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OM in the News: Shell Oil’s Use of Operations Technology in Drilling

January 8, 2013
Noble crew and imaging equipment

Noble crew and imaging equipment

A new generation of digital technologies in offshore oil drilling ships is helping Shell Oil drill wells faster, more safely and at a lower cost than ever before. It is part of the technological revolution fueling North America’s oil-and-gas boom, writes The Wall Street Journal (Jan. 3, 2013), increasing the continent’s energy independence. The Noble Bully—a 30,270-gross-ton behemoth as long as two football fields—can guide a 21.5-inch-wide drill bit thousands of feet below the water’s surface to the center of a target 4 sq. ft. in size.

Innovations in information technology, the topic of Chapter 7, including powerful new data-imaging tools and predictive analytics, are making it possible for companies like Shell and Chevron to map and exploit previously uncharted oil-and-gas fields locked in shale and “tight” rock formations, or buried far below the ocean floor and obscured by thick layers of salt. Seven to eight feet narrower and 160 to 260 feet shorter than conventional offshore drilling vessels, the Noble Bully can operate as deep as 12,000 feet. Shell says it can drill as much as 40,000 feet below the seafloor.

The Noble Bully’s  sensors pick up more data than their predecessors from sonic blasts sent out by an exploration ship. Shell operates the highly automated drill ship with 160 workers—40% fewer than required on a typical vessel. Shell scientists working on shore analyze the data with artificial intelligence the company developed, and produce 3- and 4-dimensional maps of the oil reservoirs.

Safety is an almost constant topic of conversation aboard the Bully, where anyone—even visitors—have the authority to stop work if they think something isn’t right.

Discussion questions:

1. How is Shell enhancing oil drilling productivity?

2. What is the role of the operations manager in offshore drilling?

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