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The Subsurface Factory – Better, Faster Hydrocarbon Development Through Collaboration


The oil and gas industry has always had to adapt to changing market conditions through supply change improvements, to the point of beckoning a factory style approach to resource play development. There is a clear correlation between adaptation or innovation and success in growing revenues across any industry.

Optimizing oil field development is planning for the long term while making/saving money in the short term and innovations such as multi-stage fracking, injection methods, horizontal well drilling, and pad drilling support those efforts.

The whole concept as it relates to the oil and gas industry has its challenges, but you can go a long way until you have to figure out how to handle the geologic (raw material supply) risk and optimizing the engineering to exploit the potential raw environment.

To start, let’s compare with a classic factory model standard. From Industry Week this interesting article highlights the top 5 factors optimizing complex manufacturing operations.

  1. Take advantage of revenue opportunities
  2. Tuning up operation and processes optimization
  3. Utilize ERP across the enterprise
  4. Finding harmony among diverse applications
  5. Coming to grips with complexity

Transform Collab fig 1 subsurface factoryIn a nutshell, metrics driven and collaborative planning support harmony across diverse applications and information flow in order to build insightful critical business decisions.  Dealing with change such as market shifts, supply chain interruption, regulatory changes, and competition are ingredients to a successful operation.

Sound familiar?

As a business, and particularly in the oil and gas business, taking advantage of revenue opportunities, and tuning operations and processes, can be accomplished through decision support tools.   ERP is defined as an integrated view of core business processes, often in real-time, using common databases, where ERP systems track business resources. That is another can of worms to discuss on another occasion.

Focus on the last two items – complexity and harmony among diverse applications – in the context of an integrated geologic and engineering model.

You need to assimilate geologic and engineer data, manage model uncertainties, optimize well placement, and the number and density of wells.  Manage a drilling schedule – calculate kick off, depth, inclination, azimuth, dog leg severity, anti-collision risk. Optimize completions and well operations such as pressures, casing, and flow rates, and go on to solve the inverse problem of history matching to make sure you understand the impact of your work.

Layer in subsurface constraints such as porosity, permeability, depth to pay, fracture half length, depletion and anticipated recovery rates, stacked pay opportunities and surface constraints such as lease, environmental and urban boundaries and regulatory and environmental requirements.  An efficient operation can profoundly impact the long term productivity and profitability for a field.

Transform Collab fig 2 subsurface factory
In areas where hydraulic fracturing is heavy, a dense web of roads, pipelines, and well pads provide ample opportunities to optimize your development strategy. (Photo: Simon Fraser University/Flickr)

I was sitting with a colleague the other day where we were exploring ideas around how do we know why a particular formation /reservoir stopped performing and if shutting in a series of wells in a field drastically increased water production and decreased oil production. Was it the drawdown, , interference,  field pressure management, geologic factors such as permeability and a possible stratigraphic influence?  You can say “so what” to any number of scientific theories, until you use a data driven methodology to reach a conclusion.  DI Transform is a platform that can bring harmony in a complex environment.

The DI Transform well interference workflow brings diverse data together to optimize well spacing while predicting future production and understanding depletion. Uncertainty around well density and how your field plan could impact future and past production in the context of geoscience information is accomplished in one application.

Transform Collab fig 3-1 subsurface factory
Scan wells in your field, inspect interference well pairs, calculate pre and post interference production volumes with the use of time lapse visualization, cross plots and analysis windows

The advanced well pair analyses tool affords rapid data scrutiny over an entire field; an activity that would normally take weeks or months collapses into hours or days.  In this example above, a portion of the Montney field (Northeast British Columbia, Canada) interference workflow is used within a multivariate analysis incorporating completion data, and production interference in order to statistically uncover optimum well spacing.

Transform Collab fig 4-1 subsurface factory
Design a standard pad template based on engineering and geologic analyses, use surface and subsurface restrictions and anti-collision tools to build your field plan

Once you have established optimal density in terms of production and geology you can take it a step further from a field perspective.  Drillinginfo‘s Pad and Field Planning workflow was designed in partnership with  our customers (one of them from Canada!) with an eye toward bringing geoscientists and engineers into one space. Field planners can use the same tool and data environment to build consistent and standard well pads with factory precision.  As in the above Montney example, an optimum spacing was established to construct a multi- level standard well pad that can minimize ecological impact at the surface and enable surface engineering efforts.

In the spirit of supply chain improvement and building better precision, landing in your target zone is critical to the success of your field development plan.   Target zones can be optimized for a geologic zone, you may want to keep a specific standoff from the bottom or top of the formation, or stay away from water bearing strata. Those goals may differ depending on your production strategy – steaming, fracking, pump and flow rate targets.  Understand your results and compare the performance of your target plan and have the tools to apply in engineering, the earth model and process improvement.

Transform Collab fig 5-1 subsurface factory
A rendering of the cross section along the wellbore path shows the lateral distance of the wellbore within its corresponding reservoir zone

Tough times call for discipline, technical expertise and long and short term planning to bring an operation to success and victory. The ability to mitigate risk in a quantitative way  and optimize the engineering to exploit the potential raw environment  is here today.

Your Turn

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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Doris Ross

Doris Ross is a geophysicist, and a Calgary native with a broad work experience in oil and gas in North America, conventional and unconventional plays, as well as business process, software and technology. She is excited to share the progressive tools and workflows that are part of Drillinginfo in her role as a technical advisor.