May 17, 2020

New drilling technology a game changer in the Bakken play

4 min
Rock drill working a site
[email protected] The April issue of Energy Digital magazine is live About 10 years ago it started to percolate, in 2006 hydraulic fracturing became...

The April issue of Energy Digital magazine is live

About 10 years ago it started to percolate, in 2006 hydraulic fracturing became a force there, and by 2013 the Bakken formation had Americans rediscovering North Dakota. “Oh. It’s up there?”

The formation occupies 200,000 square miles of the subsurface of the Williston Basin, and although most of new Bakken drilling and production has been in North Dakota, the play also extends into Montana, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba in Canada.

The Bakken now produces more than 10 percent of all oil production in the United States. In November 2013, the U.S. Energy Information Administration projected that Bakken production in North Dakota and Montana would exceed one million barrels per day in early 2014.

According to the EIA, about 25.3 billion barrels of tight (shale) oil are produced cumulatively from 2012 through 2040. The Bakken-Three Forks formations contribute 32 percent of this production, while the Eagle Ford and Permian Basin formations respectively account for 24 and 22 percent of the cumulative tight oil production.

The remaining 22 percent of cumulative shale oil production comes from other formations, including but not limited to the Austin Chalk, Niobrara, Monterey, and Woodford formations, the EIA reports.

Drilling technology

With that much potential oil available through hydraulic fracturing, energy companies are drillings wells at a rapid rate in the Bakken and other shale oil areas. But the horizontal drilling that is required to blast water into the shale and collect the oil and gas can fail in the mud created by the process.

Hess Corp. identified one form of drilling dysfunction that can lead to “microstalling” induced by an improperly configured auto driller, which can cause 2-15 percent reduced drilling efficiency per stand, motor failure (chunking), and other BHA failures adding up to approximately $150,000 per incident.

A new technology called DrillEdge may be the answer to mud motor failure in drills. The system delivers real-time predictive analytics to provide decision management solutions that lower risks and reduce non-productive time (NPT) while improving drilling performance.

The system, developed by Verdande Technology, uses predictive analytics such as case-based reasoning (CBR) to identify key indicators of potential mud motor failure and to take action before drilling operations are impacted or costly tool damage occurs. Operators will benefit from the hindsight, insight, and foresight needed to increase drilling efficiency and deliver wells consistently within prescribed times while minimizing downhole risks.

“Using DrillEdge to indirectly measure microstalling helped us identify future mud motor failures before they occurred,” said Matthew Isbell, drilling optimization advisor well technology, Hess Corp. 

The technology monitors for early symptoms of damage sustained ahead of an outright failure by relating mechanical specific energy (MSE), a well-established downhole drilling performance efficiency metric, to accumulated downhole tool stress.

 “This solution became a focus for us after we began looking for new ways to benefit factory drilling operations beyond our existing non-productive time solutions,” said Philip Wade, COO, Verdande Technology.

“When looking at prevailing NPT in factory drilling operations to successfully automate and optimize that type of drilling, we found that the continuous efficiency created required that drilling optimization solutions in our software be developed to assist in cost control and performance improvement,” he said.

Game changer for the Bakken 

The Bakken shale play in east Montana, Marcellus, Eagleford, and Haynesville are some of the largest shale plays in the United States. After working closely with Hess Corp. in the Bakken factory drilling assets to implement the DrillEdge mud motor failure solution, Hess can now consistently and automatically deliver best practices that will aid wellsite personnel to mitigate drilling dysfunction that can lead to “microstalling” induced by an improperly configured auto driller.

The use of DrillEdge technology in the Bakken also allows automated monitoring and best practice delivery of other issues related to hole cleaning, mechanical stuck pipe, hole ballooning and mud losses, twists-off, drillstring washout, differential sticking, and motor damage. It allows firms to make better, smarter, and faster business decisions in real time with the most appropriate information.

How was this technology developed?

Share article

Jun 12, 2021

Why Transmission & Distribution Utilities Need Digital Twins

Petri Rauhakallio
6 min
Petri Rauhakallio at Sharper Shape outlines the Digital Twins benefits for energy transmission and distribution utilities

As with any new technology, Digital twins can create as many questions as answers. There can be a natural resistance, especially among senior utility executives who are used to the old ways and need a compelling case to invest in new ones. 

So is digital twin just a fancy name for modelling? And why do many senior leaders and engineers at power transmission & distribution (T&D) companies have a gnawing feeling they should have one? Ultimately it comes down to one key question: is this a trend worth our time and money?

The short answer is yes, if approached intelligently and accounting for utilities’ specific needs. This is no case of runaway hype or an overwrought name for an underwhelming development – digital twin technology can be genuinely transformational if done right. So here are six reasons why in five years no T&D utility will want to be without a digital twin. 

1. Smarter Asset Planning

A digital twin is a real-time digital counterpart of a utility’s real-world grid. A proper digital twin – and not just a static 3D model of some adjacent assets – represents the grid in as much detail as possible, is updated in real-time and can be used to model ‘what if’ scenarios to gauge the effects in real life. It is the repository in which to collect and index all network data, from images, to 3D pointclouds, to past reports and analyses.

With that in mind, an obvious use-case for a digital twin is planning upgrades and expansions. For example, if a developer wants to connect a major solar generation asset, what effect might that have on the grid assets, and will they need upgrading or reinforcement? A seasoned engineer can offer an educated prediction if they are familiar with the local assets, their age and their condition – but with a digital twin they can simply model the scenario on the digital twin and find out.

The decision is more likely to be the right one, the utility is less likely to be blindsided by unforeseen complications, and less time and money need be spent visiting the site and validating information.

As the energy transition accelerates, both transmission and distribution (T&D) utilities will receive more connection requests for anything from solar parks to electric vehicle charging infrastructure, to heat pumps and batteries – and all this on top of normal grid upgrade programs. A well-constructed digital twin may come to be an essential tool to keep up with the pace of change.

2. Improved Inspection and Maintenance

Utilities spend enormous amounts of time and money on asset inspection and maintenance – they have to in order to meet their operational and safety responsibilities. In order to make the task more manageable, most utilities try to prioritise the most critical or fragile parts of the network for inspection, based on past inspection data and engineers’ experience. Many are investigating how to better collect, store and analyze data in order to hone this process, with the ultimate goal of predicting where inspections and maintenance are going to be needed before problems arise.  

The digital twin is the platform that contextualises this information. Data is tagged to assets in the model, analytics and AI algorithms are applied and suggested interventions are automatically flagged to the human user, who can understand what and where the problem is thanks to the twin. As new data is collected over time, the process only becomes more effective.

3. More Efficient Vegetation Management

Utilities – especially transmission utilities in areas of high wildfire-risk – are in a constant struggle with nature to keep vegetation in-check that surrounds power lines and other assets. Failure risks outages, damage to assets and even a fire threat. A comprehensive digital twin won’t just incorporate the grid assets – a network of powerlines and pylons isolated on an otherwise blank screen – but the immediate surroundings too. This means local houses, roads, waterways and trees. 

If the twin is enriched with vegetation data on factors such as the species, growth rate and health of a tree, then the utility can use it to assess the risk from any given twig or branch neighbouring one of its assets, and prioritise and dispatch vegetation management crews accordingly. 

And with expansion planning, inspection and maintenance, the value here is less labor-intensive and more cost-effective decision making and planning – essential in an industry of tight margins and constrained resources. What’s more, the value only rises over time as feedback allows the utility to finesse the program.

4. Automated powerline inspection

Remember though, that to be maximally useful, a digital twin must be kept up to date. A larger utility might blanche at the resources required to not just to map and inspect the network once in order to build the twin, but update that twin at regular intervals.

However, digital twins are also an enabling technology for another technological step-change – automated powerline inspection.

Imagine a fleet of sensor-equipped drones empowered to fly the lines almost constantly, returning (automatically) only to recharge their batteries. Not only would such a set-up be far cheaper to operate than a comparable fleet of human inspectors, it could provide far more detail at far more regular intervals, facilitating all the above benefits of better planning, inspection, maintenance and vegetation management. Human inspectors could be reserved for non-routine interventions that really require their hard-earned expertise.

In this scenario, the digital twin provides he ‘map’ by which the drone can plan a route and navigate itself, in conjunction with its sensors. 

5. Improved Emergency Modelling and Faster Response

If the worst happens and emergency strikes, such as a wildfire or natural disaster, digital twins can again prove invaluable. The intricate, detailed understanding of the grid, assets and its surroundings that a digital twin gives is an element of order in a chaotic situation, and can guide the utility and emergency services alike in mounting an informed response.

And once again, the digital twin’s facility for ‘what-if’ scenario testing is especially useful for emergency preparedness. If a hurricane strikes at point X, what will be the effect on assets at point Y? If a downed pylon sparks a fire at point A, what residences are nearby and what does an evacuation plan look like?

6. Easier accommodation of external stakeholders

Finally, a digital twin can make lighter work of engaging with external stakeholders. The world doesn’t stand still, and a once blissfully-isolated powerline may suddenly find itself adjacent to a building site for a new building or road. 

As well as planning for connection (see point 1), a digital twin takes the pain out of those processes that require interfacing with external stakeholders, such as maintenance contractors, arborists, trimming crews or local government agencies – the digital twin breaks down the silos between these groups and allows them to work from a single version of the truth – in future it could even be used as part of the bid process for contractors.

These six reasons for why digital twins will be indispensable to power T&D utilities are only the tip of the iceberg; the possibilities are endless given the constant advancement of data collection an analysis technology. No doubt these will invite even more questions – and we relish the challenge of answering them. 


Share article