Originally authored by Carter Haydu and reposted with permission: https://www.dailyoilbulletin.com/article/2020/10/28/avatar-team-tackles-pipeline-construction-techniqu/

One of the main horizontal directional drilling (HDD) challenges is underground uncertainty; a common solution is to drill technical boreholes to get a better understanding of the soil. However, according to one Avatar Program team’s presentation, such a method inevitably requires some assumptions and misses the “full picture” in the earth.

“To solve this problem, what we’re prepared to do is develop an advanced artificial intelligence model to predict the soil along the HDD path,” said Kshama Roy, lead for special projects and pipeline integrity at Northern Crescent Inc. “[Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada] has an extensive soil database, mainly for the top one metre of soil, which we use as the base model for our AI algorithm.

“As we go beyond 10 to 30 metres deep, we pilot HDD with geotechnical boreholes at every 100 metres to train the model. Following these two steps, our trained AI model will be able to tell the driller what to expect while drilling by providing a 3D realization of the soil along the HDD path.”

In terms of an environmental solution, Roy’s team proposes using a carbon calculator to determine the emission amount for each HDD path, and then combine it with the AI predictive soil model to find an optimal solution. This carbon calculator is a proven technology and is currently being used in a pilot project in New Westminster, B.C.

“What we’re predicting is that before the pilot project, we actually have an understanding of what the soil is and what they’re going to drill. And so, it makes life very easy and also very cost effective.”

Using AI and machine learning, companies can reduce geotechnical testing cost by half and reduce mechanical design and utility cost by one-third, noted Aadrish Baloch, a project engineer at Wood plc. All of this represents a savings of around 35 to 40 per cent.

“Services like Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services have already partnered with BPShell and Exxon to transform their exploration drilling and shape the future. The model of the future will be one where AI leverages the power of a high-skilled workforce to control production of smarter machines, increasing returns on investment.”

He added: “We are looking at it from a perspective that geotechnical testing is building artificial intelligence and machine learning models. We won’t necessarily need three holes. If we have a better subsurface visualization, then we can only go with one hole. That reduces our geotechnical testing costs, because it helps us to know what we are drilling through and where to drill reduces our mechanical design and drilling costs.”

Reusing food waste as additives in drilling mud

When it comes to overall HDD costs, disposable drilling waste can get expensive, according to Derek McLean, environmental lead at Surerus Murphy Joint Venture. For this, his team has two solutions, including using variable speed centrifuges and polymers to reduce waste, reuse water and recycle mud. The second solution: Using food waste as additives in the drilling mud.

“Surprisingly, food loss and waste have an 8.2-per-cent share of overall global greenhouse gas emissions. We believe that we can help solve our disposal cost problem, as well as reduce this 8.2 per cent, by incorporating food waste as additives in drilling mud.”

He added: “Food waste products such as mandarin peels, banana peels and potato peels are effective in altering the pH, as well as modifying the rheology of drilling fluids, while others such as date trees are an effective treatment used to stop lost circulation. There are numerous benefits to pursuing this, such as turning unwanted food waste into valuable commercial products, cost savings in disposal, and reduction of overall greenhouse gases.”

Ross Auser, founder of RADesign Inc., told the panel of industry experts that Canada is and will continue to be the best globally at building pipelines, due to a track record of safety and ESG factors, innovation and collaboration.

“We have so many world-class workers, companies and associations that get concentrated in a small area, and they all want to get to work. From an industry perspective, we have an industry with a great generational foundation and a world-leading track record. Investment seems like a safe bet here in Alberta’s oil and gas sector.”

Sparrow to the rescue

With the increasing pressure of higher costs and expectations, both economically and socially, the Avatar team believes that it is critical for Canada’s energy sector to leverage its world-class people and technologies to provide solutions that are both transformative and broadly applicable.

Sparrow Downhole Tools Ltd. is one example of a Calgary-based firm that implements innovative technology to reduce operational costs for its clients, said JT Fetting, the rotary steering tool designer and manufacturer’s director of corporate development. He added that rotary steerable systems are essentially “smart” drilling heads that allow for drilling longer-reach wells while also decreasing the drill time and increasing precision of the well location.

“Our access tools are an instrumental part of the push towards fully-automated drilling. Due to the complexity of the electronics, the functionality of the tool and the operating conditions, the tools are very expensive. This is what separates Sparrow Downhole from the pack. We have developed a simplified design with a smaller number of parts, without having to sacrifice performance.”

Highlights of the design and technology his company brings to the HDD market include an ability to integrate gyro and ranging technology closer to the drill bit. Whereas traditional assemblies locate sensors about 16 to 18 metres back in the bottom-hole assembly, Sparrow Downhole places its sensors significantly closer at four metres back from the bit, dramatically reducing guesswork from onsite steering personnel.

“Our push-to-bit system delivers consistent, predictable build rates to draw a high-quality wellbore, enabling pinpoint accuracy. Continuously recording wellbore position is used to maintain control on target.”