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Automated drilling

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Computer-controlled drilling is slowly changing how the oil and gas industry discovers natural resources. Automated drilling can reduce the number of injuries to zero and increase productivity and accuracy.


Comparison to human drilling


Global oil prices and a surplus of gas have caused an improvement in the economics of automated projects. Meanwhile, in North America, human-operated drilling has greatly improved.[1]

Companies like Shell have chosen to scale back and even cancel many projects in which automated drilling would play a crucial role in developing thousands of wells. This is after the company made years of headway in automated technology. According to a 2011 issue of Drilling Contractor, the first generation of Shell's automated control system already showed a 70% improvement in rate of penetration (ROP) in test areas. But human drillers have recently narrowed the gap, leaving that number irrelevant.[2]


Great flaws remain in the capabilities and availability of rig crews on a global scale, keeping automated drilling a necessity for the near future. A small group of early adopters and innovators are responsible for determining the success of automated drilling. Their success could affect major changes in how drilling systems are designed and operated by probing that data and algorithms can make drilling safer, more consistent and more economical by reducing nonproductive time (NPT).   


Experts are divided on their view of the future for automated systems: Some see a generation of mostly autonomous rigs while others say that, in the near future, rigs will most likely be controlled remotely by drillers, geologists, and engineers working in office buildings rather than in the field, and on several wells at once. Systems are currently evolving to turn drillers and rigs into something akin to commercial airliners, whereby many functions of the airplane are automated, giving pilots the ability to take control if they need to.

In the latter scenario, new fleets of rigs do not need to be created, but existing fleets will be retrofitted with highly advanced computer programs that use real-time data combined with mechanized equipment to increase the ROP and maintain wellbore stability. Two of the most recent examples of commercial technologies were developed by members of SPE’s Drilling Systems Automation Technical Section (DSATS).

In 2014, ConocoPhillips and National Oilwell Varco (NOV) completed a pilot program in Texas to test a new automated system, which reduced drilling time by more than 40%. The technology has since expanded to North Dakota, will soon be used in the North Sea, and could be introduced in the Middle East by the end of 2015.

Also in 2014, Sekal, Norwegian software firm, installed an automated program called DrillTronics on an offshore drilling platform operated by Statoil in the North Sea to uspeed pramp up tripping and connection times. The program, which works by controlling torque, pump pressure, and hook load, has been under development for decades.


  1. Jacobs, T. Automated Drilling Technologies Showing Promise. Journal of Petroleum Technology.
  2. Dupre, R. 2013. Is Automated Drilling the Industry's Future?Rigzone.

Noteworthy papers in OnePetro

Denney, D. 2011. Drilling Automation: An Automatic Trajectory-Control System . Journal of Petroleum Technology 63 (12): 84 – 87. SPE-1211-0084-JPT.

Fernandez, M.D., Ibanez, D.,  Storey, D.G. 2005. Significant Results in Field Trials (Argentina) of an Electronically Controlled Automatic Drilling System. Presented at the SPE Latin American and Caribbean Petroleum Engineering Conference, Rio de Janeiro, 20-23 June.  SPE-94889-MS .

Houston, S.J. 1991. Rig-Automated Drilling: A New Concept Is Being Proven.  Presented at the Offshore Technology Conference. OTC-6735-MS.

Larsen, H.F., Alfsen , T.,  Kvalsund , R., et al. 2010. The Automated Drilling Pilot on Statfjord C.  Presented at the IADC/SPE Drilling Conference and Exhibition, New Orleans, 2-4 February. SPE-128234-MS.

Leon , A. A., Hernandez, E., Bardasz, S.R.P. 2013. Design of an Automated Drilling Prediction System - Strengthening While-Drilling Decision Making. PublisherSociety of Petroleum EngineersSource SPE Digital Energy Conference, The Woodlands, Texas, 5-7 March. SPE-163709-MS.

Saeed, S., Lovorn, R., Knudsen, K.A. 2012. Automated Drilling Systems for MPD C-The Reality. Presented at the IADC/SPE Drilling Conference and Exhibition, San Diego, California, 6-8 March. SPE-151416-MS.

Simpson, B.K.  1992. Field Trials of the First RA-D (Rig Automation-Drilling) Automated Drilling Rig. SPE/IADC Drilling Conference, New Orleans, 18-21 February. SPE-23894-MS.

External links

DiFiore, Amanda. "Human Factors in Automation." : Web Events. Society of Petroleum Engineers, 22 Sept. 2015. Web.

Hsieh, L. 2011. Drilling automation: Is resistance futile? Drilling Contractor.

Popa, Andrei. 2015. "Understanding the Potential of Case-Based Reasoning in the Oil Industry." Web Events. Society of Petroleum Engineers,

See also