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New Energy World magazine logo
New Energy World magazine logo
ISSN 2753-7757 (Online)

Well made: how drilling has earned its place in the energy transition


15 min read

Head and shoulders photo of Ann Davies, BP Senior Vice President, Wells Photo: BP
Ann Davies FEI, BP Senior Vice President, Wells

Photo: BP

BP is improving the environmental performance of its oil and gas well drilling by reducing flaring and carbon emissions, and improving its efficiency through the use of big data and automation technologies. Well operations are today at the cutting edge of engineering development. And they will remain relevant tomorrow, partly as a crucial enabler of carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS), writes Ann Davies FEI, BP Senior Vice President, Wells.

The energy sector is one of the few where you can say you’re serving everyone on this planet. There are still nearly a billion people today without access to energy, and energy companies have a role to play in helping to solve that issue. Every single person is a stakeholder, and energy companies have a responsibility to deliver that energy safely, securely and affordably, in a way that does good in the communities in which we operate.


We need people who are up for the challenge, because this sector is always going to have problems. We need people who want to help find solutions.


For example, routine flaring has traditionally been part of the well completion process, but BP is finding ways to avoid it. Alongside reducing the carbon emissions of our platforms, we’ve already achieved 41% reduction in operated emissions, against our 2019 baseline.


In Oman, we have now found a way to put in ‘green completions’, when you complete the well and, instead of flaring, process the gas. Now we’re also doing something very similar in the Asia-Pacific. We’re also challenging the need to well-test. New technology allows us to assess the potential of a well by using downhole tools. Of the 50 offshore wells that we drilled last year, only four needed to flare. Our BPX Energy operation, which is the US land shale gas and oil business, has already achieved zero routine flaring.


Also, we’ve made significant progress in reducing flared emissions from well test and clean-up activities. We are installing new technology – sensors – on rigs all around the world to give us greater assurance on actual emissions versus estimated. We are on track now to be zero routine flaring in wells by 2030.


Digitalisation and automation
Digitalisation is very important to BP, as is making sure that it is driven for customer benefit. It makes an engineer’s job easier to have the right data in hand to make the right decisions, or to be able to model different opportunities.


Every single well we drill is modelled. And as we are drilling, we can see how the parameters are compared to the model. So we can tell if something changes, because when we’re drilling we are going into Mother Nature and she’s not always predictable. Similarly, some of the platforms that BP uses have a digital twin, so we can construct our platforms digitally and the operation side of the team use that to help them plan their maintenance, without having to physically travel there.


Automation provides the potential to go even further. A rig employs 100 or more people; drilling is a very manual process, so there is perhaps an opportunity to automate a little bit more, and to make it even safer and more efficient. While I can’t envisage a completely autonomous rig – I do think you need to rely on human beings to make some judgment – I do think there’s an opportunity to automate further. For example, the new ACE platform rig, which is in Azerbaijan, is controlled remotely.


As automated rigs will be more efficient to run, they might be able to unlock more resources in the future which are currently uneconomical. Because in our sector, a lot of the easy energy has already been taken.


Drilling rigs are currently in short supply, and both producers and contractors want a sustainable model. We are exploring how to make rig contracts less transactional. A great example is in the North Sea, where we are working with Odfjell and Baker Hughes to help develop the Clair field, one of the UK’s largest oil fields. That is an alliance contracting structure partnership, in which there are various incentives for the contractor to perform well.


Wells for CO2 injection
Also in the North Sea, BP is participating in the Northern Endurance Partnership project, drilling not extraction but new injection wells for carbon capture and storage (CCS). Although in theory one could use existing bores, it’s almost inevitable that new wells are going to need to be drilled for CCUS. They use similar principles to wells today used to inject water or gas to keep the energy in the reservoir.


Carbon capture drilling features some differences in design; there are different pressures and one must consider the metallurgy of what is being injected (CO2 is corrosive, for example). But the way you would drill and the way you would construct a well is very similar to how you would build, drill and construct a well for the oil and gas sector. Expertise such as this may prove instrumental in delivering CCUS projects.


Although my executive leadership role has taken me out of operational oversight, I don’t take the change lightly. Every day – every day – what I think about is those people who are on the front line, delivering our business and managing safety. They are the people who I work for.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly those of the author only and are not necessarily given or endorsed by or on behalf of the Energy Institute.


  • Further reading: ‘Key levers for oil and gas decarbonisation’. A new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) suggests there are five key levers for the oil and gas industry to significantly reduce its carbon emissions footprint.
  • Find out more on UK government plans for oil and gas exploration in the North Sea, and development of CCUS clusters.