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Manufacturers Adapt to Fracking With Digital Tools, Advanced Machining Techniques

Alan Rooks
By Alan Rooks Editor in Chief, Manufacturing Engineering

The U.S. oil and gas industry has been completely transformed by fracking. Once an experimental sideline to traditional drilling, in 2016 hydraulically fractured horizontal wells totaled 69% of all oil and natural gas wells drilled in the U.S. and 83% of the total linear footage drilled, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Fracking has only grown since then.

While the practice remains controversial, and is banned in certain states, fracking will continue to grow in the U.S. For example, the Greater Anadarko Basin—centered in Oklahoma and stretching into the Texas Panhandle, southwestern Kansas and southeastern Colorado—holds an estimated 16 billion barrels of oil and more than 200 trillion cubic feet of gas in “un-risked technically recoverable resources in unconventional reservoirs,” according to IHS Markit, a global provider of information, analytics and solutions.

Fracking in the Anadarko has increased sharply since 2008, and annual basin production volumes have already set new peak records.

Of course drilling for oil and gas is enormously expensive. One onshore well (see our cover image) can cost as much as $84 million and an offshore well $200 million, according to the ZYFRA Group, Helsinki, Finland, which focuses on industrial digitalization.

According to Dmitry Lukovkin, artificial intelligence business director for ZYFRA, drill string weight for a 3,000 m well can reach 500 tons. “To drill a well it is necessary to overcome the resistance of the rock; to remove the rock particles, while still acting on fresh material; to maintain the stability of the walls of the hole and to prevent the fluids contained in the drilled formations from entering the well.”

He noted that wellbore instability can lead to drilling failures like a stuck bottomhole assembly or casing, equipment loss, or the total collapse of the hole. “Annual industry losses due to wellbore instability are estimated at more than $14 billion,” he said.

Wanted: New Solutions

That means new thinking and new approaches are needed, such as capturing and using digital data. For example, ZYFRA’s digital drilling optimization solution uses geological and drilling data to combine geomechanical, geosteering, petrophysical well models and machine learning models into a hybrid well model. A drilling optimization solution based on the model can increase oil production up to 20%, Lukovkin said.

Likewise, machining the parts that go into fracking equipment requires new approaches, as our cover story by Contributing Editor Ed Sinkora on page 38 explains. For example, fracking blocks, part of the giant pumps used in fracking, have traditionally been made from 4000 series alloy steel, but to combat wear users are using exotic alloys like 17-4 PH stainless, super duplex stainless and 15-5 stainless.

So, novel ways of using machine tools and cutting tools are needed. And, as always, you can read about them in Manufacturing Engineering!

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