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Major Innovations in Oil & Drilling Technologies

Oil and Gas | May, 2023

The world's demand for energy and the transition towards hydrocarbon harvesting is accelerating at a rapid pace. This is a result of a convergence of technological advancements, environmental concerns, and development priorities. As the electrification and living standards grow, the demand for fossil fuels is expected to peak through 2050, despite the growing importance of renewable energies. In 2021, 52% of the world's energy requirements were met by oil and gas. According to IEA predictions, oil and gas will still provide 47% of global energy needs in 2050. However, the share of renewable energy in the world's supply will rise from 12% in 2021 to 29% in 2050. Oil demand, which was 94.5 million barrels per day in 2021, is expected to increase to 102 million barrels per day in 2030 and remain at 102 million barrels per day in 2050, according to the IEA. However, the oil & gas sector is one of the biggest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions, which threatens the future of the industry. Hence, the ever-increasing quest to identify, secure, access, and operate oil continuously and the unprecedented geological, climatic, technical, and operational challenges have necessitated the development of revolutionary oil drilling methods.

Drilling activities have made significant technological progress in recent years in order to produce safe, ecologically friendly, and economically viable wells with improved performance. Early developments in drilling technology that aimed to improve drilling efficiency were founded on three fundamental principles: safety, minimum hole size, and usable hole. The current drilling goal is to quickly reach deeper objectives while minimizing costs and continuously improving operating efficiency without sacrificing environmental, health, or safety standards. These elements have made drilling operations susceptible to reliable methods and cutting-edge technologies for a precise understanding of potential hydrocarbons to be drilled. Technique, material, equipment, autonomous processes, and sophisticated technology advancements have all contributed to the advancement of economically recoverable subsurface resources and the reduction of environmental effect both above and below ground. Modern drilling technologies includes both surface tools and downhole tools that put far less impact on the surface and subsurface environments.

Fully Automated Drilling Technology for Offshore Oil Industry

The trend towards automation has increased the possibilities of downhole tool technologies, increased drill bit performance and lowering vibrations during drilling. This development is driven by the use of 3D visualization tools. A variety of cutting-edge technologies are helping to speed up production, assist with environmental compliance, and reduce costs for the oil and gas sector.

  • Robotic Drilling Systems (RDSs)

For both onshore and offshore operations, robotic drilling systems (RDSs) provide robotic technology for a completely unattended drill floor.  RDSs may manage machines with rotating operations, handle pipes and tools, and take the place of casing workers and tongs.  Modern drilling technology also provides self-movable automated drill rigs that may be moved from one well location to another inside an oil field.

In-pipe inspection robots (IPIRs) are able to spot corrosion, fractures, and other serious flaws in pipes that might cause failure and stop output.  Nondestructive testing sensors are installed inside the pipeline network by these robots, which are equipped with them. IPIRs now function on their own. They can communicate data and control signals; for instance, IPIRs are fitted with wireless sensor networks (WSNs) that can detect fluid leaks, sand accumulation, pipe damage, vandalism, and theft in addition to monitoring pipeline integrity. WSNs are made to interact over the relay node and transmit information to a single base station.

The Steer-At-Bit Enteq Rotary Tool (SABRE) is one of the new evolutionary alternatives to the conventional rotary steerable system (RSS). It steers away from the drill bit face using internally directed pressure differentials, providing genuine "at-bit" geo-steering. Based on the positive results of the early testing, the instrument provides a strong, dependable, straightforward, and affordable alternative to the present RSS choices for directional drilling, minimizing downtime and maximizing reliability and drilling speeds. The tool utilizes a novel concept of internally directed pressure to steer at drill bit and removes the need for traditional pistons and pads, which are vulnerable to rapid wear and reliability issues.

Haliburton unveiled their iCruise product, an intelligent push-bit RSS that enhances steerability and drilling performance for precise well placement. Through speedier drilling, dependable performance, and predictable results, this instrument is automation-enabled for precision steering and correct well placement, assisting operators in shortening well times.

Motive Drilling Technologies created a leading directional drilling bit guidance system that automates decision-making at the rig to help with decision-making during drilling operations. As part of the system's benefits, drilling time can be cut without sacrificing wellbore quality, which boosts productivity. Using the most recent downhole computer technology and an enhanced data-driven automated decision-making algorithm, the bit guidance system was created. There are many variations of this intelligent RSS available, such as the Baker Hughes i-Trak drilling automation and others with high-speed processors and advanced electronics for tool prognosis and diagnosis that assist directional drillers in making effective drilling decisions and managing vibration in real time. 

NOV created the SelectShift downhole adjustable motor, which permits greater surface RPM, improved hole condition and cleaning, minimizing spiraling/tortuosity, and enhancing ROP, to achieve the borehole total depth (TD) with little drag and less tortuosity at the well's end. The Schlumberger OptiDrill real-time drilling intelligence tool is another cutting-edge BHA optimization technology. It can gather a variety of surface and downhole data, uses sophisticated algorithms, and provides event detection and customized reporting. This method was created to help users decrease risk, prevent early tool failure, and increase downhole drilling efficiency.

Automated well control solutions were created by Safe Influx to lower well control risks. This system's ability to help the driller has been successfully proved, significantly lowering our exposure to hazards from human factors. The system is capable of detecting the presence of a fluid influx condition in a wellbore and then automatically launching an initial well control protocol that leads to safely shut in. Compared to traditional methods, this cutting-edge technology can reduce the magnitude of an influx. This suggests a decrease in operational challenges, expenditures, and delays when returning to drilling.

According to TechSci Research report on “Global Drilling Tools Market By Type (Drill Bits, Drilling Tubulars, Drilling Motors, Drill Reamers and Stabilizers, Drill Collars, Drill Jars, Drill Swivels, Mechanical Thrusters), By Application (Onshore and Offshore), By Company and By Geography, Forecast & Opportunities, 2027”, the global drilling tools market is projected to grow at a formidable rate during the forecast period. The market growth can be attributed to the rising technological advancements and increase in shale gas exploration activities.

  • Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Unmanned aerial vehicles are proving to be a vital asset to oil & gas companies. They are making inspection, surveillance, and leak detection faster, cheaper, and safer. Hence, firms are capitalizing on the new opportunities provided by drones. Here are some of the important applications of drones in the oil & gas sector.

Aerial Inspection

Traditionally, surveyors had to climb tall ladders, walk along catwalks, operate large cranes, and reach great heights with harnesses for manual inspection of oil wells and offshore rigs, which put them in close contact with harmful chemicals and dangerous equipment. Hence, unmanned aerial vehicles provide a safer solution for inspection as drones can fly to great heights and through toxic chemicals with ease, which eliminates the risk of putting any personnel at risk. Besides, drones can also quickly inspect hard-to-reach areas, check on flames, flares, and smokestacks. Since drones are equipped with advanced cameras, they are able to zoom up on areas to snap images and record videos, produce crystal clear images with unmatched detail as well as perform multiple tests in one flight. Some drones are also equipped with infrared cameras and omnidirectional obstacle avoidance sensors to prevent crashes.

Leak Detection

Around 2.3% of the nation's total gas production is lost to methane leaks from the oil and natural gas supplies in the US. That amounts to 13 million metric tons of methane wasted each year. Gas leaks are obviously extremely inefficient for the supply chain. However, they also seriously endanger the local populations and habitats. Prior to the invention of drones, the oil and gas industry attempted to find leaks by installing permanent detectors at high-risk locations in facilities and along pipelines or by having inspectors sporadically examine regions with portable detectors. These conventional leak detection techniques, however, can be expensive and ineffective.

O&G companies are equipping drones with laser-based sensors to detect and identify any compromised material. This way, drones can lower potential of clean-up costs by as much as 90%. Drones can even stop structural collapse and take care of possible problems before they endanger personnel and infrastructure. For instance, wells also pump generated water, sometimes known as saltwater, along with oil. It is an oil extraction byproduct that needs to be separated from the oil and properly disposed of, although it frequently leaks. To proactively find saltwater leaks and stop major damage, use drones.

Accurate Data Collection

Gathering data with close proximity to oil drilling equipment and infrastructure, drones enabled with sensors facilitate better data collection. These unmanned aerial vehicles are able to recognize trends undetectable to humans as they produce better visuals. Uploading data to the cloud quicker with mapping software, drones can process topographical and geographical data to create models of the potential oil & gas drill sites. Besides, drones can calibrate repeat missions, which eliminates the manual process of configuring flight routes every time you fly a drone and thus perform regular, automatic spot checks, and collect routine data.

Emergency Response

During the event of natural or man-made disaster, it is important to have a strategy in place to prevent any major accidents. Drones can help executives to respond efficiently and quickly to such occurrences. Besides, the speedy deployment of drones eliminates the time that pilot of the manned aircrafts might take. Some drones have been used to assist during fire tanks and can withstand extreme temperatures. They are able to zoom in on the location of tank holes and broadcast information to emergency personnel. Firefighter hose crews may then direct their foam spray precisely where it is needed. Additionally, drones may check on the foam blanket's integrity, letting you know how much new foam to apply as the old foam degrades.

Disasters caused by oil spills can also be lessened. The worst oil leak in history, for instance, was caused by BP's Deep Water Horizon marine platform. A total of 210 million gallons of oil were leaked into the Gulf of Mexico and the vicinity. By flying the perimeter and providing first responders with pictures, live video streams, and GPS coordinates, pilots would be able to find and assess a spill's effects quickly. Additionally, a lot of drones feature long-lasting batteries that enable them to hover for hours. By making before-and-after maps, drones may also evaluate how effective containment measures are succeeding.

The most recent developments in 4D seismic data collecting and computational capacity are assisting O&G firms in capturing more accurate subsurface geology for finding fossil fuel resources, in addition to the usage of smart sensors and machine connectivity.

A number of businesses, including Statoil, Enegi Oil (Nu-oil), The Wood Group, and China Offshore Oil Engineering Company, are concentrating on operations to access additional minor reservoirs. Small reservoirs are those with recoverable reserves of less than 20 MMBOE. Enegi Oil indicated that buoy technology, for instance, may be used to explore 88 fields in the North Sea that have less than 15 MMBOE. Others are beginning to pay attention to the region that "may contain about 30% of the world's undiscovered gas and 13% of the world's unexplored oil reserves" north of the Arctic Circle.

Using ocean and subsea technologies, remote sensing, and autonomous underwater vehicles, Statoil and Husky Energy in Canada are investigating drilling of oil and gas deposits located in deep-water, far-offshore oil 500 km off Canada's east coast. In conclusion, automation and digitalization may provide the oil and gas sector with advantages in terms of operations, productivity, environmental performance, public health, and investment. O&G firms to alter to be competitive given how drastically the processes in which energy is generated, used, and delivered have transformed.

Growing Role of AI and Machine Learning in the Oil & Gas Sector

Like other sectors, Oil & Gas is also exploring the potential of artificial intelligence for boosting the productivity, enhancing security, maintenance, uptime, and enabling sustainable operations. Thanks to AI, big oil and gas companies can now access all of their sites' data from a single place, making it possible for them to remotely operate and monitor all of their plants. They may use this information to make better decisions and run their business more effectively. Additionally, it is essential to digitize and assess data records before using them because incomplete information may be a big problem for the sector. AI is revolutionizing how this complicated business runs, and its effects on the oil and gas sector are obvious. Here are some ways AI/ML technologies are shaping up the oil and gas space.

  • Surface Analysis

For O&G exploration executives, AI is proven to be, quite literally, a goldmine. AI robotics can detect oil seeps and reserves deep inside the earth or the oceans, analyzing data from semantic waves. Thus, the AI tools and technologies can help discover the presence of oil and gas with minimal efforts and rapidly. For instance, ExxonMobil wants to deploy the deep-sea AI robot to improve its ability to locate seeps naturally. The ability of ExxonMobil's AI-powered robots to find these oil leaks will eventually lessen the danger of exploration and the ensuing harm to marine life. The advanced technologies will help the company to recognize and respond to issues without manual intervention. 

In September 2020, the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology (WIHG) discovered a new AI-based method that aids in analyzing seismic wave data (either naturally occurring or induced by explosive material) to determine the geological features beneath the surface, aiding in the faster and more effective discovery of hydrocarbons, such as oil and natural gas. In other words, subsurface geophysical data are being investigated and precisely mapped using AI platforms. This procedure provides the reservoir's precise value in the end and improves drilling efficiency. 

Another oil producer, EOG Resources is using AI technology to improve its drilling results, which collects extensive data from its wells and use it to optimize drilling future wells with proprietary AI-driven algorithms. 

  • Discover New Oil & Gas Exploration Opportunities

As per the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), the US domestic crude oil production is projected to surpass 11 million barrels per day by 2050. This indicates the need for discovering and identifying new places to overcome the evolving demands. Shell, one of the biggest oil & gas companies is tapping into AI to enhance their oil& gas explorations. The company is planning to use an AI-based technology from big data analytics firm SparkCognition for its deep-sea exploration activities to increase the offshore oil output. The AI algorithms will help the company to process and analyse seismic data in the hunt for new oil reservoirs, generating subsurface images and sending sound waves to explore new subsurface areas. The AI tool will help to reduce the operational efficiency and speed while increasing production and success in exploration, reducing the exploration time from nine months to less than nine days. 

According to TechSci Research report on “Rotary Drilling Rig Market – Global Industry Size, Share, Trends, Opportunity, and Forecast, 2018-2028F, Segmented By Location of Deployment (Onshore, Offshore), By Application (Oil & Gas, Mining, Others), By Region”, the global rotary drilling rig market is anticipated to grow at a significant rate during the forecast period. The market growth can be attributed to the rising viability of deepwater and ultra-deepwater projects and exacerbating global demand for oil and gas. 

  • Reduce Production & Maintenance Costs

Varying temperatures and certain environmental factors can result into material deterioration and corrosion. Corrosion can weaken the pipeline by causing component distortion, which leads to fading threading. Failure to addressing this issue might cause catastrophic harm that could halt all manufacturing. Generally, businesses use corrosion engineers to manage and monitor component health for preventing corrosive activities. By analysing several factors with the use of knowledge graphs and predictive intelligence, AI and IoT technologies may identify corrosion symptoms and notify pipeline operators to potential problems. By tackling corrosion risks pro-actively in this way, businesses may also analyse knowledge graphs to analyse various machinery downtimes and forecast the best time to do maintenance tasks. Companies may then prepare for downtime and adjust. 

  • Better Decision Making with Analytics

Oil and gas companies deal with a lot of data generated by industrial processes, but they are unable to take use of the vast amounts of data stashed away in data silos owing to a lack of appropriate analytics tools. Companies can hire data engineers to manually analyse data to derive insights, but this is a time- and money-constrained alternative in addition to being impossible for data engineers to access all the data generated in a single operational day. 

Applications that use AI and big data to extract insight and meaning from a wealth of operational data. To extract predictions from massive data sets, artificial intelligence may segment the information and look for trends or discrepancies. To provide intelligent recommendations based on business demands, AI algorithms analyse multiple data streams from various sensors and machinery of various plants or full Geoscience data. Geoscientists may better understand the whole processes and operations thanks to these in-depth insights, which improves their ability to make strategic judgements. This increases operational effectiveness, lowers costs, and even lowers the danger of failure. 

  • Optimize Logistics

In the oil and gas industry, the supply chain is a complicated system that includes decision nodes including crude acquisition, purchase price, transportation to the refinery, refining activities, gantry operations, and retail sale of finished goods. AI assists in the upstream industry's operations team's coordination with the warehouse to assure the availability of vital components. 

AI may assist with effective planning and execution, selecting the best route, and other tasks in the midstream industry. In the downstream industry, however, it aids refiners in planning appropriate blending, predicting demand, projecting pricing, and improving customer relations. In short, AI helps oil and gas companies with proper planning and scheduling, enabling optimisation of the crude basket, building a smart warehouse, maintaining inventories, managing shipping operations, handling risk hedging, and improving delivery times and lowering overall costs. 

AI is a valuable technology that is essential to the success of the oil and gas industry. Sensor-rich oil domains are already profiting from the plausible opportunities to use the data analytics of big-data engines. As a result, mobile gadgets that have become a part of our daily lives are connected to oil field workers. These will have an impact on the oilfield networking revolution, and AI will be a key enabler.

According to TechSci Research report on “Logging While Drilling (LWD) Market –Global Industry Size, Share, Trends, Opportunity, and Forecast, 2018-2028, Segmented By Application (Onshore, Offshore {Shallow Water, Deepwater, Ultra-Deepwater}), By Region”, the global logging while drilling market is expected to register significant growth in the coming years. The growth can be attributed to the rising drilling and completion activities on a global scale and global rise in industrialization and urbanization.

4D Seismic Technology Takes Over the Oil & Gas Sector

The use of 4D seismic or timelapse technology has become prevalent for geophysical reservoir monitoring techniques. The novel technology is used to improve reservoir drainage, oil well location, reduce reservoir development uncertainty, and make production choices. It also offers a better analysis of the spatial movement and distribution of fluids and tracks changes in reservoir pressure over time. For reservoir management applications, the timelapse technique is being frequently used across a number of Norwegian and British North Sea fields, including Schiehallion, Foinaven, Draugen, Troll, Oseberg, Norne, Statfjord, Forties, Heidrun, and Gannet. Some of the prominent end users of the 4D Seismic technology include ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Chevron and Total, StatoilHydro, Shell, British Petroleum, Petrobras, among others. The leading end user on the international market is StatoilHydro, which uses 4D Seismic technology in around 75% of the fields that the company manages. Many oil and gas businesses occasionally use service providers to utilize the 4D technology.

The use of 4D seismic technology is anticipated to increase along with the expansion of exploration operations in unconventional reservoirs. Additionally, a lot of production possibilities are projected to be developed because to its capability for dynamic reservoir monitoring in unconventional reservoirs. Moreover, the use of timelapse technology permits the assessment of sweep efficiency in the reservoir compartments in addition to allowing geophysicists and reservoir engineers to analyze changes in the reservoir over time. The world's first permanent ultra-HD in-well seismic data acquisition technology for subsea wells, Carina® Subsea 4D, enables operators to conduct seismic acquisitions more often at a significantly reduced cost, allowing them to maximize ultimate recovery and speed up production.

Here are some applications and examples of 4D seismic technology in the oil and gas sector:

  • Reservoir Monitoring

Monitoring of reservoir dynamics, such as fluid motions, pressure variations, and production patterns, is made possible using 4D seismic technology. By locating bypassed or underdeveloped areas, it aids in optimizing production techniques and reservoir management.

  • Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR)

By offering real-time data on fluid displacement and reservoir reaction to injection processes, 4D seismic can help with EOR operations. It assists in determining the efficacy of EOR procedures like chemical, gas, or water flooding.

  • Subsurface Imaging

Accurate subsurface pictures of the reservoir may be produced using 4D seismic by comparing several seismic surveys carried out over time. It aids in reservoir characterization and modelling by providing details regarding changes in reservoir structure, faults, fractures, and fluid saturation.

  • Well Positioning and Optimization

By detecting unswept regions and bypassed zones, 4D seismic data can help with well location decisions. It aids in finding productive zones, improving well trajectory, and avoiding geological impediments.

  • Monitoring Water Flood

4D seismic surveys can be regularly carried out in an established oil field that is experiencing water flooding to track the path of injected water and its interactions with hydrocarbons. Fluid fronts may be plotted, and the success of water flooding can be evaluated by analyzing changes in seismic characteristics.

  • Field Development Planning

The use of 4D seismic technology in early stages of field development planning helps in estimating recoverable reserves, optimizing field layouts, and designing injection/production strategies. It provides valuable information for reservoir simulation and development decision-making.

  • Steam-Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD)

SAGD is a thermal recovery process in which bitumen flow and steam chamber development are monitored using 4D seismic. To maximize oil recovery, it aids in optimizing well location and steam injection patterns.

  • CO2 Sequestration

During carbon capture and storage operations, 4D seismic technology is used to monitor the injection and movement of CO2. It aids in determining probable leakage channels and assessing the condition of storage reservoirs.

According to TechSci Research report on “Seismic Services Market - Global Industry Size, Share, Trends, Opportunity and Forecast, 2017-2027 Segmented By Service (Data Acquisition, Data Processing and Interpretation), By Technology (2D imaging, 3D imaging, and 4D imaging), By Location of Deployment (Onshore, Offshore), By Application (Construction, Oil & Gas, Mining, Others), and By Region”, the global seismic services market is expected to grow at a significant rate during the forecast period. The market growth can be attributed to the rise in the use of seismic services for oil exploration activities and adoption of new technologies by end-users in oil & gas sector.

Blockchain Use Cases in O&G Sector

Various industrial oil and gas businesses are starting to use blockchain more and more. Smart contracts offer the security and transparency that are sorely lacking in oil and gas papers and operations. Distributed ledgers handle smart contracts and verify contractors and workers. Additionally, Blockchain enables oil and gas firms to automate accounting for joint ventures, post-trade settlements, and invoicing. Blockchain is especially helpful for intragroup billing, retail B2C, and tracking hydrocarbon fleets.

US-based startup Ondilfo integrates blockchain and IoT to use sensor data for automating procedure-to-pay process for fluid hauling. The blockchain solution also offers tracking from load to discharge as well as enhance operational efficiency. Another startup, Blockgemini offers a transparent and secure business solution combining advanced technologies such as AI, blockchain, and IoT.

In transactions where there is little confidence between the parties or if the value or complexity of the transaction is large, blockchain can help with contract execution. Land transactions (by identifying and removing fraudulent land deals), oil and gas sales (by facilitating large transactions), complex sourcing (by reducing transaction inconsistencies), capital projects (by adhering to contract terms), and joint ventures (by improving cost- and revenue-sharing audits) are a few potential opportunity areas. The consequent rise in counterparty confidence may lead to cost savings and increased productivity. Additionally, clearing houses, confirmation processing, and other back-office administrative procedures common to risk management and accounting operations are eliminated by blockchain.

Moreover, the integration of blockchain technology, processing plant equipment, and pipeline sensors can modernize invoice processing, which ensures accurate billing based on executed contracts. This way, transaction speed, accuracy, and security may all be improved for the advantage of oil and gas firms and their clients. Additionally, sensor-enabled invoicing uses less staff resources, freeing up workers to concentrate on more worthwhile tasks.