Halliburton plans to deploy nanotech solutions by the end of 2015

Service companies, operators and universities are co-operating to bringing futuristic technology to market. Schlumberger and Halliburton are leading the way, at the behest of BP, ExxonMobil, Chevron and Eni.

A number of major players in the oil and gas industry are accelerating work on nanotechnology with a view to bringing the first products to market by the end of 2015 or the beginning of 2016. This will make it one of the first global industries to do so, according to Mohamed Habib, a Senior Consultant with Halliburton who is presently on secondment to the Kuwait Oil Company.

“At the moment, the future of the oil and gas industry is shale and it’s subsea, and everybody is looking for the same thing - especially for subsea. With nanotechnology you can get a much fuller picture of what is happening within the well and the reservoir, you can take all the measurements from subsea to the surface using nano,” said Habib.

Habib said that the amount that Halliburton was spending on nanotechnology was confidential, but that so far it was confined to laboratories and computer models. However, the firm was confident it could successfully market its new products, partly in the form of upgrades to existing systems.

He added that the running in the field was being made by Halliburton and Schlumberger, and that their projects had begun at the behest of a number of producers, including BP, ExxonMobil, Chevron and Eni, who wanted to form the big service companies into a “task group”.

Credit: morkeman

Smart field monitoring

“There is for example smart field monitoring. The old system was to upload data via satellite to a remote control room that is monitored by petroleum production engineers who can react immediately if there are problems with the integrity of wells. So, at the moment, all the data from Schlumberger fields goes to its centre in Houston", he said.

"This is basically an increase in the quality and quantity of data that we upload and the speed of the response. We will monitor your field 24 hours a day and if there’s a problem, action will be taken in three seconds. It’s improvements in IT linked to nanotechnology that we believe will be the future of smart fields. This is where we’re going," he added.

“To begin with, the aim will be to replace things like pressure and flow measurement gauges with more accurate substitutes, particularly in high-temperature, high-pressure, high-risk fields. There will be more than this of course, the field is just beginning to be explored. For each service, nanotechnology has an application, especially for subsea. In the end it will change the way we do business,” continued Habib.

As well as their service companies, the major operators are also sponsoring research at the university level. For example, the Advanced Energy Consortium, based in the University of Texas’ Bureau of Economic Geology, is engaged in upstream research into nanotechnology with the backing of Shell, BP and Total.

The aim of this programme is to improve the sustainability of the oil industry by increasing the effectiveness of its existing infrastructure with the aim of improving recovery rate.

New developments

Habib said that one important centre for oil and gas research was actually taking place in the US aerospace industry, which is ahead of it in some fields. He said: “For transmission, imaging and metallurgy they are developing technologies with the same performance that we need but for different applications.”

One recent development is the interest of aerospace firms in marketing their research to oil and gas firms. Last month, Lockheed Martin, the American aircraft manufacturer, announced that it was developing a graphene membrane with holes as small as one nanometre and is planning to offer it to oil and gas companies as a filter to clean drilling wastewater, and it is presently developing a commercial version with two oil companies.

Nano-sensors

Nasa has patented a sensor technology developed for its space programme that is able to create and monitor a nano-sensor network deployed in the well bore and the reservoir that, it says, is able to monitor physical qualities such as humidity, temperature and pressure and sound as well as detecting the presence or absence of target molecules.

According to Nasa, “the system is small enough to be located down-hole in each mineral-producing horizon for the wellsite”.

A more holistic approach

However, not everyone in the service sector is convinced that nanotechnology will bring fundamental solutions to all the oil industry’s familiar problems.

Joe Shine, the Cementing Business Development Manager at Baker Hughes, told Upstream Intelligence: “I know this is a technology that Halliburton is pushing but I’m not convinced it will really change well integrity management. It’s like saying you can make the perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich if you just improve the jelly.”

Shine said that for well integrity, it was necessary to adopt a more “holistic approach”. He added that most of the principal technologies have been around for the past 30 years. “It’s just that most people forgot about it. So when we talk about non-cementitious material for zonal isolation, to some degree a form of the product has been on the market a long time and in many case a product for one application has another use."

“Resins have been on the market for a very long time but their utilisation for zonal application has been discouraged because people want to talk about the cost per barrel. What they forget to realise is the number of days or weeks they spend trying to remediate an annulus pressure and what their rig cost. When you look at it that way, the cost really isn’t that much,” he added.