经过多年的研制，一种新型的全自动钻机最近在美国二叠纪盆地首次亮相。 尽管这一直貌似是异想天开的想法，但疫情期间许多油气公司面临的限制迫使一些钻井公司停止运营，并让钻井工人回家。 这促使众多科技公司与石油巨头建立合作伙伴关系，帮助实现系统自动化和操作数字化，从而通过机器人钻机等创新技术，使钻井项目可以在没有人力的情况下继续运行。
今年10月份，总部位于休斯敦的纳伯斯工业公司在没有地面工作人员手动操作的情况下，利用自动钻机实现了近2万英尺的钻井作业。作为测试阶段的一部分，纳伯斯工业公司预计将在该地区钻两至三口井。 Nabors Pace-R801是世界上第一台全自动陆上钻机，花了5年的建造时间才建成。 它为埃克森美孚公司在该地区的钻井业务提供支持，提供无人驾驶的钻井船，而以前需要整个团队在钻井船上作业。
纳伯斯工业公司全球钻井高级副总裁特拉维斯· 普尔维斯表示：“这是钻井行业发展的方向。”此外，“这种机器人技术真的是在改变游戏规则。在未来的5到10年里，围绕这一领域的创新将是非常令人兴奋的。” 向无人钻机的过渡出现在去年的“幽灵钻机”概念中，当时钻井工人远程运行系统，在疫情期间，他们被禁止接触平台。 尽管关于自动化钻机的讨论已经进行了多年， 挪威能源巨头Equinor在2020年首先改用“幽灵钻机”方式，由工作人员远程操作平台，英国石油公司(bp)和其他石油巨头也紧随其后。
然而，也有人称赞这项创新，他们指出，无论实施的安全标准有多高，石油钻机传统上对工人来说都是极其危险的地方。 由于这项工作的复杂性，钻机钻入很深地层以提取原油，事故时有发生。 随着大型石油公司面临越来越大的改善运营的压力，这可能是改善ESG社会方面的重要举措。 尽管如此，钻井时间的减少也意味着排放的减少，这也将支持环保计划的实施。
许多人强调了石油钻机灾难的悠久历史，例如导致167人丧生的Piper Alpha管道破裂的钻机着火。就在今年，墨西哥一部石油钻机发生火灾，造成5名工人死亡。 在世界各国出于环境原因都在关注石油开采的同时，重要的是要注意其社会影响，因为只要可再生能源的可用性有限，石油开采作业就会继续下去。
纳伯斯工业公司坚持认为，自动化并不一定意味着失业，因为工人将继续监督运营和执行重要任务。 它只是防止工人必须出现在钻机最危险的“红色区域”。 然而，随着新技术被全球其他公司采用，我们将看到它对石油工人的实际意义，由于新的外出限制，许多人仍在远程工作。
李峻 编译自 油价网
Robots Are Taking Over Oil Rigs
· A new, fully automated, oil and gas rig recently made its debut in the Permian Basin.
· The rig uses digital technology and Canrig robotics to ‘man’ the platform.
· Other robotic mechanisms have been used across the oil and gas industry for years, including robotic dogs that support the monitoring of oil platforms, as well as onshore drones that check for pipeline leaks.
After years in the making, a new fully automated drilling rig recently made its debut in Permian Basin. While this has long been a pipedream, restrictions faced by many oil and gas companies during the pandemic forced several to stop operations and call rig workers home. This spurred a plethora of tech companies to establish partnerships with oil giants to help automate systems and digitalize operations so that projects could run with or without human workers, through innovations like robot rigs.
In October, Houston company Nabors Industries achieved drilling to a depth of almost 20,000 feet with its automated rig, with no help from a crew on the floor to run operations manually. The company is expected two dig three wells in the area as part of its test phase. The Nabors Pace-R801 is the world’s first fully automated land rig, taking five years of engineering to achieve. It supports ExxonMobil operations in the region, providing unmanned vessels to drill wells that would previously have required whole teams on board.
The rig uses digital technologies and Canrig robotics to man the platform, providing vital components such as a robotic arm that runs the drill. The company also says that its SmartDRILL and SmartSLIDE automation software helps to reduce drilling times by up to four days, thereby reducing carbon emissions in projects.
Travis Purvis, Senior Vice President of global drilling for Nabors, stated “This is the direction that the industry is heading and should head,” Further, “This robotic technology really is game-changing. Over the next five to 10 years, it’s going to be really exciting to see the innovation that happens around that.” The transition to human-free rigs emerged last year in the ‘ghost rig’ concept when systems were run remotely by rig workers that were prohibited from physically accessing the platforms during Covid. Although discussions around automated rigs have been going on for years. Norway’s Equinor switched to a ghost rig approach in 2020, with crews operating the platform remotely, followed shortly after by BP and other oil majors.
Other robotic mechanisms have been used across the oil and gas industry for years, including robotic dogs that support the monitoring of oil platforms, as well as onshore drones that check for pipeline leaks.
However, this latest innovation worries workers in the oil and gas industry that were already hit hard during the pandemic. Around 400,000 jobs were cut from the sector during Covid, half of which were in the U.S. The main worry for oil and gas workers at present is the impending transition away from fossil fuels to renewable alternatives. But the digitalization of systems and the addition of robotics could spell earlier job losses than previously anticipated.
Yet, others praise the innovation, noting that oil rigs are traditionally extremely dangerous places for workers to operate, no matter the level of safety standards implemented. Accidents take place regularly due to the complex nature of the work, digging holes deep into the earth’s surface to extract crude. This could be an important move towards improving the social aspect of ESG, as Big Oil faces increasing pressure to better operations. Although, a reduction in drilling time also spells a decrease in the emissions being released, which will also support the environmental part.
Many highlight the long history of oil rig disasters such as the Piper Alpha pipeline ruptures, which caused the rig to set alight at the cost of 167 human lives. Just this year, we saw a fire outbreak at a Mexican oil rig cause the death of five workers. And while the world focuses on putting an end to oil extraction for environmental reasons, it is important to note the social implications, as oil operations are set to continue so long as the availability of renewable alternatives is limited.
Jason Gahr, ExxonMobil operations manager on the project explained, “ExxonMobil’s collaboration with Nabors in deploying this automated rig in Midland demonstrates the ability to optimize drilling using the combined power of robotics, automation, computing, and data”. In addition, “This is a great example of enhancing the safety, efficiency, and environmental performance of our operations through innovative technologies.”
And Nabors is insistent that automation doesn’t necessarily mean job losses, as workers will be kept on to supervise operations and carry out essential tasks. It will simply prevent workers from having to be present in the most dangerous ‘red zone’ of the rig. However, as the new technology is adopted by other firms around the globe, we will see what it means in practice for oil workers, many of whom are still working remotely due to new restrictions.
The innovation of robot rigs is clearly ground-breaking, taking years of careful planning, investment, and engineering. However, only time will tell what this means for the oil industry and its workers, as digitalization and the automation of operations picks up pace across the board.
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