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18 Oileld Review

Drilling Automation
In pursuit of increased quality and protability, many in the manufacturing industry
have found success in automating processes. The oil and gas industry is looking for
ways to replicate this strategy for drilling. Drilling automation may hold the key to
efciently performing intricate and high-speed tasks and thus make complex wells
technically and economically feasible. When a drilling project involves large
numbers of wells drilled through well-documented lithologies and pressure regimes,
operators can capitalize on the repetitive nature of automated drilling to eliminate
costs associated with the performance variability typically exhibited from one well to
the next within a drilling program.
Walt Aldred
Cambridge, England
Jacques Bourque
Mike Mannering
Gatwick, England
Clinton Chapman
Bertrand du Castel
Randy Hansen
Sugar Land, Texas, USA
Geoff Downton
Richard Harmer
Stonehouse, England
Ian Falconer
Houston, Texas
Fred Florence
National Oilwell Varco
Cedar Park, Texas
Elizabeth Godinez Zurita
Villahermosa, Mexico
Claudio Nieto
Petrleos Mexicanos (PEMEX)
Villahermosa, Mexico
Rob Stauder
Helmerich & Payne, Inc.
Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA
Mario Zamora
M-I SWACO
Houston, Texas
Oileld Review Summer 2012: 24, no. 2.
Copyright 2012 Schlumberger.
For help in preparation of this article, thanks to Jonathan
Dunlop, Cambridge, England; Jean-Paul LeCann, Roissy-
en-France, France; Eric Maidla, Houston; and Jose Luis
Sanchez Flores, Sugar Land, Texas.
Factory Drilling, PowerDrive, PowerV, ROPO and Slider are
marks of Schlumberger.
FBRM is a registered trademark of Mettler-Toledo
Autochem, Inc.
IntelliServ is a registered trademark of National Oilwell
Varco.
Engineers have long viewed drilling as nearly
equal parts art and science. Today, as autono-
mous computer-controlled drilling operations
drilling automationapproach reality, the view
of engineers is leaning decidedly toward
science. The ultimate objective of drilling auto-
mation, as with most upstream innovations, is to
deliver nancial benets to the operator. Drilling
automation seeks to accomplish this through pro-
cess improvements, optimized rates of penetra-
tion (ROPs), consistent hole quality and overall
drilling performance, all of which allow operators
to reach their objectives in the shortest time.
Bringing together rig oor and downhole automa-
tion also promises to improve environmental pro-
tection and worker health and safety while
helping operators to economically exploit
reserves that are out of reach using todays tech-
nologies. As large numbers of upstream industry
experts prepare to retire, automation may offer a
way to codify best practices and knowledge and
thereby preserve expertise.
On the manufacturing assembly line, automa-
tion has become ubiquitous, typically taking the
form of computer-guided robots performing
repetitive tasks. The machines are tireless, pre-
cise and do not suffer from the boredom or lapses
in attention that their human counterparts do.
They are able to attain a level of autonomy
because there are few decisions to make and
there is little uncertainty or variability in their
environment and tasks. This is the concept
behind the Factory Drilling approach for eld
development in which a large number of wells
for which conditions are well-understoodare to
be drilled and completed.
The drilling industry has lagged other indus-
tries in adopting automation, but some advances
have been made; high-end drilling units have
been equipped with remotely operated iron
roughnecks and pipe handling machines.
However, while equipment mechanization repli-
cates repetitive rig tasks on the drill oor and
removes humans from potentially dangerous
environments, it is not the same as drilling auto-
mation. An automated drilling process provides
operators with a way of accessing reservoirs at
lower costs while safely and consistently outper-
forming manual operations.
Automation of the drilling process requires a
system that has the ability to deal with changing
and uncertain environments. Fed directly by
downhole and surface data, these systems must
react to changes such as lithology in a manner
that maintains optimal performance, thus
increasing uptime and efciency. Reduction of
personnel on the rig oor and the systems ability
Summer 2012 19 Suummmer er 2201 01122 19 19 19 19
to perform some tasks remotely would be only by-
products of this effort, not objectives.
1
In prac-
tice, automated systems will more likely leverage
the knowledge and experience of rig personnel
than do away with them.
The drilling culture is part of the reason for
the upstream industrys delay in adopting auto-
mation. Drilling personnel often make opera-
tional decisions based on their overall experience
and knowledge of the local geology and drilling
conditions. As a consequence, many are suspi-
cious of systems that seem a threat to their skill
set, require them to relinquish some portion of
control of the drilling operation or move techni-
cal limits away from traditionally conservative
drilling practices.
2
From an organizational point
of view, the major components of an automated
system require close cooperation over long peri-
ods of time, but the systems employed in the drill-
ing process are often owned by a variety of
companies and may have different drivers, mak-
ing automated cooperation difcult.
The current challenge of creating an auto-
mated drilling system that is capable of drilling a
well or section autonomously lies in the many
uncertainties associated with making a hole deep
in the Earth. In manufacturing industries, dra-
matic events encountered during the process are
the exception, whereas in drilling, they are the
rule. Downhole pressures, temperatures and rock
characteristics often change rapidly as the bit
progresses toward TD. Therefore, it is difcult to
replicate an experienced drillers response to any
of the many possible scenarios.
1. Pink T, Bruce A, Kverneland H and Applewhite B:
Building an Automated Drilling System Where Surface
Machines Are Controlled by Downhole and Surface
Data to Optimize the Well Construction Process, paper
IADC/SPE 150973, presented at the IADC/SPE Drilling
Conference and Exhibition, San Diego, California, USA,
March 68, 2012.
2. The technical limit is the best possible drilling
performance for a given set of parameters. It is an ideal
standard, which requires a perfect set of conditions,
tools and people.
Automating the drilling process hinges on not
only availability and interoperability of com-
puter-controlled machinery but also on informa-
tion management: gathering the right information
at the right time and coupling it with the experi-
ence necessary to make optimal decisions. The
industry has long used software that assists drill-
ers in making decisions on the rig oor. These
systems require human intervention to interpret
Summer 2012
20 Oileld Review
data and carry out the appropriate actions, pro-
viding drilling guidance rather than automation.
An automated drilling process requires a sys-
tems engineering approacha loop that inte-
grates real-time downhole and surface data with
predrill models. Adjusting to changing condi-
tions, this system modies operational settings,
such as pump rates, hook load and rotary speed.
3

In addition, an automated system updates the
model using real-time data, essentially simulat-
ing the decisions of an experienced driller adapt-
ing to the results of imperfect predictions. The
level of integration between surface and down-
hole systems varies considerably and is limited by
sensor availability near the bit and along the
drillstring and by bandwidth to send measure-
ments and commands to and from downhole. This
means the character of drilling automation is
likely to vary from well to well. However, results
show that higher frequency data from more
sensors improve operator ability to drill to the
technical limit.
The path to drilling automation may be
described in terms of three tiers. The rst tier is
a system that offers guidance to drillers, the sec-
ond makes decisions with driller approval and
the third moves toward an autonomous system in
which the drillerwho may be located off site
acts as the monitor, to intervene only when
required (below).
The drilling industry has taken hesitant steps
toward automation. Built and tested around
1980, the National Automated Drilling Machine
was an early attempt to build an automated drill-
ing rig.
4
Because manufacturers could not over-
come the failure of fragile sensors in a drilling
environment, the machine was never commer-
cialized. In the 1990s, many rigs were built with
mechanized pipe handling equipment, and engi-
neers developed closed loop control, using data
gathered while drilling, to adjust rotary steerable
drilling systems.
Only recently, driven by Norwegian operators
and regulators concerned with safety and health
issues, has the industry made a sustained effort
toward drilling automation. In 2007, the SPE cre-
ated a technical section devoted to drilling sys-
tems automation; those involved in the section
are working toward automation in all areas,
including completion and production. This arti-
cle examines the state of those ongoing efforts to
bring to the industry a level of drilling automa-
tion as a means to more efcient, safer and
higher quality drilling operations in the future.
Case studies from Mexico and the US illustrate
various drilling automation applications.
Controlling the Brake
Historically, in an imitation of manual drilling
operations, automated drilling has centered on
using the drilling line brake to control weight
on bit (WOB). Autodrillers, which mimic human
operators by using pneumatic controls to
maintain constant WOB or constant ROP, have
consistently outperformed humans when drilling
conditionsformation geology, pressures and
temperaturesare well-known and vary gradu-
ally. However, autodrillers performed poorly
when these conditions changed abruptly.
5
The introduction of disk brakes gave rise to
electronic autodrillers that used computer
control algorithms to maintain a constant WOB
or ROP.
6
Improvements to autodrillers drove
engineers to develop increasingly complex
software that simplified control and adjusted
drilling parameters in response to changing
formation characteristics as the bit drilled
ahead (next page).
Autodrillers are in the second tier of automa-
tion because they rely on driller approval.
Although dependent on local rig equipment auto-
mation and mechanization, drilling automation
seeks to build on those systems by integrating the
drilling machine with downhole systems and mea-
surements. The objectives are to improve and
lower the cost of reservoir access and to outper-
form manual operations safely and consistently.
Automating the drilling process is complex.
Engineers at Schlumberger have segmented the
process into manageable modules that may be
used either independently or in combination to
eventually deliver an intelligent system able to
drill a hole section autonomously. The modules
are the following:
ri and dcwnhcle systens interaticn
R0P cptinizaticn
abnormal event detection and mitigation
shock and vibration monitoring and
mitigation
wellhcre steerin
wellhcre interity
cperaticns sequence nanaenent.
Integrating automation modules, which use
downhole and surface information, with the rig
control system requires drillers to exchange their
role of overarching supervisor for that of a criti-
cal component within a process. The integrated
system must be designed so that the driller inter-
acts with it intuitively and is in a position to take
control of the rig at any time. To achieve this, the
driller must understand what the automation sys-
tem is doing as it handles its many tasks, and the
>
The path to automation. Systems and industries move from manual to
automated control systems in a predictable manner. Initially, in the rst tier
(bottom), the systems perform a limited analyze-and-advise function by
suggesting an optimal course of action for the human operator to perform. In
the second tier (middle), the semiautonomous automated system chooses the
action and performs it, but only after receiving approval from the driller. In the
third tier (top), the automated system is autonomous and informs the driller of
its actions as it takes them.
Decides everything and acts autonomously.
Executes an action automatically and informs the driller only if it takes action.
Executes an action automatically and informs the driller only if asked.
T
i
e
r

3
10.
9.
8.
Executes an action automatically, then necessarily informs the driller.
Allows the driller a restricted time to veto an action before automatic execution.
Selects and executes a suggestion if the driller approves.
T
i
e
r

2
7.
6.
5.
Suggests a single course of action.
Offers a set of alternatives and narrows the selection.
Offers a complete set of decision and action alternatives.
Offers no asistance; driller must make all decisions and take action.
T
i
e
r

1
4.
3.
2.
1.
Summer 2012 21
driller must anticipate what the system is going
to do next. Therefore, counter to preconceptions
held in the industry, human involvement in drill-
ing operations may be increased rather than
decreased by automation.
Faster
Engineers are applying these requisite computer
control algorithms to various aspects of the drill-
ing process; the algorithms fall in each of the
tiers on the path to full automation. Most pro-
grams based on these algorithms act in an advi-
sory capacity and require human intervention to
initiate action. Others are, or are nearly, autono-
mous systems, which take action without seeking
permission from or notifying the driller and
might be best described as supervised autonomy.
One such algorithm helps optimize ROP and has
been used in programs that have both advisory
and full-control capacities.
Automated ROP optimization relies on the
fact that while the bit is on bottom, the driller
can control only three things: WOB, drillstring
rotation speed in revolutions per minute (rpm)
and mud ow rate. An automated ROP optimiza-
tion system can therefore be created in which the
set points of WOB and rpm are fed directly to the
controls of the drilling rig.
7
Building on this idea,
engineers at Schlumberger developed the ROPO
rate of penetration optimization module.
3. The driller adjusts the block position to keep the weight
on bit within a desired range. The weight on bit is
calculated as the difference between the measured hook
load, which is a measure of the amount of pipe
suspended below the block, and a datum taken by
measuring hook load when off-bottom.
4. de Wardt JP and Rogers J: Drilling Systems
AutomationA Technology that Is at a Tipping Point,
>
Modern autodrillers. Whereas WOB was the only parameter considered by early autodrillers as input for controlling the drilling process, later
autodrillers used multiple parameters. In this example of multiparameter autodriller output, the multicolor horizontal bar at the top indicates by color which
parameter is controlling the brake at that point. The solid curves at the bottom represent parameter data and the dashed lines are the parameter set
points. The horizontal black line across the middle of the graph shows the status of the autodriller. When the line is at the low value, the autodriller is off;
the upper value signies it is on. As the 90-ft (27-m) long stand is drilled through a fairly homogenous formation, the ROP function (red) controls when the
autodriller is turned on and the bit is above bottom. When ROP reaches its set point, WOB and torque (dark blue and green, respectively) rise as the bit
automatically nds bottom. Torque takes control as ROP and WOB level off. When torque is recognized as the limiting factor, the autodriller raises the
torque limit and drilling continues on P (light blue)the standpipe pressure when drilling with a mud motor minus standpipe drilling pressure when just
off bottomthrough most of the stand, although ROP experiences brief intermittent control throughout the primary P control period. Toward the end of
the stand, WOB takes over as the bit encounters harder rock. (Adapted from Florence et al, reference 5.)
1,000
900
800
700
600
500
400
300
200
100
0
100
90
80
70
60
50
40
30
20
10
0
R
O
P
,

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0 5 10 15 20 25 30
Time, min
35 40 45 50 55 60
ROP
Torque
WOB
P
paper IPTC 14717, presented at the International
Petroleum Technology Conference, Bangkok, Thailand,
February 79, 2012.
5. Florence F, Porche M, Thomas R and Fox R:
Multiparameter Autodrilling Capabilities Provide Drilling/
Economic Benets, paper SPE/IADC 119965, presented
at the SPE/IADC Drilling Conference and Exhibition,
Amsterdam, March 1719, 2009.
6. For more on autodrillers: Aldred W, Belaskie J,
Isangulov R, Crockett B, Edmondson B, Florence F
and Srinivasan S: Changing the Way We Drill,
Oileld Review 17, no. 1 (Spring 2005): 4249.
7. Dunlop J, Isangulov R, Aldred WD, Arismendi Sanchez H,
Sanchez Flores JL, Alarcon Herdoiza J, Belaskie J and
Luppens JC: Increased Rate of Penetration Through
Automation, paper SPE/IADC 139897, presented at the
SPE/IADC Drilling Conference and Exhibition, Amsterdam,
March 13, 2011.
22 Oileld Review
The ROPO algorithm is based on a model of
PDC bitformation interaction and a data pro-
cessing technique that detects changes in bit
response. The PDC bit model assumes that bit-
formation interaction is broken into three linear
phases based on the depth of cut (below). During
the rst phase, when the bit is just starting to
turn on bottom and before reaching critical
depth, increasing WOB causes little increase in
depth of cut and, consequently, low ROP. During
the second phase, higher WOB results in an
increased depth of cut. Phase three begins when
this increased efciency has led to the founder
pointthe time at which the uid system is no
longer able to adequately clean the face of the
bit, and cutting efciency is reduced.
8
The ROPO module characterizes the bit
response in real time and determines optimal val-
ues of rpm and WOBwithin a set of complex lim-
its that includes WOB, torque, surface rpm, ROP
and motor limitsto achieve maximum ROP.
9
In 150,000 m [492,000 ft] drilled through a
range of environments, wells drilled in the ROPO
advisory mode have shown an average 32% ROP
improvement compared with the ROP in offset
wells drilled manually or with an autodriller sys-
tem (above). When the ROPO algorithm was used
in closed loop automation, or control mode, dur-
ing which it sent commands directly to the rig
control system, ROP improvements were even
greater, with the control mode wells experienc-
ing a 53.1% ROP gain over the ROP in wells drilled
in advisory mode.
10
For operators involved in multiple-well
projects, saving rig time consistently, without
sacricing wellbore quality, is a strong incentive
to improve ROP. In the Burgos basin in Mexico,
PEMEX planned to drill 400 wells, many of which
are in the Comitas eld where the lithology is
well known. Typical drilling trouble spots
included an 8
1
/2-in. section through mostly shale
and a 6
1
/8-in. section that is characterized by
interbedded formations of shale and sand.
In their evaluations of the many wells already
drilled in the Comitas eld, engineers found that
ROP averaged 23 m/h [75 ft/h] through the 8
1
/2-in.
section and 16.15 m/h [52.98 ft/h] through the
6
1
/8-in. section. Both rates are well below the
technical limit. Engineers determined that
reducing drilling time by increasing ROP
represented a singular opportunity to improve
project economics.
Engineers rst selected wells that appeared
to be good candidates for ROPO applications and
then gathered relevant offset well data. Wells
were then drilled in ROPO mode and the results
evaluated against offset well results. Two com-
parisons were made with results from offset
wells: rotating ROP and total ROP for the section.
When the ROPO algorithm was used through the
8
1
/2-in. section, the rotating ROP increased to
55.40 m/h [181.8 ft/h]. In the 6
1
/8-in. section,
ROPO use increased average ROP to 25.2 m/h
[82.6 ft/h]. Time savings in the 8
1
/2-in. and 6
1
/8-in.
sections were 37% and 39%, respectively.
Smoother
In high-angle wells, especially extended-reach
wells with targets that may have a horizontal
displacement of several miles from the surface
location, some engineers view high ROP as a
secondary objective to well path accuracy. To
plan an accurate trajectory, the directional
driller must locate the wellbore in three dimen-
sions and precisely execute holds and turns. The
objective is a trajectory that is the most efcient
path to a distant target or one that keeps the
wellbore within often narrow depth ranges to
maximize formation exposure.
>
Automated ROP algorithm. Depth of cut per
revolution is estimated by dividing ROP by rpm so
that real-time drilling data can be plotted in three
dimensions of WOB, bit torque and depth of cut.
WOB can be described as the sum of two
components: friction and cutting. The drilling
response of a PDC bit is modeled as three distinct
operating regimes. During the rst phase (blue),
frictional and cutting components both increase
during low WOB as interaction is dominated by
friction at wear ats of the bit cutters. The second
regime (tan) begins when WOB is beyond the
critical point and friction is optimal, thus
increasing WOB translates into pure cutting
action. The third regime (green) occurs when the
bit is past the founder point when cuttings are
building up around the bit, causing cutting
efciency to decrease. As the bit drills into a new
formation, the responses will change abruptly
and the data points will fall on new lines.
D
e
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f

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u
t
Critical depth
B
it to
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i
t
Founder point
>
ROPO algorithm advantage. When eight wells were drilled from the same pad, four using the ROPO
module (blue) showed signicantly faster drill rates on the nal tangent section than those drilled
conventionally (red). Furthermore, each of the ROPO wells exhibited consistent drilling time results.
Time to drill the section in wells drilled without the ROPO technique varied from 6.8 to 8.3 days. In wells
drilled with the ROPO approach, time to drill a section varied from 5.3 to 5.8 days. (Adapted from
Chapman et al, reference 10.)
M
e
a
s
u
r
e
d

d
e
p
t
h
,

m
2,400
2,600
2,000
2,200
1,800
1,400
1,600
2,800
3,000
9
Time, days
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Drilled conventionally
Drilled with Auto ROP
Summer 2012 23
8. Detournay E, Richard T and Shepherd M: Drilling
Response of Drag Bits: Theory and Experiment,
International Journal of Rock Mechanics and Mining
Sciences 45, no. 8 (December 2008): 13471360.
9. Though rpm and WOB are set by the system, they can
also limit the system. For example, a PDC bit design may
include maximum allowed WOB or rpm recommendations
to prevent bit damage.
In directional drilling, certain processes have
already been automated. For directional drilling
with a bent housing downhole motor, engineers
at PathFinder, a Schlumberger company, have
developed the Slider automated surface rotation
control system. The system is designed to
increase drilling efciency of a bent housing
motor when in sliding mode by repetitively rotat-
ing the drillpipe clockwise at surface, then coun-
terclockwise without disturbing the toolface
orientation of the BHA. The Slider system uses
surface torque readings as feedback to an auto-
mated system that controls the rocking move-
ment of the drillstring to minimize the sliding
friction along the toolstring. At the same time,
the system reduces the need to pull the bit off
bottom to reset the toolface.
When using bent housing mud motors to
change BHA direction, directional drillers must
often halt drilling. The Slider control system,
however, allows BHA directional change without
halting drilling and as a consequence may
enhance overall ROP, a secondary objective. For
example, when engineers used the Slider system
in the build section of a well in Wood County,
Oklahoma, USA, they increased sliding ROP by
118% compared with results from manual opera-
tions (below).
In contrast to mud motors, rotary steerable
systems (RSSs) do not involve sliding sections
so they generally deliver faster ROP and
smoother wellbores. Additionally, because the
drillstring rotates while drilling, hole cleaning
is more efficient than when sliding.
11
Therefore
the well may be drilled with a lower pump
pressure, which reduces the equivalent circu-
lating density and reduces the threat of frac-
turing the formation.
12
For most rotary steerable systems, trans-
mitting steering commands from surface to
the RSS tool is accomplished using manually
>
Marked ROP improvements. An operator used slide drilling in two sections of a well drilled in the Marcellus Shale. In the upper section, the well was
drilled manually and had an average ROP of 5.8 ft/h. In the lower section, using the Slider system, ROP was raised to 16.1 ft/h (Track 1). WOB (gold) and hook
load (purple) were essentially equal through both sections (Track 2). The Slider system kept topdrive torque (blue) low by adjusting rotary speed (red)
through the lower sections (Track 3).
7,765
7,770
7,775
7,780
7,785
7,785
7,790
7,795
7,800
7,805
7,810
7,815
7,820
7,825
03:00
02:00
01:00
00:00
23:00
22:00
21:00
20:00
19:00
18:00
Average ROP
ft/h MD,
ft
Time,
h
0 50
Hook Load
N 0 300
WOB
Upper section
N 0 100
Topdrive Rotary Speed
rpm 0 100
Topdrive Torque
ft lbf 0 30,000
Lower section
10. Chapman CD, Sanchez Flores JL, De Leon Perez R and
Yu H: Automated Closed-Loop Drilling with ROP
Optimization Algorithm Signicantly Reduces Drilling
Time and Improves Downhole Tool Reliability, paper
IADC/SPE 151736, presented at the IADC/SPE Drilling
Conference, San Diego, California, March 68, 2012.
11. Melgares H, Grace W, Gonzalez F, Alric C, Palacio J and
Akinniranye G: Remote Automated Directional Drilling
Through Rotary Steerable Systems, paper SPE/IADC
119761, presented at the SPE/IADC Drilling Conference
and Exhibition, Amsterdam, March 1719, 2009.
12. Equivalent circulating density, or ECD, is the effective
density exerted by a circulating uid against the
formation. The ECD is calculated as: ECD = d + P/ (0.052*D),
where d is the mud weight in pounds per gallon
(lbm/galUS). P is the pressure drop in the annulus
between depth D and surface (psi), and D is the true
vertical depth (ft).
24 Oileld Review
controlled timed variation in mud ow; the
driller manipulates the mud pumps to change
tool settings. By allowing the steering command
to be sent directly to the mud pump controller
via a digital signal, directional drillers are able
to control the well trajectory remotely.
Many rotary steerable systems today are
equipped with a degree of autonomy. For example,
hold inclination and azimuth commands, sent
from the surface to the PowerDrive RSS, compel
the BHA to maintain a constant course without
further intervention from the surface. The PowerV
vertical drilling system maintains a vertical tra-
jectory, without human intervention, by sensing
forces acting on the BHA that may cause it to devi-
ate and then steering back to vertical.
Such a remote automated steering operation
was performed in the 12
1
/4-in. section of the
Jacinto 1002 well located about 150 km [93 mi]
from Villahermosa in southern Mexico. The only
offset well, the Jacinto 1001, encountered very
hard sands that caused low ROP. The formation
in this section consists of intercalated zones with
unconned compressive strengths ranging from
41 to 83 MPa [6,000 to 12,000 psi], which cause
high BHA vibrations and abnormal bit wear.
To address these challenges, drilling engi-
neers used a directional drilling system that com-
bined RSS tools with a mud motor power section.
This system, which delivers more energy to the
bit, mechanically decouples the bit from the drill-
string, thus dampening vibrations above the
motor because the drillstring rotates at a lower
rpm than the bit and RSS. Engineers sent 21
automated downlinks to the RSS tool from a
remotely located control center to build the
curve, keeping the well tangent to the next casing
point and drilling the 12
1
/4-in. section with a sin-
gle bit (above left).
13
Schlumberger engineers are developing an
automated trajectory control system that receives
real-time survey data to characterize the steering
behavior of a BHA. The system uses that real-time
downhole information to create more-accurate
projections and determine the appropriate steer-
ing command to keep the drilling tool along the
planned trajectory. Currently, the system is used
in an advisory capacity, but an updated version in
eld tests will be able to act autonomously, issu-
ing downlink commands to the tool to make it a
fully automated trajectory control system.
14
Changing or unexpected formation character-
istics may cause bit or BHA dysfunction, requiring
continuous adjustments to the WOB and rpm in
response. Using surface measurements, an engi-
neer may have difculty recognizing a change or
its cause at the time it is encountered. Usually,
there is a signicant time lag between the time an
event occurs and when the driller recognizes it
and takes the proper corrective action. Given the
lag and the many factors inuencing surface read-
outs, it is not surprising when a driller makes an
incorrect decisionone that is at best ineffectual
and at worst detrimental.
A new automation array has the potential to
overcome this shortcoming. The array consists of
two elements: newly developed downhole sensors
capable of high-frequency sampling and wired
drillpipe capable of transmitting the resulting
high volumes of data to the surface. By interpret-
ing large volumes of data quickly, these auto-
mated systems alert drillers in real time to
>
Downlinking enhancement. Engineers used automated downlinking on the Jacinto 1002 well (blue)
to drill a 12
1
/4-in. section in 172 fewer hours than were required for the same section in the offset
Jacinto 1001 well (red). The Jacinto 1002 required only one bit on a mud motor and RSS-equipped BHA
compared with the need for four bits in the Jacinto 1001 well drilled using an RSS controlled
conventionally by the directional driller. (Adapted from Melgares et al, reference 11).
D
e
p
t
h
,

m
3,400
3,600
3,000
3,200
2,800
2,400
2,600
4,400
4,200
3,800
4,000
350 300 250 200
Rotating on bottom, h
Jacinto 1001
Jacinto 1002
150 100 50 0
>
Well construction uids domain. Fluids whose characteristics must be
maintained at critical levels during the drilling process are present in various
environments. An automated drilling measurement system must be able to
assess the condition of the uids going into and out of the well and take
necessary corrective actions to condition the uids between each critical
stage (arrows). (Adapted from Geehan et al, reference 16.)
Solids control Fluids treatment and pumping
Waste management
Downhole
Kill line
Choke line
Flowline
Gas
Drilled
solids
Standpipe
Disposal
Fluids recycle
Clean mud
Summer 2012 25
threatening BHA phenomena such as stick-slip,
whirl, axial shock and bit bounce.
15
Wired drillpipe makes it possible to gather
annular pressure and temperature measure-
ments along the drillstring, which allows opera-
tors to monitor the entire wellbore. Algorithms
quickly condense these data and convert them
into ags and control signals for the automation
system (above). Other algorithms sort the data,
recognize an event and bypass the driller to initi-
ate proper corrective actions if necessary.
Automatic Fluids Measurements
One of the most important factors inuencing the
success of drilling operations is the operators
ability to maintain drilling uids properties within
a prescribed range of values. Automation of the
well construction uids (WCF) domain addresses
four major systems. In addition to the uids, the
WCF domain also encompasses ow conduits,
tanks and process equipment. These four systems
in turn fall into four areas: uids treatment and
pumping, downhole, solids control and waste
management (previous page, bottom).
16
13. Melgares et al, reference 11.
14. Pirovolou D, Chapman CD, Chau M, Arismendi H,
Ahorukomeye M and Penaranda J: Drilling Automation:
An Automatic Trajectory Control System, paper
SPE 143899, presented at the SPE Digital Energy
Conference and Exhibition, The Woodlands, Texas, USA,
April 1921, 2011.
>
Automated drilling mechanics. High-frequency downhole measurements taken by a downhole sensor placed in the BHA can be processed to detect a
drillstring state. This diagnostic information is sent uphole in real time and processed by an automated surface system that makes the appropriate
modications to the drilling parameters or to the procedures on surface. In this case, high levels of axial acceleration (top left) indicate the presence of bit
bounce (top right), which can reduce drilling efciency and potentially damage the bit cutting structure or components within the BHA. A spectral plot
(center) identies BHA and drillstring resonant frequencies and illustrates the energy present within the axial vibrations as a function of frequency. Red
corresponds to high energy generated by vibrations while green indicates low energy has been generated. The higher the energy, the more damaging the
vibrations are likely to be. The three intervals (bottom) correspond to different levels of risk. High-risk bit bounce (left) triggers a red light alarm on the
surface. Normal drilling conditions, or low-risk drilling conditions (center), display as a green light on the surface to indicate it is safe to drill ahead. The
presence of moderate risk of bit bounce presents a cautionary yellow light (right) to the driller.
4
2
0
2
4
40
Time, s
A
x
i
a
l

a
c
c
e
l
e
r
a
t
i
o
n
,

g
n
41 42
4
2
0
2
4
600 601
Time, s
A
x
i
a
l

a
c
c
e
l
e
r
a
t
i
o
n
,

g
n
602
4
2
0
2
4
300
Time, s
A
x
i
a
l

a
c
c
e
l
e
r
a
t
i
o
n
,

g
n
302 301
200 100 400
Time, s
F
r
e
q
u
e
n
c
y
,

H
z
A
x
i
a
l

a
c
c
e
l
e
r
a
t
i
o
n
,

g
n
500 700
0
20
40
60
80
100
4
2
0
2
4
0
200 100 400 300
Time, s
Monitoring for bit bounce
500 700 600 0
300 600
Bit bounce
Axial motion
15. For more on these drilling phenomena: Centala P,
Challa V, Durairajan B, Meehan R, Paez L, Partin U,
Segal S, Wu S, Garrett I, Teggart B and Tetley N: Bit
DesignTop to Bottom, Oileld Review 23, no. 2
(Summer 2011): 417.
16. Geehan T and Zamora M: Automation of Well-
Construction Fluids Domain, paper IADC/SPE 128903,
presented at the IADC/SPE Drilling Conference and
Exhibition, New Orleans, February 24, 2010.
26 Oileld Review
The emergence of managed pressure drilling
(MPD), in which engineers use a choke to regu-
late backpressure on the well to preserve a con-
stant bottomhole pressure (BHP), has been
instrumental in the drive to automate the WCF
domain.
17
The set point for the choke is deter-
mined using a hydraulic model. The hydraulic
model is built and updated continuously during
drilling operations using rig-supplied data such as
ow rate, bit depth, rpm, torque and mud density,
temperature and rheological parameters. Because
uids parameters are measured manually and
because there is often a time lag between when a
sample is collected and analyzed and when it is
input into the model, the measurements may rep-
resent a source of error in the model.
18
Recently, two Norwegian operators asked
M-I SWACO, a Schlumberger company, to develop
automated drilling uid sensors. In response, a
team of M-I SWACO engineers, working with reg-
ulators and supported by the operators, devel-
oped several sensors, most of which were custom
developed or adapted from other industries.
Engineers for this uids measurement automa-
tion project began by determining that while
most uids measurement tasks could be executed
remotely, uid analysis must be performed on
site and monitored remotely. Engineers identi-
ed existing sensors that allow uids measure-
ments to be accomplished remotely and
determined which additional sensors required
development.
Traditionally, engineers determine particle
size distribution (PSD) using a series of sieves.
Recently developed techniques rely instead on
image analysis and require sample dilution in
opaque uids. One such technique uses an auto-
mated FBRM focused beam reectance measure-
ment instrument. The sensor is installed directly
in a 5-cm [2-in.] ow loop leading from the active
ow pit or the owline where it measures the
PSD of the uids entering the well or exiting the
annulus at one-second intervals (above).
19
Engineers designed an automated elemental
analysis and solids content instrument to replace
conventional retorting procedures and manual
chemical titrations. The new analysis tool uses a
500-eV source and a sensor that can be moved
along three axes and is capable of monitoring any
element with an atomic weight greater than that
of magnesium. It can also measure high- and low-
gravity solids content. Analysis may be displayed in
existing graphical interfaces as concentrations of
the various additives used in the uid formulation.
To create an automated rheometer, the team
focused on exploiting existing software and
expanding instrument temperature range capa-
bilities. To do so, they based the rheometer
design on the Couette bob and sleeve API speci-
ed layout and the 10-second and 10-minute gel
strength measurements.
20
The primary change to
the standard equipment was an electronic load
cell to replace the spring attached to the bob that
measured torque. The load cell is designed to
improve accuracy by reducing the effects of tem-
perature on measurements.
The data from the automated rheometer are
exported directly to software that updates ow
and pressure simulations for comparison with
real-time downhole data reported from the rig.
The software also prepares and reports test data
directly in wellsite information transfer standard
markup language (WITSML) to be displayed on
graphical user interfaces (GUIs).
An automated electrical stability (AES)
instrument was built and designed for the project
to change the high-frequency electrical stability
test from a single-point to a trend analysis. Trends
may then be displayed beside other measure-
ments such as oil/water ratios and viscosity. Each
test sequence includes seven measurements; the
software excludes the extremes and the remain-
ing ve are averaged, recorded and displayed as a
trend on a GUI. The AES meter includes real-time
capacitance measurements of oil-base drilling u-
ids and is installed directly on the rig owline.
Engineers are thus able to identify instantaneous
trends in water content variation.
17. For more on MPD: Elliott D, Montilva J, Francis P,
Reitsma D, Shelton J and Roes V: Managed Pressure
Drilling Erases the Lines, Oileld Review 23, no. 1
(Spring 2011): 1423.
18. Stock T, Ronaes E, Fossdal T and Bjerkaas J: The
Development and Successful Application of an
Automated Real-Time Drilling Fluids Measurement
System, paper SPE 150439, presented at the SPE
Intelligent Energy International, Utrecht, The
Netherlands, March 2729, 2012.
19. Stock et al, reference 18.
20. Mud shear stress is measured after a mud has set
quiescently for a period of time. The times called for by
the American Petroleum Institute procedure are for
10 seconds and 10 minutes, although measurements
after 30 minutes or 16 hours may also be made.
21. Stock et al, reference 18.
22. Sadlier A, Laing M and Shields J: Data Aggregation and
Drilling Automation: Connecting the Interoperability
Bridge between Acquisition, Monitoring, Evaluation, and
Control, paper IADC/SPE 151412, presented at the
IADC/SPE Drilling Conference and Exhibition, San Diego,
California, March 68, 2012.
23. Sadlier A and Laing M: Interoperability: An Enabler
for Drilling Automation and a Driver for Innovation,
paper SPE/IADC 140114, presented at the SPE/IADC
Drilling Conference and Exhibition, Amsterdam,
March 13, 2011.
>
Determining particle size distribution with FBRM focused beam reectance measurement. During the
drilling of a 12
1
/4-in. section, engineers grouped particles by size to reect materials added for formation
strengthening. To test FBRM sensors, engineers equipped shakers with weak screens that were
intended to fail quickly. When the rst screen failed, at about 3:30 a.m., rig personnel observed a sharp
increase in the concentration of coarse-size particles ranging from 185 to 1,002 m (black, brown and
blue). The installation of a new screen one hour later was followed by a decrease in the concentration
of those coarse particles until that screen failed at about 10 a.m. The ner particles of 19 to 63 m and
54 to 100 m (green and red, respectively) showed steady increase in concentration over the entire
period. (Adapted from Stock et al, reference 18.)
High
P
a
r
t
i
c
l
e

c
o
n
c
e
n
t
r
a
t
i
o
n
Low
06:19:04 03:00:00 05:00:00 01:00:00 09:00:00
Time
07:00:00 05:00:00 03:00:00 01:19:04 11:00:00
370 to 632 m
185 to 317 m
542 to 1,002 m
54 to 100 m
19 to 63 m
Summer 2012 27
Density measurements using dual real-time
sensors present analytical trends and represent a
signicant change from standard API measure-
ment techniques that use a conventional industry
balance. Unlike the balance method, the new
density sensor provides real-time updates of
static and dynamic downhole pressures cor-
rected for temperature variations.
Because the vibrating tube densitometer
commonly used today is able to transfer temper-
ature and density data from the sensors directly
into the simulation software, engineers at
M-I SWACO incorporated the densitometer into
the project. As a consequence, data may be
used in simulation software and shown on GUI
displays located on rigs and in remote opera-
tions centers.
21
Interoperability: The Bridge to Automation
As sensor and software capability expands and is
further enabled by increased network capacity,
the type and number of well construction tasks
being moved from human control to machines
continue to increase. New automation algorithms
have provided substantial gains in reliability and
tool performance, and operators wishing to take
advantage of these algorithms will inevitably
move the industry toward drilling automation. As
part of that process, operators will also drive the
creation of standards to facilitate deployment of
these algorithms.
A fully automated drilling process depends
ultimately on the ability of all the components to
share information. This requires that many parts
and processes sift, select and act upon an enor-
mous amount of data autonomously and synchro-
nously. LWD and mud logging illustrate why a
data aggregator system that gathers and coordi-
nates various data sources must be developed
before true drilling automation will be possible.
In most cases, LWD tools transmit their data to
the surface via mud pulse, which must be then
translated into usable data. This means the data
are not available to the user in real time but in
near real time. Similarly, drill cuttings used as a
data source by mud logging systems are not avail-
able until they are circulated to the surface, cap-
tured and analyzed, which may be a matter of
hours after they are created.
22
To efciently use these data to automatically
and appropriately respond to the drilling situa-
tion requires systemwide interoperabilitythe
linking of people, tools, equipment and informa-
tion at the right time and in the context of the
drilling operation (above). Complete interopera-
bility is fundamental to automation. Limited
interoperability results in islands of automation
that must be pulled together by humans to assure
proper system interaction. Alternatively, custom
solutions incorporated onto a select number of
rigs are costly and also require human interven-
tion. Rig contractors may offer a fast path to
interoperability by providing remote control sys-
tems, but this approach may also be hampered by
systems that are congured for specic rigs, con-
tractors or rig types.
Improvements in the movement of and access
to real-time data are also needed. Engineers are
now working to apply to the drilling industry a uni-
ed architecture standard, which offers a unied
data access technology stack that combines the
lessons learned in process control with the auto-
mation used in aircraft, automobile, space and
other industries. Engineers working on drilling
automation are particularly interested in how
these industries use existing standards, security
congurations and certications and real-time
interoperability technologies to address redun-
dancy and reliability. Of special interest for auto-
mated drilling scenarios is how other industries
have addressed the concepts of situational aware-
ness, human interaction and planning and system
contingencies in the face of unexpected events.
Drilling contractors, service companies,
equipment manufacturers and operators use vari-
ous standards for data portability. WITSML is used
most commonly in the oil industry to standardize
the interfaces between various well monitoring
and control technologies and software programs.
23

A new standard or extension of an existing stan-
dard such as WITSML to describe rig and surface
equipment is also needed but will require the
combined efforts of operators, service companies,
rig contractors and equipment suppliers.
For automation to occur on a wide scale, rig
control standards must be applied industrywide.
In addition to providing uniformity across all
automated drilling units, contractor compliance
with these standards will afford service providers
a reliable platform upon which to integrate their
solutions. Such a platform must allow a generic
view of the rig from a programmatic standpoint.
Once that is accomplished, conversion to specic
rig platforms and specic rig contractor proto-
cols will be necessary, requiring signicant cus-
tom coding and rig time to assure each application
is correct. Though early adopters of automation
will pay for its development internally, they will
reap the nancial benets of automation early,
and standardization will help reduce overall
costs and engineering time. RvF
>
Information for action. Inputs required by a drilling automation system are at
once related and distinct, making it difcult to consider which should be a
priority. (Adapted from Sadlier et al, reference 22.)
Drilling pressure
Rheology
Hole cleaning
Hydraulic
Drilling
Automation
Formation pressure
Wellbore quality
Formation evaluation
Geologic
Control
Surface measurements
Downhole measurements
Maintenance
Mechanical
Reduction of
nonproductive time
Invisible lost time
management
Data analytics
Downhole dynamics
Drilling Process