Real-time downhole images designed to improve drilling productivity

April 1, 2006
Next month, ConocoPhillips (COP) plans to introduce new visualization and simulation tools at its Onshore Drilling Center (ODC) outside Stavanger.

Next month, ConocoPhillips (COP) plans to introduce new visualization and simulation tools at its Onshore Drilling Center (ODC) outside Stavanger. The E-Drilling tools, developed by a consortium led by research institute Sintef, is expected to impact significantly the efficiency of drilling operations.

The visualization tool will provide a real-time virtual image of what is happening inside the wellbore-for the first time personnel will in effect be able to watch drilling operations, one of the oil and gas industry’s most fundamental activities, as they proceed. Meanwhile the simulation function will provide an early warning system of looming problems, and allow trial what-if scenarios.

No new data acquisition is involved-the tools will employ the same mass of data from COP’s drilling operations on Ekofisk that is already streamed ashore and displayed in real-time in digitized form on screens in the ODC and other support rooms.

Mike Herbert, the ODC advisor, has high hopes that the E-Drilling technology will lift the efficiency of drilling operations onto a new plane. “A visual image is a powerful bit of information,” he says. Visualization, which has already proved to be a powerful tool for subsurface planning, should prove equally useful to drilling, bearing in mind that humans respond more naturally to visual images than to figures or graphs.

The E-Drilling tools development team, which has been working on the technology for several years, proposed it to COP in 2004 following an Ekofisk Technology Day. The project kicked off in early 2005 and delivery is due to be completed by 2008.

Sintef, the main contract party with COP, is responsible for the simulation, supervision, and diagnosis systems; Hitec Products Drilling and Aker Kvaerner MH for the data flow and computer infrastructure integration; and First Interactive for the 3D visualization engine.

Visualization technology enables drilling personnel and support staff to �see� what is happening downhole in the form of virtual images.
Click here to enlarge image

Visualization of the drilling operation makes it easier for personnel to understand and respond to what is happening, though it will take time to acclimatize to these tools, says Rolv Rommetveit, Sintef’s project manager.

Like Herbert, he believes that the E-Drilling technology will bring a step-change in the efficiency of drilling. “We see this as the future of advanced drilling,” he says.

One anticipated benefit is speedier drilling operations. Another is the ability to identify looming problems and find ways of avoiding them. The basis for this is the supervisory function of the simulation tool, performing a real-time check of the drilling data to ensure that the values are within the expected limits. Deviation could indicate that a problem is about to arise.

There will also be a manual simulation capability involving interaction between the user and the model, Rommetveit says. This will make it possible to simulate the next stages of the drilling operation, evaluating what the effect will be if the value of one or other parameter is varied. This function will be especially valuable at critical junctures in a program, when there may be small margins between drilling successfully ahead and running into problems.

At a later stage the results of the simulation will be incorporated into the visualization. For example, colors will be used to represent crucial parameters, such as pore pressure and fracture pressure, so that the drilling personnel can see key data that is not otherwise visible in the image.

Integrated operations are designed to encourage more collective working among personnel, and the E-Drilling tools will contribute to this process, in Herbert’s view. But it is important to break down the traditional barriers whereby different functions work in a siloized way. A decision taken by one function is likely to have effects for the whole operation, which all parties involved need to be aware of.

Visualization has already proved its value when used to image the subsurface. For example, different data sets, such as seismic data, the reservoir model, and geological data - can be visualized simultaneously, so that the different disciplines can see what the various effects of an action are. Working together in this way helps each group to understand the constraints met by the others and improves the quality of decision-making.

Subsurface visualization has also proved a useful planning tool, shortcutting the lengthy iterative processes of traditional planning. A well can be planned in a few days instead of a week, and a sidetrack can be planned in a day rather than several days, says Herbert.

Integrated operations have to date largely relied on existing, off-the-shelf technology, Herbert says. E-Drilling is one of the first examples of technology specifically developed for use in the context of integrated operations. He expects this trend to continue, with tools designed for use offshore being redesigned for an onshore user. Bottlenecks such as the limited capacity for downhole data transmission will be tackled, and further automation of the drilling operation will be introduced.

Taken together, these changes will enhance integrated operations, leading to greater efficiency and additional reductions in non-productive time.