How autonomous technologies can transform the offshore industry

May 8, 2017
The oil and gas industry has learned yet again some painful lessons. Among the most important is that it must transform the way it operates if it is to remain sustainably profitable during growth cycles and resilient during downturns.

The oil and gas industry has learned yet again some painful lessons. Among the most important is that it must transform the way it operates if it is to remain sustainably profitable during growth cycles and resilient during downturns. The industry must become radically more efficient, productive, reliable, and safe. Nowhere is this more important than in the offshore market, where risks and costs are exponentially higher than in other operating environments.

Positive transformation requires breakthroughs in technologies that can think, act, and heal without added human intervention. In the mining industry, autonomous systems and processes enable significant efficiency improvements while protecting workers in operations where their lives might be put in danger. These systems can be managed in real time from data centers 1,000 mi (1,609 km) from the mining site.

In our industry, autonomy is gaining momentum to add significant value to processes, people, and production. A few of the key enablers and drivers for the transformation include the following.


Automated processes that use defined workflows instead of individual experience deliver more reliable, repeatable performance, while saving time and offering more consistent results.

Closed-loop drilling systems are currently capable of gathering incredible amounts of data during the well construction process that is used to automate steering. While these systems significantly reduce NPT and place wells more precisely than before, more can be done. Future automated drilling systems will use digitization, advanced data compression, decoding, and even wired-pipe telemetry to communicate more data in real time. Expanding tie-in to surface networks will allow us to build better wells and place them more efficiently. The result will be faster, more reliable drilling operations requiring fewer human interventions. Human input and interaction will move further upstream and to safer points to plan and execute the workflow.

Plug and abandonment (P&A) currently costs offshore operators billions of dollars. Uncertainties around the location of cement barriers and the integrity of wellbores constructed decades ago adds to cost and risk. But, we will soon have the capability to design P&A-ready wells with instrumentation that provides accurate information about the downhole environment. This added understanding will help operators control costs and risks more effectively.

Not every autonomous tool uses digital technology. Smart designs and materials enable adaptive drill bits to automatically adjust to the earth to mitigate vibrations, stick-slip, and impact loading. This means faster, more consistent rates of penetration, longer bit/tool life, significantly reduced NPT, and the ability to drill a section in one run.


Autonomation allows the industry to leverage expertise and let people focus where they add the most value. Engineers on location can provide insight and answers versus performing rote tasks. This is particularly important in our cyclical industry. We cannot hire and train people fast enough in growth markets, and by the time we return to previous efficiency levels, activity decreases and we are forced to downsize. Autonomation enables us to operate with fewer experts on location, which will become increasingly important as many of our current experts retire in the next 10 to 15 years. Workforces of the future will have skills that accustom them to using automation in various aspects of their lives. To attract choice talent, the industry needs to adopt automation in workflows and practices. Finally, reducing the number of people needed to perform high-risk jobs reduces HSE exposure and cost.


The ability of autonomous technologies to enable products and systems to think, act, and heal themselves has started to demonstrate significant improvements in production. Intelligent production systems already use data from smart monitoring systems to make adjustments. This same methodology can be used to identify and shut off nonproductive zones, boost and adjust pump rates, and identify, adjust, and deploy chemical treatments when needed - all without direct human interaction.

Today, downhole sensors are used to remotely monitor pressure and temperature for various purposes, including extending life in electrical submersible pumping (ESP) systems. The industry is already making huge gains in efficiency by monitoring data and using it to identify, predict, and correct potential problems before they become failures. In the future, autonomous systems will enable ESP operations to deliver radically improved production results without the need for monitoring personnel.

To be more profitable and resilient going forward, the industry must scale up efficiency, productivity, and defenses without scaling up the need for human capital on site. It will do this through a clear focus on autonomous technologies that enable tools and systems to think, act, and heal themselves. The more we can automate, predict, and prevent, the more successful we will become at reducing shutdowns, costly intervention operations, and potential harm to people, equipment, and the environment.

Tauseef Salma

Vice President, Enterprise Technology Baker Hughes

Mathias Schlecht

Chief Engineer

Baker Hughes