Indiana Jones in the age of analytics
By Kishore Jethanandani
Drilling engineers navigate hazardous oil wells in earth’s dark hollows not in the manner of the swashbuckling Indiana Jones but collaboratively with staid geophysicists and geologists who parse terabytes of data to calculate the risk of the next cascade of rocks or an explosion. 3D visuals of seismological data, superimposed with sensor fed real-time data, help offsite professionals to collaborate with engineers working at well-sites.
The drilling machines also generate streams of data with an array of sensors used for well logging. The data is transmitted to remote sites where it is aggregated and is accessible to geologists and geophysicists. These sensors can read geological data such as hydrocarbon bearing capacity of rocks as well as the data related to the rig operations such as the borehole pressure, vibrations, weight on the drill and its direction and much more all in the context of the well environment.
A major breakthrough has been achieved with the ability to pool data coming from a variety of sources in a single repository with help from standards under the rubric of Wellsite Information Transfer Specification (WITS). The availability of a storehouse of well data opens the way for a bevy of firms, specialized in reading the geological and operations data, to find patterns and guide engineers to find the most optimal ways to explore and produce oil in complex wells in the depths of the earth and the oceans.
A typical case of oil and exploration companies encountering Catch-22 situations is that of PEMEX which ran into the dead end of a salt dome underground. The alternative was to circumvent the dome. The rub was the risk of getting into a quagmire of mud. A game plan was crafted over eight months in collaboration with a multidisciplinary staff that included preliminary testing, 3D modeling and simulation and contingency planning. The entire exercise determined that exceptional pressures were likely to be encountered due to the presence of the salt dome in the vicinity of the alternative route compounded by a host of other probable risks.
For managing the risks, a predictive model was written based on the available geological data and its performance was monitored by comparing it with the actual performance data, generated during drilling. The variance between the predicted values and actuals revealed unanticipated hazards and informed action plans that engineers could use to deal with risks.
The oilfields today range from the icy Artic with its shifting icebergs and thawing permafrost to the raging storms at the deeper ends of oceans with their easily ignited submarine methane and the cavernous rocks of shale oil. Oil companies look to protect their multi-billion dollar investments in the projects and their staff from certain death if any of the risks are misjudged.
Fortunately, oil companies have accumulated multidimensional data now available on a standard platform. 3D video collaboration brings together the human talent from distant locations to crack the codes that help to improve the standards of safety and effectiveness.
A variant of this post was published in the now defunct Collaborative Planet hosted by UBM Techweb