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Automation for safer drilling

Introducing automatic valves could increase safety in the event of well kicks on oil and gas installations, according to PhD research by Liv Almås Carlsen at the University of Stavanger (UiS).

She defended her thesis about automating well control procedures on 8 February. It is available from the UiS library.

Several serious petroleum-industry incidents in recent years, such as the Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico during 2010, have intensified the search for countermeasures.

A blowout can occur when an uncontrolled flow of formation fluids or gas into a well – known as a kick – is either unnoticed or poorly handled.

Circulate
In order to circulate a kick out safely, drilling crew use a choke valve on the return line and control pressure in the well by adjusting the size of its opening.

This is done manually today by an operator, who also keeps an eye on the pressure manometer – a difficult job because the pressure response to choke adjustments may be very delayed.

The threat of possible human error will also be particularly high under stressful conditions, such as the process of reacting to a well kick.

Methods
Carlsen’s research has studied various methods for automating this response with the aid of modern regulation technology.
The 33-year-old has found that a computerised system can use different models of the process to achieve more accurate management.

Her work also introduces a new method for continuous automated evaluation of drilling mud properties with the aid of differential pressure sensors.

IRIS
Carlsen hails from Bergen and works as a scientist at the International Research Institute of Stavanger (IRIS), with UiS professor Rune W Time as her PhD adviser.

Her research has been funded through the eForce Laboratory for Automated Drilling Processes (eLAD) project at IRIS, and supported by the Petromax programme at the Research Council of Norway.

Oil companies Statoil and ConocoPhillips have provided further funds, while the Norwegian Institute for Energy Technology (IFE) and Christian Michelsen Research (CRM) have also been involved.  

Automation for safer drilling