NETL takes new kick-detection idea to contest


Drilling for oil and gas may be safer and less expensive in the future, thanks to researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy. Scientists working in the National Energy Technology Laboratory have developed a way to predict well kicks and alert operators before they happen using the same technology already guiding the bit underground. The researchers’ work is one of 10 finalists in the sixth annual Shale Gas Innovation Contest sponsored by the Shale Gas Innovation and Commercialization Center. The winner will be determined May 9. A kick has been described as a violent hiccup. It happens when the drill bit enters a layer of rock where oil, gas, and/or water are at an anomalous high pressure, explained Kelly Rose, a geology geospatial researcher at NETL’s Albany, Oregon location. NETL also has branches in Morgantown and Pittsburgh. The conduit back to the surface, the well they’re drilling, takes a kick because the material is trying to come to equal pressure. “Kicks happen almost every day when operators are drilling,” Rose said. “The most extreme kick events can cause impacts to the environment or people or life. The most famous kick is Deepwater Horizon. An out-of-control kick becomes a blowout. Those graphic images people saw on the news are the most extreme and rare instances of kicks. They’re also the most visible.” If well operators know a kick is coming, they can change what they are doing to try to minimize the impact on the well. Kicks cost operators time and money and might cause injuries to workers or the environment. An average of 60,000 new wells are drilled around the globe every year, she said, costing operators billions of dollars a year. “Kicks cost us money that we end up paying at the pump,” Rose said. This application of technology began four years ago, when Rose was sitting in an Ocean Energy Safety Advisory Committee meeting, listening to industry representatives, nonprofits and other agencies talking about how to prevent a blowout on the scale of Deepwater Horizon. “They were highlighting the need for better kick detection technology that doesn’t cost millions of dollars to implement,” she said. “It got me thinking if you want to reduce the cost of kick detection, we already send tools down in the well bore that collect geophysical signals. It is like GPS for operators. They send signals into the subsurface to get the lay of the land so we can determine if we are where we predicted we would be and to make sure we’re going to the right spot. We have been gathering data inside the wellbore, but treating it as noise. “The signals inside the wellbore are actually good data, though that is not what the tools were originally designed to collect,” Rose explained. “Our technology recycles and reuses and repurposes those geophysical signals industry is already paying to acquire and reprocesses them to focus on information from inside the wellbore to monitor in real time if there’s a change in the wellbore environment.” That is a simplified explanation. There are nuances to the different signals operators can collect down in the hole they can use to measure not just how big the kick is but also if it is oil, water, or gas — important to know if it’s flammable. The contest will award $60,000 in cash prizes for the three best shale energy oriented innovations, new product ideas or service concepts either in the development stage or recently launched. Rose said the best possible outcome for NETL would be connecting with potential industry partners. “Up until now this has been a conceptual project,” she said. “We have proved it using numerical models, physics and math. We have proven it works on paper and on the computer. What we need (to fully test it) is the wellbore tools and systems that are mostly proprietary. Baker Hughes, Schlumberger, Halliburton, Weatherford International, they own most of the tools that get sent down the wellbore. For us, a win would be a partnership with operators and service companies. You need both to help secure the technology it would take to demonstrate it in field conditions.” Rose said no one wants another Deepwater Horizon, but the less-visible kicks still cost a lot. “A win for me – part of why I’m a government researcher, I’m not out to make money and not out for fame and glory – this is about finding new technology and innovations that are there for all stakeholders, for the public, industry, regulators,” she said. “This technology, if successful, makes drilling safer and more efficient.”


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