King of the drill: Improved drilling efficiency could mark a sea change in the offshore oil and gas industry
Dr. Steve Butt is leading a project to develop tools and technologies to improve offshore oil and gas drilling safety and efficiency. The work of this process engineering professor and his team will also increase drilling research capacity at Memorial.
The Advanced Drilling Laboratory, a key component of the Atlantic Innovation Fund (AIF) Advanced Drilling Technology Project, is a major university-industry partnership with funding from the AIF, Research and Development Corporation (RDC), Husky Energy and Suncor Energy Inc.
One of the primary objectives of the project is the development and evaluation of Vibration Assisted Rotary Drilling (VARD), a technology intended to increase drilling performance by increasing drilling penetration rates and decreasing the rate of bit wear and damage.
“Our preliminary work focused on confirming if, in fact, vibration had a positive impact on penetration rate,” Dr. Butt explains. “Then we focused on understanding how that worked and why. We developed technology to test the process in the lab and that was transferred to tools that we could test in the field. Under field conditions, drilling penetration rates were increased by 25-60% in weaker materials and three to four times in stronger materials.”
Given that drilling is one of the single largest expenditures for offshore oil and gas exploration and production, these findings are significant. And while improving penetration rate is important for the drilling industry worldwide, it is especially relevant in cold-water climates, where drilling seasons are short. Faster drilling times increase the types and locations of targets that can be drilled in icy locations.
Faculty members, project engineers, postdoctoral fellows, interns and students have all played a role in the project, which has so far generated 25 publications, 20 graduate theses, one patent (with others under development) and several additional research projects and industrial collaborations.
While Dr. Butt has been the principal investigator of the lab since its inception, he credits the success of the project to teamwork. “A lot of people with a lot of different expertise and backgrounds have contributed to this work. We couldn’t have gotten this far without the participation of people with many different capabilities and skills. It’s been a team effort.”