Schlumberger recently introduced autonomous directional drilling (ADD) and described it not as a tool, not as a service, but comprising all the technology, engineering, and domain expertise amassed over the last century. This unifying concept forms a gateway created by the people who write the code that drives the hardware that constructs the wells—autonomously. Performance improves from more consistency job to job and site to site because data is real time and immediately accessible, producing better drilling outcomes and well economics, enabling optimal equipment and power utilization, minimizing HSE risks, and significantly reducing carbon footprint. Schlumberger Digital Product Champion Ziad Akkaoui walks us through the evolution of autonomous directional drilling.
What is autonomous directional drilling—is it a reality?
Autonomous directional drilling is a bold idea we've pursued for 18 years. Our vision is a fully autonomous, self-steering BHA drilling every section of a wellbore. The intent is for an autonomous BHA to constantly analyze its position, formation characteristics, conditions, and trajectory to optimize steering and well placement. This includes proactive energy management capabilities to protect the drillstring and optimize drilling performance. At its core, ADD is tasked to help our industry reduce cost per foot drilled and achieve optimal well placement to improve the productivity index.
Achieving this means dispensing with siloed, independent workflows. ADD is a fully integrated data architecture that will guarantee complete harmony of all tasks that are needed to achieve directional drilling objectives, regardless of the field, rig, or trajectory in the most efficient and consistent manner possible. This can only be achieved by utilizing recent advancement in computing capabilities that we all have come to appreciate in every aspect of our lives. So, Yes, ADD is real.
Of course, full autonomy is still ahead of us, but what we’re already doing today is evolving crucial capabilities. In 2020 alone, we’ve surmounted one of the last significant obstacles by completing 10 runs implementing autocurve builds. That is, we’ve executed building the curve while substantially eliminating the need for downlinks. These runs were in the field, on real wells, onshore and off, in basins ranging from the North Sea to the Middle East to North America Land, and in holes ranging from slimhole to 14 3/4 in.
What is the path from where we are to full autonomy?
We structured our development and road maps around six key levels of autonomous capabilities. These levels are a shared framework within Schlumberger and aligned with other industries to help ground technology development into tangible steps that can be realized and deployed to achieve the ADD vision.
The first three levels, 0 to 2, highlight capabilities driven by monitoring, assisting, and singular automation features that define the directional drilling workflows we know and use every day. They consist of trajectory monitoring and projections and downhole singular-automation algorithms such as inclination hold.
Level 3 combines multiple support features and unifies them with an 'intelligent' system, supporting analytical decision making with the physical automation of the steering process. This is where the system gets complete awareness of the directional drilling workflow and helps us manage all the decisions. And it is the level we've currently reached.
Level 4 comprises multidisciplinary well-construction workflows with rig automation in complete harmony within our on-target well delivery solution. This is where ADD shines by being natively embedded inside the rig automation system.
Level 5 utilizes subsurface formation evaluation LWD data to revolutionize the way we geosteer and place wells in real time. This is where the system is completely autonomous and surpasses the status quo operational capabilities we have today.
What will it take to complete the path forward and accomplish ADD?
The right technology is clearly needed to support all aspects of the process, not just what happens at the wellsite or the BHA. ADD requires intelligent planning and execution capabilities along with surface automation that complement the powerful suite of downhole automation features our steering tools possess today, and eventually what our entire BHA will have. And we’ve made great strides. Parallel to our autocurve achievements, we transformed remote operations capabilities on more than 750 land wells with high-efficiency data streaming that links them with our Performance Live digitally connected service by data and native cloud workflows.
We also used predictive steering on over 100 wells to achieve zero trajectory failures. What this means is that our intelligent planning solutions analyzed the planned trajectories with a machine-learning model and optimized the dogleg severity (DLS) response and ROP. In one case, the system helped an operator avoid what would have been a pull-out-of-hole event by recommending and adjusting both the trajectory and drilling parameters, resulting in a successful trajectory while doubling the ROP. All of these successes combined to catapult our progress toward ADD.
What do you mean by 'intelligent' planning?
Everything starts in the planning phase. On top of the extensive planning capabilities that we have within well construction, Schlumberger developed a predictive steering workflow that leverages our coherent well construction planning solution to take advantage of cloud computing and machine learning models. This integrates all the learning from past execution data to ensure the best tendency response out of the BHA while mapping out capabilities versus demand of the planned trajectory. It is the equivalent to Google Maps' capability to optimize your route based on historical traffic patterns and deliver insights on whether you'll reach your destination within your desired time frame—and with the same user-friendly ease of a few clicks.
The ADD workflow is the first that combines our integrated dynamic design and analysis platform with our data pipelines, taking advantage of cutting-edge technologies along the way to provide an automated analysis enabling drilling engineers to optimize the BHA and trajectory. The optimization output is passed to execution in a digital format that drives surface and downhole automation workflows.
What about executing that planning?
Intelligent execution is the second pillar of ADD. We utilize the digital drilling program that was completed in the planning phase to drive our directional drilling advisor, which is an automated system to facilitate the analytical tasks that a traditional directional driller takes while steering and implementing the well trajectory. This system monitors the drilling environment, captures real-time data from the surface and downhole, and determines the current and projected position of the wellbore. Trajectory targets, expected BHA tendency, and operating parameters determine needed steering changes to reach the next target while ensuring all future targets and TD position are satisfied.
And keep in mind that the system is agnostic of tool or hole size. It has a parallel native cloud workflow to support remote operations as with our digitally connected service centers and will provide consistent and repeatable directional drilling performance transparent to all stakeholders.
How does this align with our customers' ambitions for drilling autonomy?
We have interacted with many of our customers around the world to better understand their needs and challenges and how they foresee the industry moving forward in the short and long term. Efficiency, consistency, transparency, and sustainability are the major themes that link us all together. ADD will deliver the needed advancements required to elevate directional drilling and the well construction domain.