To Find Oil, You Have to Drill
Part 2

Date: 04/28/2011

Increasing drilling intensity—the role of technology

Over the last 30 years, one succinct measure of drilling intensity has been the technology that makes it possible to construct deviated wells that reach 12 km in length and vertical wells that reach a similar number of kilometers in depth. Another is the technology that positions wells to remain within meters of a given target or to follow thin reservoir beds closely over considerable lateral distances.

But the need for drilling technology can also be measured by the market for drilling services—a market that has trebled in only 10 years. With neither the global rig count nor worldwide production of oil and gas experiencing similar growth, this increase reflects the increased drilling intensity and technology needed to sustain and grow oil and gas production. Given the task that lies ahead, even further advances in drilling technology are required to improve operational performance, reliability, and cost-effectiveness to, in turn, reduce overall finding and development costs. These technology advances fall into three areas.

Technology development

First, new technology must lower technical risk and increase performance in the exploration and development of conventional hydrocarbons from the world’s remaining underexplored or undeveloped areas. In the last 10 years, more than half of all new oil and gas fields discovered are offshore—a trend that is likely to continue, particularly in deepwater areas.

Second is the technology required to recover the unconventional hydrocarbons that make up an increasing part of the supply. The need is for better extraction, lower cost, and a smaller environmental footprint. The doubling of North American land rigs with horizontal drilling capability between 2007 and 2010 demonstrates the extent to which this change is occurring.

The third area for technology development concerns reserves already in production. Prolonging their exploitation and increasing their ultimate recovery represent a major opportunity. It is here that increased drilling intensity will have the biggest impact in the short to medium term, with new concepts such as Factory Drilling approach—pioneered by Schlumberger—already proving their worth.

Optimized drilling workflow

Obviously, the days are over when any one drilling technology meets a variety of applications. Considering that the average nonproductive time in drilling operations worldwide remains about 20%, and adding the extra cost that will undoubtedly arise from further control and oversight of deepwater operations, the value of differentiated drilling technologies can only increase.

However, the development of drilling technology has largely been as a series of separate components. And while their individual performance has been optimized, similar optimization of the entire system—from rig floor to drill bit—must now be targeted in an integrated manner. Only then will it be possible to make the required step change in performance that the future supply of oil and gas requires. But engineering this combination goes beyond the integration of drilling technologies, the value goes beyond the integration of drilling technologies and requires optimization of the entire drilling workflow—from research and engineering to operational execution.

This is a continuing series about drilling for oil. Articles in the series will address the past, the present, and the future of Schlumberger drilling services. Each story will provide insight as to how the company integrates engineering, technology, and people to provide best-in-class drilling performance—now and in the future. Notify me when the next article is published.

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