Technologies of the Future
John Donnelly, JPT Editor
The future of technology in the global energy industry will be driven by cost pressures, the scope of government regulation, and increased digitization. DNV GL’s Technology Outlook 2025 report, released last month, lists six emerging technologies that it predicts will have a significant impact on the upstream sector over the next decade.
While the technologies are not necessarily new to oil and gas, they are likely to be adopted at an accelerated pace and more broadly than currently. The report predicts these technologies will be increasingly in use over the next several years because of economic, regulatory, and environmental factors, and continued strong demand for hydrocarbons.
The first technology, fully automated drilling operations, has the potential to improve the speed and safety of drilling operations and greatly reduce costs. But its widespread adoption will require a “complete redesign” of drilling processes in order to gain all of the benefits. It will also require the use of related technologies such as automated drillpipe handling, managed-pressure drilling, single-trip drilling, and better monitoring and diagnostic capabilities. Automated drilling could cut both drilling time and costs by up to 50% compared with conventional operations, the report says.
Smart completions, including better monitoring and more precise control of production zones to maximize recovery, should be heavily adopted by the industry. “Low-cost smart completions,” reconfigured without a rig, could potentially boost additional output from complex reservoirs, such as thin oil pay zones.
Subsea systems will rely more on monitoring and data analytics to enhance production stability. That will help better predict flow-related problems and ensure continuous flow from the well. Improved monitoring and analytics, with more sensors and higher computing power, will drive simpler field development through the use of longer tie-ins and simpler designs, said Pierre Sames, DNV GL’s group technology and research director. This will improve leak detection, inspection, maintenance, and repair, all contributing to uninterrupted flow and better integrity, he said.
Rigless plugging and abandonment could be a particular boon in the North Sea, which has 8,000 wells that need attention. Current practice for plugging and abandonment involves costly permanent plugging, accounting for up to half of the total decommissioning expenses. Plugging without the use of a rig would require that plugging and abandonment be performed with the well tubing in place, according to the report.
Autonomous inspection of pipelines and the use of biodegradable polymers for enhanced oil recovery also should be in full operation by 2025. Autonomous underwater vehicles are more efficient than remotely operated vehicles in performing regular pipeline inspection and will be equipped with sonars, cameras, and sensors. Unmanned aerial vehicles will be used for onshore pipelines, but regulations will need to clarify their further use in civil airspace.
DNV GL forecasts the world to be consuming up to one-fifth more energy by 2025 than it does now. With operational cost pressures and oil price volatility, there will be a need to drill new wells more efficiently, highlighting the need for such technologies as fully automated drilling and smart completions, Sames said.