The technology that has swept throughout the world has left a significant imprint on the oil and natural gas drilling industry.
From the highway, the drilling rigs companies use to punch through rock deep below the surface look much like they have for decades.
But the technology that has allowed a single smartphone to replace a camera, camcorder, music player, digital recorder, pedometer, compass, level and so many other instruments has transformed a traditional drilling rig into a high-tech tool equipped with more monitors, sensors and gadgets than could have been imagined just a decade ago.
Tulsa-based Unit Corp. this week unveiled the industry’s newest high-tech rig, known as the BOSS, which is short for box-on-box self stacking. The platform follows similar upgrades on rigs by Tulsa-based Helmerich & Payne Inc., Oklahoma City-based Cactus Drilling Co. and others.
Each manufacturer has taken its own approach, but one major trend is clear: technology is being adapted quickly and liberally.
Modern drilling rigs include cameras and sensors that provide the drillers with just about everything they could possibly need to know about the operation from the top of the rig to the bottom of the well.
From a cozy seat in the enclosed driller’s cabin, an operator can see the volume, pressure and temperature of the mud being used to push the drill bit through dense rock. The driller also can use those sensors to see exactly where the drill bit is at any given time and exactly what angle the bit is traveling.
Unit’s newest offering includes a driller’s chair that comes standard with two joysticks and four computer screens built in.
While the operators can see everything going on at once, the system also is equipped with alarms that will sound automatically if there are any problems.
The data isn’t available only to those on the rig. An on-site Internet connection can provide all that information in real time to engineers, partners and executives anywhere in the world.
Modern electric rigs also provide for far greater control, allowing the pipe to descend smoothly into the well at measured rates and helping to ensure the plans drawn up by the company’s geologists and other scientists are followed precisely.
The upgrades have created an arms race as manufacturers compete to provide the latest and greatest technological improvements. Just as smartphone companies compete to provide customers with more gigabytes and megapixels, rig operators increasingly are offering more horsepower and torque.
As long as demand for oil and natural gas continues to grow and commodity prices hold strong, the trend is likely to continue.