Virtual Drilling

By Mel Duvall  |  Posted 2006-05-06 Print this article Print

Rocketing oil prices are driving the nation's big oil companies to record profits. And ExxonMobil stands out in the industry. By investing in proprietary systems and ensuring that technology is tightly aligned with its top goals of finding more oil and ga

: Exxon's Technology Edge ">
The second key element in the find, drill and produce equation is the technology Exxon uses for directing the drilling of its wells. The company was among the first to create a virtual drilling center to essentially monitor, analyze and direct the drilling of wells around the globe. Sensors mounted just behind the drill bit detect everything from how deep the well is to how fast the bit is drilling, the amount of mud flowing in and out of the hole, and dozens of other inputs such as surrounding pressures and temperatures. The information is captured and sent via satellite link-ups to the Drilling Information Management Center in Houston. There, engineers and geoscientists monitor the incoming data to direct the operation and hit the pay zone.

The operation can be compared to that of a surgeon. Direct the well just a few degrees off, and it could miss the target entirely or fracture the reservoir, allowing oil to seep out or water to seep in.

The big advantage virtual drilling provides is that engineers and geoscientists don't have to actually be at the rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, Angola or the North Sea to direct the operation.

"If we have one guy who's an Einstein at this, we can't afford to have him at all these places around the globe," Comstock says. "He can direct the operation from here, then move on to the next job."

It's the primary reason why Exxon has been able to reduce the number of geoscientists it employs to about 1,500 today, compared to about 3,000 at the time of the merger with Mobil in 1999, with no drop in production.

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Contributing Editor
Mel Duvall is a veteran business and technology journalist, having written for a variety of daily newspapers and magazines for 17 years. Most recently he was the Business Commerce Editor for Interactive Week, and previously served as a senior business writer for The Financial Post.


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