New technology—from innovating on engineering designs to invoking the powers of automation and AI—is increasing drilling consistency and precision.

At Patterson-UTI, part of the focus on the drilling side has revolved around cutting-edge bit technology, wellbore guidance systems inspired by the space industry and automated platforms.

About a year ago, Ulterra introduced its WaveCut drill bits, which stagger the cutting surface so the cutters don’t all hit the rock at the same time.

Chris Gooch
Chris Gooch, product development manager, Ulterra (Source: Patterson-UTI)

“Each of these is cutting their own individual arc, and they’re encountering the formation at different times from each other, and that helps to distribute the energy,” Chris Gooch, product development manager for Ulterra, told Hart Energy. “It’s all about energy distribution across the face of the drill bit.”

And that energy distribution is speeding up drilling, according to the company. In the Midland Basin, operators using 12¼ inch WaveCut bits have drilled an average of 6,848 ft with an ROP of 185 ft/hr, according to the company. The fastest 12¼ inch intermediate run was a 6,060-ft section, which achieved a 258 ft/hr ROP.

The WaveCut design was inspired by the rolling wheels that crush engine blocks.

“These things are huge,” Gooch said. “It literally mashes them using these waved teeth that separate and move the energy.”

The WaveCut’s designer saw the possibility for changing energy distribution with the drill bit, he said.

“It’s not a hard rock technology, but these days that doesn’t really discount a whole lot. But for 95% of drilling applications around the world, the WaveCut would be applicable,” he said.

The company runs about 25,000 drill bits per year, and WaveCut is currently making up between 10% and 15% of that number, he said.

Wave Cut
The WaveCut drill bit design was inspired by the rolling wheels that crush engine blocks. (Source: John Long/Hart Energy)

Automation focus

Saul Martinez
Saul Martinez, drilling optimization engineer at Patterson-UTI (Source: Patterson-UTI)

Automation is increasingly driving drilling processes. Saul Martinez, drilling optimization engineer at Patterson-UTI, told Hart Energy that its Cortex automation software is helping provide efficiencies and consistencies in drilling operations.

“Some of the customers that have been using our software, they can definitely see a lot more consistencies in the way that we’re ‘tagging bottom,’” he said.

It’s important to avoid inadvertently damaging the BHA or causing premature trips due to improper tagging bottom procedures, he added. The software helps mitigate some of those risks, and without the Slips to Weight software, which is part of Cortex, tagging bottom times can be “all over the place,” with one connection happening quickly and another more slowly, Martinez said.

One operator in the Permian Basin averaged a manual tag bottom time of 2.13 minutes. Using Slips to Weight software trimmed that average time to 1.4 minutes. A Haynesville Shale operator saw average manual times of 2.99 minutes but automated average times of 2.22 minutes, according to Patterson-UTI.

“This software, it helps smooth out a lot of those times,” he said. “We’re not trying to get record-breaking slips to weight times every time. We’re going for consistency.”

Location awareness

Wellbore positioning gets a lot of attention because operators want to ensure the wellbore goes where they want it.

“Operators spend a lot of money in their budget planning to develop a reservoir. And so, when we’re drilling the wells, we want to be as cost-efficient as possible. Speed is key, economics are key, but if your wellbore is not optimally placed within the planned spacing of how you want to drain that reservoir, you’re not going to capture the EUR that you’re projecting,” Ryan Kirby, vice president of operations for Superior QC, told Hart Energy.

Ryan Kirby
Ryan Kirby, VP of operations for Superior QC (Source: Patterson-UTI)

The company’s Hi-Fi Guidance wellbore positioning process, which is based on aerospace technology, starts with a fault detection, isolation and recovery algorithm. Hi-Fi Nav generates additional outputs, such as improved bit accuracy, for the drilling team, he said.

“We calculate the motor yield rates, both the effective and max in real time,” he said, adding the rotational tendencies are also outputted in real time to give the drilling engineer more information about how BHA interacts with the formation.

The company’s guidance platform is designed to maximize the efficiency in terms of where the steering intervals should be placed in the wellbore inside of the drilling window, Kirby said. 

“To maximize the efficiency, we want to rotate as much as we can because that’s faster for the most part, and less sliding and less steering creates less doglegs,” he said. “We see it as improving wellbore quality by using these wellbore placement services and technology offerings.”

The HiFi Nav’s high-density trajectory estimation was able to point out wellbore placement errors in a pair of Permian Basin wells and enable resteering to avoid the need for sidetracks, the company said. The first well had 70 ft of horizontal error and 33 ft of TVD error while the second well had 120 ft of horizontal error and 50 ft of TVD error.