How is technology helping the oil and gas industries adapt to the demands of deeper drilling?

Written by: Paul Fanning | Published:

The oil and gas industries have always made certain demands of the products used within them, the most pressing of which is the ability to deal with harsh, high-pressure, flammable, toxic and sometimes explosive environments.

However, these demands have become even more pressing in recent years as the need to seek oil and gas in ever more difficult and challenging environments has grown. This demand for oil and gas exploration to go ever deeper and ever further afield has come about because supplies are shrinking and prices are rising, making the costs incurred in such exploration worthwhile for drilling companies.

More than 85% of the global energy consumption is based on fossil fuel sources i.e. oil, gas and coal. It is also estimated that energy demand will be about 30 per cent higher in 2040. However, to acquire these valuable resources, it is necessary to drill deeper and deeper. This makes it possible to recover oil and gas from depths of more than 2,500m.

For instance, by combining downhole drilling with directional drilling (dynamic position alignment of a bore in the earth), formerly inaccessible oil reserves can be retrieved. Drilling depths of currently approximately 5,000m and drill lengths of up to 11,000m can be reached by this method.

This has meant that products increasingly have to be able to withstand ever greater pressures. This applies from top to bottom. For instance, ABB has expanded its 266 range of pressure transmitters with 1000 bar gauge (266HSH) and 600 bar differential (266DSH) versions. These high-pressure transmitters are suitable for applications such as high pressure injection and other similar applications around the wellhead, such as high pressure gas compression systems.

The type of holes now being drilled also require special equipment to verify the integrity of the well and the diameter of the bore, as well as the location of the oil and the rock properties.

In particular, the temperatures and pressures at these depths, combined with the strong vibrations that occur during the drilling procedure, present unique challenges to the use of electronic drives. The conditions several kilometres below the surface of the earth are anything but technology-friendly.

The EC-4pole 32 HD brushless motor was developed by maxon when a customer required a higher powered motor than the award winning EC 22 HD. The new motor offers the same features and performance as the EC 22 but with greater strength. Its larger diameter makes the motor suitable for accommodating a 4-pole rotor, allowing for much higher torques.

This new high-performance motor is available in two versions for operation in air (power rating of 220 W) or oil (power rating of 480 W). They are both designed for ambient temperatures of more than 200 °C and atmospheric pressures of up to 1700 bar. The 32mm motors are also able to withstand vibrations of up to 25 Grms as well as impacts of up to 100 G, for example Apollo 16 on re-entry reached only 7 G. The motors feature high efficiency (up to 89% in air, more than 80% in oil) and with their detent-free running properties, have excellent control characteristics and are suitable for high-precision positioning tasks even at low speeds.

For the use of the motor in conjunction with a gearhead, maxon offers the GP 32 HD, a powerful and robust planetary gearhead that is available in ratios of up to 913:1.

The EC-4pole 32 HD and the GP 32 HD are ideal for use in environments with extreme temperatures and/or subject to high vibration. It is ideal for ultra-high vacuum applications as there is no glue or plastics involved. As well as downhole tool technology, these motors can also be used in aerospace applications such as gas turbine starters, generators of jet engines, for regulating combustion engines or for exploration robots.

As the Oil & Gas industry exploits more unconventional sources and deploys more complex techniques, from hydraulic fracturing to floating LNG, the challenge of gaining high quality real-time intelligence to inform and accelerate decision making at every stage of the extraction process increases, driving the search for new tools and techniques deeper into the science lab.

Several recent reports have highlighted the growing gap between capital investment into oil and gas production and actual recovery rates. For producers around the world clearly this disparity cannot be sustained. The oil and gas industry urgently needs new tools that can provide high quality real time intelligence to inform and accelerate decision making at every stage of the extraction process to improve exploration and maximise production.

Monitoring is key to maximising oil and gas extraction, and at Fotech we are focused on developing DAS-based engineering tools that facilitate live decision-making in exploration and production operations and deliver real benefits and value to operators in the field.

This is where Distributed Acoustic Sensing (DAS) comes in. DAS uses a fibre optic cable to detect acoustic vibrations so that engineers can 'visualise' and record what is going on down hole at every point of the well in real time. This gives well engineers greater clarity than ever before and allows them to focus time and effort on value-adding activity and, ultimately, increasing recovery.

One of the techniques that stands to benefit most from DAS technology is hydraulic fracturing – an method of extraction that still suffers from significant limitations in terms of monitoring and analysis of the drilling operation. DAS provides a tool to provide a new dimension of knowledge during the fracturing process. A cost-effective solution that allows the fracturing engineer to have vital information regarding the efficiency of the process - reducing uncertainty and allowing an optimised fracturing job to be delivered.

Helios DAS from Fotech converts an optical fibre, up to 40km long, into tens of thousands of individual and real-time vibration sensors. Real time detection of the vibrations caused by acoustic disturbance at each point along the fibre enables engineers to 'visualise' and record what's going on down hole, in real time, with greater clarity than ever before. As such, Helios DAS provides data and interpretative tools that have not been possible until now to improve the efficiency of oil and gas exploration, production and delivery.

An even more extreme example of the type of technology required to go deeper and further afield is in the use of Remote Operating Vehicles (ROVs) in the oil and gas industry. ROV's are essential for the exploitation and development of deep-water oil and gas reserves - far beyond the reach of divers and the ability to control them successfully is clearly vital. Planning when to use an ROV is tough as a number of reasons can affect the timing; weather, distance and availability all have to be factored in. When users get the opportunity to utilise an ROV they cannot afford faults or delays, therefore the system had to be extremely reliable as well as able to work in harsh environments.

It was for this reason that Saab Seaeye approached Amplicon with the requirement for a stable and repeatable control system for its new Cougar-XTi range of underwater ROVs. The Saab Seaeye Cougar-XTi ROV is rated to 3000m depth, and is used to address the industry's need for a 3,000m observation ROV, capable of providing a 'self help' and light work capability.

The Amplicon industrial computing team worked closely with the Saab Seaeye engineers to come up with the best solution for their requirement. The Amplicon Ventrix 2030 rackmount computer, one of Amplicon's most reliable systems was selected for its repeatability and long life cycle. Its robustness, SBC configuration, and road-mapped components met the stringent hardware requirements set by the customer.

Amplicon was also able to supply additional hardware that was required for the project this included a MAG35-01-1 Panel meter unit to be used for constant data updates. Designed to meet the industry standard size 1/8 DIN, these low-cost digital panel meters have the functionality to integrate easily into any system.

The Ventrix 2030 industrial computer is now approved as the Saab Seaeye standard control system for their Cougar-XTi range of underwater ROV's. Saab Seaeye has been successfully using the Ventrix 2030 unit since 2011.


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