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DOE Touts New 'Downhole Internet' Drilling Technology

The Department of Energy (DOE) said that after five years of DOE-funded research a new drilling technology is available for commercial use that will allow a drill bit to transmit real-time drilling and geological data to the surface. DOE's Department of Fossil Energy called the technology, which is owned by Houston-based Grant Prideco, a "downhole Internet" for drilling. It turns ordinary drill pipe into an information highway, the agency said.

The potential benefits of Grant Prideco's new IntelliServ Network and related Intellipipe technology include decreased drilling costs, improved safety and reduced environmental impacts of drilling, according to DOE. The agency said BP recently deployed the technology in Oklahoma's Arkoma Basin.

"For decades, drillers have dreamed of a technology that would allow them to gather a wide range of downhole data -- pressure, temperature, well position, formation characteristics, etc. -- in as close to real-time as possible in order to navigate wells efficiently, thoroughly assess downhole conditions, and accurately characterize the geologic and hydrologic environment being drilled," the agency said in its announcement. "The ideal technology would acquire and process data quickly enough for drillers to 'look ahead' of the drillbit. Until now, no method of hard-wiring pipe with electrical wire connections to transmit these data has proven reliable."

DOE said in the past the couplings that connect drill pipe were a barrier to data transmission. Manipulating the pipe usually broke the electrical connection. A solution was found about 30 years ago with the invention of "mud-pulse telemetry," which sends data as pressure pulses through the drilling mud that is circulated to clean drilling cuttings out of the wellbore. But the "glacial pace" of this data transmission method -- 3-10 bits per second -- typically yields poor-quality data.

Intellipipe accelerates transmission rates to 57,000 bits per second, and an Intelliserv network upgrade would boost that to one million bits per second. Not only can a driller receive crucial downhole information quickly, he can immediately tell the drilling tool what to do thousands of feet below the surface.

This real-time capability reduces economic and safety risk in drilling wells while minimizing the number of wells needed to produce oil or gas from a reservoir, DOE said. The technology also cuts down on the number of unplanned trips downhole to resolve drilling problems, eliminating nonproductive time and well costs.

DOE said the technology features high-speed, high-strength data cable embedded in the inside wall of the drill pipe. The cables carry data to small induction coils that are installed in protective grooves machined into the drillpipe connections, or couplers. When two sections of Intellipipe are joined, the induction coils are placed close together, and a low-energy data signal can transmit passively between them without a dedicated power source -- from one pipe section to another, along a string of tens of thousands of feet of drill pipe.

Since 2004, Intelliserv drill strings of 14,000 feet in Oklahoma and 10,000 feet in Alberta have drilled 18 wells, accumulating more than 6,000 hours of operation while drilling 180,000 feet, DOE said.

Novatek Engineering of Provo, UT, developed the Intellipipe technology under a DOE-funded project. Grant Prideco of Houston subsequently formed a joint venture with Novatek to market the revolutionary drill pipe. Grant Prideco is now the sole owner of the Intelliserv Network.

"We believe this technology, when coupled with compatible tools and software applications, can materially reduce drilling risks, improve well placement, and ultimately reduce the cost-per-barrel [of finding and producing oil and equivalent gas] for our customers," said Grant Prideco CEO Mike McShane.

McShane said the company is negotiating contracts with several major oil and gas operators. The first commercial deployment of the Intellipipe/Intelliserv technology is expected to occur in the North Sea, with an application that could break extended-reach drilling records, reaching about five miles -- beyond the limits of current mud-pulse technology.

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