Drill pipe turns into a high-speed bus

A new system can turn an oil and gas drill pipe into a high-speed data transmission tool capable of sending data from the bottom of a well 100,000 times faster than technology in common use today.

A new system has been developed that can turn an oil and gas drill pipe into a high-speed data transmission tool capable of sending data from the bottom of a well 100,000 times faster than technology in common use today.

Named IntelliPipe, it was developed by an engineering team of Grant Prideco, Houston, TX and Novatek Engineering, Provo, UT under a project funded by the US Department of Energy.

IntelliPipe is a drill pipe with built-in telemetry. It can transmit large amounts of data to the surface as fast as one million bits per second. It also will allow data to be sent in the other direction just as fast, giving drillers the first-ever capability to ‘tell’ a drilling tool what to do thousands of feet below the surface almost instantaneously.

The ‘smart pipe’ has undergone several field tests and is expected to be introduced commercially next year. Grant Prideco and Novatek have formed a joint venture called IntelliServ to market the technology.

The 1-million-bit-per-second transmission speed is especially impressive given that for the last quarter century, oil and gas drillers have laboured to read downhole drilling data at the painstakingly slow speed of 3 to 10 bits per second. Even today’s common computer modems – at 56,000 bits per second – are speed demons compared to traditional downhole drilling telemetry.

The key to the new system is a unique non-contacting coupler embedded in connections between 30-foot long sections of drill pipe. The coupler permits data to be sent across the connection and on through a high-speed cable attached to the inner pipe wall.

Using the high-speed, bi-directional communications link, a drilling system’s azimuth, inclination, pressure, temperature, loads and vibration, along with information on rock characteristics near the drill bit, can be evaluated almost instantly. Also, because of the ability to send high-speed data through the drill pipe, technologies once thought unobtainable – such as collecting seismic data at the drill bit – may now be possible.

With high-resolution seismic data collected ‘ahead of the bit,’ operators could steer the drill bit more precisely toward oil- and gas-bearing sweet spots and away from less productive areas. This will enhance the efficiency of oil and gas wells and reduce the number of wells needed to produce a reservoir.

It may also be possible to place sensors at select points along the length of drill pipe to monitor conditions throughout the wellbore and give operators early warnings of well control situations.

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