SPE: Industry slow to adopt downhole robotics

Joe Donovan, Intelligent Inspection Corp., Houston, chronicled the oil and gas industry's slow adoption of autonomous downhole robots in his presentation at the 2002 SPE Conference & Exhibition today.

Oct 2nd, 2002

Guntis Moritis
Production Editor

SAN ANTONIO, Oct. 2 -- Joe Donovan, Intelligent Inspection Corp., Houston, chronicled the oil and gas industry's slow adoption of autonomous downhole robots in his presentation at the 2002 Society of Petroleum Engineers Annual Technical Conference & Exhibition in San Antonio today.

Currently, his company's robot, called MicroRig, is undergoing reliability testing. He said the untethered, 30 ft long, 150 lb, 2-in. OD tractor tool will be capable of carrying various tools downhole and working without guidance from the surface because of the artificial intelligence built into the robot.

Donovan attributed part of the failure of a past attempt to introduce such a tool to cute naming concepts that were foreign to the oil and gas industry. The "Bore Rat," introduced in 1997 came with such terms as "missions" instead of runs in the hole. These terms had a negative connotation in the market, Donovan said.

The end for this first attempt at a downhole robot vehicle came in 1999 when oil prices dropped to $12/bbl, Donovan said.

Donovan explained that the MicroRig would be promoted with easily understood oil field terms such as:

1) Screw existing technology (bottomhole pressure, bottomhole temperature logs) onto the bottom of the MicroRig.
2) Run the system into the well.
3) Allow the attached technology to perform its function.
4) Come home.

Donovan said the use of the robot as a carrying device of tools developed by other service companies allows his company to focus only on developing the MicroRig.

Designed in the second half of 2000, the robot has been tested in the laboratory and in two series of field trials in 2001. Donovan indicated that this initial testing showed that artificial intelligence can be incorporated in oil field applications, but more work needs to be done in making the tool more maintenance-free.

The current reliability testing, done with an established service company, will ensure long-term reliability of the system and further illuminate the maintenance requirements and costs, according to Donovan.

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