radio frequency tags let drillers keep tabs on pipes
Drilling rigs are a long way from libraries.
But Frank Mussche, who made his mark a decade ago adapting Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology to track the comings and goings of books, records and DVDs, thinks keeping tabs on the hundreds of lengths of reusable and costly pipe needed to drill oil and gas wells is a logical next step.
Marketed as the “talking drill pipe,” the specialized RFID devices were developed by a Norwegian technology firm and Statoil, Norway’s state-owned oil firm.
The first commercial drill pipe RFID unit was tested in 2007 in the North Sea and is now in use by Statoil and ConocoPhillips.
Houston-based drilling firm Weatherford plans to test the unit in the Gulf of Mexico, and Mussche is aiming to find an Alberta drilling firm to test the new Drilling Operations Tracking System (DOTS) here as well.
The diameter of a dime, the units can be screwed into the thick top segment where the pipes join to form a drilling string that can contain hundreds of the 9.6-metre sections.
“The new tags can withstand very high temperatures and pressures, and the software connects with the rig’s own operator systems so you are getting real-time data and depth logs about each piece of pipe,” said Mussche, president of Edmonton’s Libramation.
Operator alerts flash when a pipe is threaded into the string that does not meet standards.
“This eliminates manual errors which can happen in the drilling industry,” said Blair Watson, a former rig worker who is Libramation’s technical specialist.
As the pipe descends through the rotating floor of the rig, the operator sees its identity and history — how long it has been in use since its last inspection and what kinds of stresses it has faced in that period, for example.
A graphic display follows the in- dividual segments, and using data from the drill rigs can mathematically determine where that segment is in the string as the drill goes deeper and deeper.
In horizontal wells, certain segments can face extreme pressure at certain times as they bend and flex. And that information appears on the screen.
Watson thinks tracking pipes and knowing what they have undergone should lessen the chance of a failure during operations.
“And it can cost more than $250,000 a day to operate offshore, and deep onshore wells are expensive, as well. So we think the tags offer additional safety and reliability and will appeal to drillers,” he said.
For Western Canada, Mussche thinks the $40-a-piece devices could find a place with big operators drilling deep horizontal wells, which can have bore holes extending out from two kilometres.
With so much riding on efficient non-stop operations, drillers can’t afford not to listen to their drill pipes, said Mussche.