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The ability to simulate provides an immensely powerful tool to drilling, reservoir, and production engineers.
Try to imagine how many catastrophes could possibly have been averted had the participants been able to simulate results beforehand. Thinking about this brings to mind a comedic collection of black and white film clips depicting early attempts to develop a heavier-than-air flying machine. Seeing those contraptions plunging to earth was funny, but the entertainment was made possible by the editors who cut out the more grisly scenes, leaving theatre goers to think that our barnstorming ancestors were just a bunch of madcap inventors having harmless fun. What if it had been possible to model the behavior of those “inventions” so as to predict their feasibility or show up their shortcomings? For one thing, the Wright brothers might have been able to move up their spectacular success by months or even years.
Today, thanks to the development of high-speed processors, we are blessed with many ways to simulate situations and predict outcomes with reasonable accuracy. One of the most useful benefits of simulation is the ability to play “what-if” games. Often these can provide deep insight that allows us to determine the right path to a solution without risking life or considerable investment.
A few years ago, I researched a computer-based program that could simulate the motion of a vessel at sea. Developed by several brilliant marine engineers and mathematicians from Norway, the program resided on a common laptop and was accompanied by a box containing servo mechanisms and signal generators that could interface with a ship’s instruments in the wheelhouse. With its capability to predict the effect of wind, wave, and current on a particular hull design, the system could be used to simulate a complete sequence of events constituting a thorough sea trial. Want to see how the vessel would react to a 32-ft (10-m) high wave 45° off the port bow? The simulator could model it.
The possibilities were enormous. Shipyard presidents told me that they could use the device to effectively de-bug ships’ systems before actual sea trials took place. Moreover, since no one knows what the weather will actually be like when the sea trial occurs, gaps in the trial tests can be filled in. For example, no one wants to test the ship’s ability to survive a hurricane by actually sailing into one, so those more dangerous tests could be simulated.
Recent strides in computer capacity and speed are enabling phenomenal achievements. Reservoir simulators allow operators to test the effects of everything from drilling an infill well to converting a producer to an injector or vice versa. Production system simulators can help operators size surface facilities optimally. Recently these simulators have been linked, so the entire asset can be simulated from the pore to the pipeline.
With the ability to model scenarios before implementing them, both the production and financial implications of any decision can be predicted, possibly averting physical or financial catastrophes. Design alternatives can be tested in context with the particular operator’s financial constraints and requirements. Recently we published an account of a complex production system re-design and upgrade in Mexico that was thoroughly simulated in advance to help the operator make the right decision — for that operator.
What-if exercises can be used to provide a glimpse of the future. Operators who want to know how a decision made tomorrow might affect production five years from tomorrow can do so, providing they can model reservoir behavior by extrapolation of trend data. They can explore possible alternative behaviors to see the potential result. So that, those alternatives start to present themselves, remedial action can be taken immediately.
One of the biggest beneficiaries of simulation is risk management. It is not unreasonable to expect that much oilfield risk could be reduced or avoided altogether through the judicious and systematic use of simulation. A good example is the torque and drag calculation used in directional well design. With simulation, it may be possible to create a dynamic wellbore model, then populate it with real-time drilling data, logging data, and geomechanical calculations
to calculate drilling risk and perhaps identify the steps most likely to minimize it.
What if…we could simulate the effect of public policy decisions directed at our industry, predicting the disastrous outcomes before ill-conceived laws, regulations, and policies were acted upon? The people might listen. The Congress? Not likely, but what if just once, our dreams could come true?