How automation is revolutionizing shale operations

05 December 2017

The last 10 years have shown that smaller oil companies have led the way in shale technology by cutting costs in half with innovations such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracking. All of these breakthroughs in the shale sector have turned the United States into the world’s biggest growing energy export. However, now some of the larger oil companies are getting into the shale sector and using technologies that were originally meant for highly automated offshore operations and adapting them for shale operations. 

If these innovations continue to be successful, then the U.S. oil industry’s ability to operate more wells at a lower cost would be very beneficial for future output. One of these technologically advanced methods includes Chevron Corporation using drones equipped with thermal imaging to detect leaks in oil tanks and pipelines across its shale fields. This method avoids that traditional ground inspections that had to be conducted when using more traditional methods. Lengthy shutdowns also aren’t a concern either. ConocoPhillips uses remote drilling as part of its shale operations as does Shell. In fact, Shell has launched an initiative called “iShale,” which has marshalled technology from a dozen oilfield suppliers, including devices from subsea specialist TechnipFMC Plc that separate fracking sand from oil and well-control software from Emerson Electric Co., to bring more automation and data analysis to shale operations.

The goal of Shell’s initiative is to make cheaper versions for onshore production by incorporating low-cost sensors similar to those in Apple Inc.’s Watch, eliminating the need for workers to visit thousands of shale drilling rigs to read gauges and manually adjust valves. Shell envisions shale wells that predict when parts are near mechanical failure and schedule repairs automatically. As early as next year, the producer wants to begin remote fracking of wells, putting workers in one place to oversee several projects. It also would add solar panels and more powerful batteries to well sites to reduce electricity and diesel costs.

Image courtesy of Rockwell Automation