Interview: At the Forefront of Decarbonized Drilling Operations | Schlumberger
Schlumberger’s Product Manager for Rig Equipment Brian Winter
Schlumberger’s Product Manager for Rig Equipment Brian Winter
Publication Date
Article Topics
Hydrogen as an Energy Carrier Emissions Reduction Transition Technologies Well Construction Sustainability Insights
Products Used

At the Forefront of Decarbonized Drilling Operations

Piloting high-power fuel cells to drill the world’s first well using 100% carbon-free power

The oil and gas industry is under pressure to reduce its carbon footprint at every stage of the well life cycle. During the drilling phase, rig emissions, which vary depending on a number of factors, can contribute to a significant portion of the overall carbon footprint of the well. Meeting the industry’s ambitious environmental, social, and governance (ESG) objectives will require sustainable drilling technologies, digital solutions, and alternative rig power sources, including mobile fuel cells.

We sat down with Schlumberger’s Product Manager for Rig Equipment, Brian Winter, to talk about the important role emissions-free hydrogen fuel cells will play in helping drilling contractors and operators eliminate rig emissions, reduce equipment maintenance, and expand into previously inaccessible locations.

What does sustainably powered drilling look like today?

The oil and gas industry plays a vital role in addressing climate change on a global scale. Building a lower-carbon future while meeting the ever-growing demand for energy requires unprecedented accountability, newfound operational efficiencies, and early investment in promising technologies. Today’s drilling contractors and operators are already taking significant steps to reduce emissions and adopt low-carbon technologies, but to drive high performance sustainably, we must accelerate the path to net zero.

Electrifying equipment is a start, but the majority of current technologies used in well construction are only capable of eliminating about a quarter of the emissions produced by conventional diesel generators. This isn’t enough. To meet ambitious ESG targets now and in the years to come, we must completely eliminate emissions from drilling operations. While carbon-free, renewable energy sounds years—or even decades—away from commercial viability, Schlumberger is piloting hydrogen fuel cell systems to power rigs and enable rapid drilling decarbonization today.

Is Schlumberger developing and deploying the fuel cell technology on its own or working with others?

Schlumberger has signed a joint development agreement (JDA) with Hyzon Motors, a leader in high-power hydrogen fuel cells built for stressful environments including heavy commercial mobility, to build a fuel cell system capable of providing emissions-free power at the wellsite. Hyzon brings proven heavy-duty vehicle fuel cell technology at scale, which enables us to position the technology for rig power in the very near term. We are working closely with Hyzon’s engineering team to integrate their technology into a system capable of withstanding the wear and tear of the drilling environment.

We’ve also signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Ensign Energy Services to integrate this new fuel cell system into one of their drilling rigs in the next twelve months. Ensign is a leading drilling contractor pursuing improved ESG credentials through new technology, and has stated its ambition to drill the world’s first well with 100% carbon-free power in the first half of 2023. This collaboration, which aligns with Schlumberger’s decarbonization plan to help customers reduce their Scope 1 emissions, is believed to be the first implementation of fuel cells of this nature in the oilfield industry. Through this pilot project, we hope to uncover challenges and opportunities of implementing transportable fuel cells for sustainable drilling operations.

fuel cell system
Hyzon Motors fuel cell.

What are the benefits of using fuel cells in the oil field?

We believe that hydrogen is a critical energy carrier that will enable our industry to meet the dynamic needs of the increasingly urgent energy transition. The versatility of hydrogen enables oilfield operators to use transportable fuel cells in a wide range of applications. In the near future, fuel cell systems can be used to power entire drilling rigs, generate useful heat, fuel fleets for long-haul, heavy-duty transport, and more—all with zero emissions at the point of use.

Another way the fuel cell power systems benefit well construction operations is by eliminating generator noise, vibration, and maintenance. With dependable, clean, quiet power production at the rig site, operators can minimize downtime while ensuring enhanced health and safety performance for people and the environment. This technology is ideal to enable drilling in areas that are restricted today due to diesel emissions and/or diesel generator noise levels, both of which would be mitigated with a hydrogen fuel cell power solution.

In combination with technologies like Intelligent Power Management—a predictive power management system that reduces emissions, fuel consumption and engine run time on the rig—this next-generation transportable fuel cell technology promises to improve drilling performance, efficiency, and long-term sustainability.

Related: Cactus Drilling Company Reduces Emissions, Fuel Consumption, and Equipment Wear

Tell me more about the transportable fuel cell technology that’s being developed with Hyzon Motors. How will it work?

Through our JDA, we are working with Hyzon to engineer a plug-and-play fuel cell system that would meet the same horsepower and footprint specifications of a diesel generator on a high-spec North American land rig. The commercially available hydrogen fuel cells from Hyzon generate electricity through a chemical reaction between hydrogen gas and oxygen from the air—the only byproduct being pure water vapor. Multiple fuel cells can be configured in a system to achieve the required output, which is then directed to the rig’s power distribution system.

Deploying fuel cells doesn’t demand an all-or-nothing approach. While some drilling contractors and operators may choose to replace all of the rig’s generators with this carbon-free power, others may initially deploy some diesel generators alongside this plug-and-play zero-emission solution. The innovative one-for-one design allows oil and gas companies to reduce rig emissions within today’s operational constraints, and to reduce their environmental footprint in terms of air emissions and noise pollution.

What will it take to see emerging technologies like hydrogen fuel cells widely adopted by operators and drilling contractors?

As the energy industry shifts to a lower-carbon future, the widespread use of hydrogen fuel cell systems will largely be driven by ESG requirements, logistics, and economics.

As a leader in carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), Schlumberger is uniquely positioned to foster the ecosystem needed to accelerate the production of carbon-free “blue” hydrogen, ensuring it can be used as a clean, secure source of energy across a wide range of industries, including our own. Of course, hydrogen infrastructure—the close proximity of hydrogen hubs to our operations—will be key to the success of the hydrogen economy. The number of hubs is starting to grow, partly due to the growing demand for fuel cell electric heavy trucks. Additionally, conversion technologies for converting waste gas, such as flare gas, and solid waste into hydrogen fuel will also help drive down costs while bringing hydrogen closer to drilling contractors and operators.

While fuel cell technology presents an ideal solution for reducing CO2 emissions and is being deployed actively in mobility solutions such as heavy-duty trucking today, it’s still very much an emerging technology which needs to enjoy economies of scale to out-compete existing technologies. It’s up to early adopters and ambitious technology players to advance the viability of high-power fuel cells and other lower-carbon technologies at scale.

Products Used

Share This