By Jason McFarland, IADC President
Technology is a powerful and dynamic resource. It enhances almost every aspect of our lives, from communication to healthcare to transportation. People are constantly finding innovative applications for different kinds of technologies. We’ve entered an era where technology that can teach itself is widely accessible to the general public. Thanks to advances in artificial intelligence (AI), we can now have an informative, human-like conversation with language-processing chatbots.
The benefits of technology are seeping into just about everything we do, and drilling a well is no exception. Digitalization in well planning and rig operations has been steadily increasing in recent years, with meaningful advancements in automation, robotics, AI and machine learning. Employing these technical resources allows us to enhance safety on the rig while increasing efficiency and prioritizing sustainability in innovative ways.
Over the years, our industry has accomplished impressive and impactful technical advances. One recent example, reported by DC in the July/August 2023 issue, is the collaboration among Transocean, HMH and Equinor to drill fully automated hole sections in Norway. The use of “smart modules” not only reduced the potential for human error but also gave drillers more time to focus on other tasks, like red zone management. (Also see video with Transocean and HMH).
Earlier this year, DC also reported on how NOV turned its vision of a personnel-free rig floor into reality. The ability to move the driller’s cabin to the ground was made possible through automation and robotics and opens up a new world of possibilities in terms of future rig design.
AI and machine learning have also enhanced the use of alerts to deal with potential operational or safety threats. An excellent example is Patterson-UTI’s Rules Engine Exchange (REX), a cloud-based alert system for monitoring equipment and maximizing performance. As DC reported in the July/August issue, Patterson-UTI is now building infrastructure for the REX system to run directly on the rigs instead of through the cloud system, shortening the time it takes to process data and get alerts out to the rig crews.
These are just a few recent examples of how the drilling industry is harnessing the potential of technology. In reality, our industry has designed and implemented countless notable technological advancements over the years.
Yet when the average person thinks of the drilling industry, do they think about how technical and progressive it is? Perhaps even more importantly, do the up-and-coming bright minds deciding on their future careers know? Are they aware of the industry’s increasingly diversified uses of robotics due to advances in AI, cloud computing and the Internet of Things? Or how about the immense amounts of real-time data collected through computer vision and equipment sensors? Or the use of 3D modeling to create realistic visuals of drilling processes and the subsurface? (See DC’s report on digital drilling engineering).
If you’re thinking the answer is “probably not,” you’re correct. IADC partnered with Brunswick Group this year on the Industry Value Initiative to help us gain a baseline understanding of perceptions of the industry, including misunderstandings and opportunities among prospective drilling industry employees. The data showed that the industry’s perception issues are apparent when asking audiences to describe the drilling industry – “high paying,” “profitable,” “risky,” “global” and “polluting” were in the top descriptive attitudes, while “safe” and “sustainable” were seen as not descriptive. “Technical” and “technology” were also not top of mind.
But don’t worry, there’s some good news. While the research showed that interest in a drilling career was low among the groups surveyed, it also showed a significant increase in career interest after exposure to tested messaging. That means the more familiar people are with the industry, the greater their interest in a career in drilling. General awareness of the industry is modest, which suggests an opportunity to grow familiarity across all regions and audiences. How do we grow that familiarity? The surveys revealed that when individuals are interested in learning more about the drilling industry as a potential career, family and friends with industry experience are two of the most trusted sources of information.
This data also revealed that messaging around how the industry uses various technologies can contribute to attracting new talent. Job security, skill development and growth opportunities were all high priorities for these groups while seeking a new job or career. As the drilling industry continues to develop new technologies, the roles of the rig crew will change – but we will always need people. Through the introduction of new automation and digitalization systems, there lies an opportunity for the potential of skill development, career growth and job security for those already working in the industry and for those who decide to join us in the future.
There’s more to come out of IADC’s Industry Value Initiative and the data that has been gathered. There’s also much more to come as we stand on the precipice of what’s possible in terms of automation on the rig and in the wellbore. In addition to safety, efficiency and sustainability, these technical advancements can also help us attract the next generation of talent. Each of us can impact how others, including potential new-hires, perceive the industry. It’s within our power to introduce the world to the drilling industry we all know and love. DC