Preventing kicks is a critical part of our R&D efforts. As wells become increasingly complex and drilling conditions to reach our targets prove ever more challenging, being able to detect influx events as early as possible and, ideally, predict them before they even occur are the next leaps forward to maximize the safety of our operations and enhance our management of major accident risks.
Total mobilizes 20 rigs worldwide each day for our exploration and development operations, many of them for complex wells sometimes in high-pressure and/or high-temperature environments. Some of these drilling programs — many in a deep subsea environment — come with risk of well control events with potentially catastrophic consequences for our personnel, our assets, the environment and Total itself.
To address these challenges, we are sharpening our capabilities to detect and even prevent kicks. These uninvited inflows of formation fluids into the wellbore during drilling are nothing new for the oil and gas industry, but have always presented the risk of escalation to a major event.
Some of the technologies needed to identify them have been in use for over half a century; they mainly involve surface-based mud-logging measurements. But by the time the drilling mud carrying the formation fluids has reached the rig floor, several hours may have passed, hindering the ability to mitigate potential impacts from the kick.
Information Technology Revolution Ushers In Early Detection R&D Breakthroughs
To address these risks, our R&D teams aim to bring our detection capabilities within the wellbore, either at the bit or at the seabed level, so we obtain an earlier indication of changing well conditions — well before the mud returns to the surface.
Relying on a host of new technologies that we did not have even five years ago, our research has intensified and now focuses on three key areas: improving the quality of measurements, getting this information to the surface in real time and processing data more efficiently to detect issues as early as we can so we can, to either prevent or at least identify, minimize and control a kick in a very short time frame.
- Measurements: Measurement While Drilling (MWD) and Logging While Drilling (LWD) tools already exist, but they are big, bulky and expensive. Total has therefore partnered with service companies and start-ups to develop sensors — some based on microtechnology (microelectromechanical systems, or MEMS) — that are smaller, cheaper and easier to integrate in the bottom hole assembly.
Developing sensors is not a core competency at Total, but our exploration and production teams know exactly what needs to be measured, where, when and how precisely, enabling us to provide this guidance to specialized companies. We are now at the lab test stage to optimize the design of future bottom hole sensors. Some of these sensors look very promising and would allow us to collect more precise information on any changes in the fluids’ composition at the bit/bottom hole assembly level and along the drill string. This is both one of the industry’s greatest R&D challenges and a potential game-changing opportunity for well control.
Looking further ahead, we know the ideal place to measure outflow is in the wellbore itself, and as close to the source as possible. So we are also working on enhanced measurement of bottom hole and annular flow and exploring ways to add different sensors along the drill string.
- Telemetry: Being able to transmit datasets to the surface simultaneously without being dependent on mud circulation is the next big leap for the industry. Wired Drill Pipe already enables instantaneous and bidirectional transmission of downhole data while drilling or when the pumps are off.
What Total is now pursuing — along with technology providers and other potential industrial partners — is the development of wireless technologies that can handle large amounts of data and transmit them to the surface as quickly as possible.
- Processing: As Total seeks to accelerate the process to get the right data at the right time, our exploration and production teams also need to ensure they have the right software to interpret that data and turn it into useful information.
Recent breakthroughs in analytics and artificial intelligence have brought that goal closer than ever. Here again, we work with a number of service companies, using their technologies and Total’s own know-how to develop software solutions that interpret signals and enable a pre-screening of information so that it doesn’t trigger false alarms.
Through these multiple R&D projects, carried in partnerships or alone, Total has positioned itself at the forefront of an industry-wide innovation race that is expected to deliver concrete solutions for early kick detection within the next two to three years.
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