interest in minimal platforms. You ask the question: "What do minimal platforms have to do with rotary steerable tools and directional drilling?" The semi-sustained high price of oil seems to be generating interest in smaller capital projects in reservoirs with known reserves. Existing platforms and smaller jackup drilling rigs allow for cheaper well construction costs. With lower construction costs, initial capital investment, and project risk, the return on investment should be quicker and safer.

Minimal platforms mean the use of existing wellbores to re-enter, sidetrack, and/or drill any number of multi-lateral wells. These challenges call for new directional drilling tools and techniques for extended well construction capability, with the target of boosting the ultimate reservoir. Rotary steering and new multi-lateral technologies should offer very unique and effective alternatives to meet these challenges.

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