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October 2, 2019

Future of BHA

Season 2
This episode is sponsored by
Gibson Reports
Future of BHA
Have you ever thought of an MWD being similar to a smartphone? In terms of a short range communication think of the bluetooth and a short-hop. Your cellular communication would be your mudpule or electromagnetic  telemetry as the long range communication. This standard wireless protocol allows you to have utility for multiple devices. Ken discusses how this mechanical structure could evolve for the smart BHA peripherals that all locally communicate with the MWD. 

This episode is sponsored by

Gibson Reports
Gibson Reports

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Episode Transcription

Hi, I'm Ken Miller.

And I'm David Erdos.

And welcome to the Erdos Miller New Technology Podcast. Our podcast is sponsored by Gibson Reports, offering the best MWD in directional drilling market share report. Check them out on gibsonreports.com.

So David, I'm back.

Welcome back.

Thank you. So I'm subbing in for Zach, who was subbing in for me. I think we're going to try and have a little bit more variety going forward. So Zach will be back. Don't think that Zach has gone forever. And I am now a proud father of two sons.


So we've got a four-week-old at home. That's pretty exciting. I'm just looking forward to the future, like damage bills that... Two male children-

See what they scheme up together.


Once they start scheming.

Yeah. They're going to destroy the house, right?


But my wife and I have a little debate because our pool at home backs up right to the house. Right?

Uh-huh (affirmative).

And so the debate has been at what age are the boys going to start climbing onto the roof to jump off into the pool? And so the debate's between like six and, I don't know, 11 years old or something.


But I'm sure they'll figure it out eventually.

You should make a bet.

Yeah. That's what we're doing. Right? So Dave, let's get into one of my favorite topics, right?

What's that?

The ongoing discussion of what is the BHA of the future. Right? And I mean, we've probably been talking about this for 10 years, but I think we have a little bit better vision for what it is now, right.

Yeah. Let's start with the basics. What is a BHA?

So BHA is a common industry acronym, initialism. So it's an initialism because we don't say it. We don't go "bha." Right?


It's BHA. So Bottom Hole Assembly, right?


And it basically refers to everything below the drill pipe-


-up to and including the bit. Right? So it's all the stuff that we have at the end of our drill stem. Right?


If you want to use like a patentee kind of term, right?


And so that might include the bit, a rotary steerable, or a motor, and NWD, and stabilizers, and agitators, and extra drill collars, and monels, and heavyweight drill pipe. Right?


It's just really all the stuff that you set up from where just the regular old drill pipe ends, towards the end. Right?


And so there might be some other components, like for the backup with the drill pipe too, but that's usually what it refers to.

Typically, it's just dumb drill pipe, standard drill pipe above the BHA.

Yeah. Sometimes other stuff goes into it. Right?


So sometimes other agitators, or repeaters, or whatever else.


Right. And so... I mean, this is like a huge job for like a drilling engineer, right, is deciding what his BHA should look like, what components are going to go in there, what do I need for what formation, what size, all this kind of stuff. Right?


And there's endless debates about stabilized versus not stabilized. I don't know anything about that stuff. Right?


So we were focused on kind of talking about the bit at the end the MWD, the motor, the [inaudible 00:02:46], anything that has kind of electronics in it, like the really lower portion of that BHA. Right? And so I believed for a long time that the best combination is going to be starting with the bit on the bottom. Right?


And then I think rotary steerables are going to take over. I think we're going to see... I think that the 20s is the age of the low cost rotary steerable, right? Or the more economical rotary steerable. I think running the MWD right behind that is great. Right? And then I think running a straight motor behind that is really great. Right?


And people will often disagree with me.


So that's fine, but that is a configuration that I just really believe in, right, and that's being done today. I mean, there were people running BHAs like that today. I think we've been talking about this kind of concept for almost five years, but it's kind of becoming a reality now. The question is like, where does it go after that?

What are some of the advantages of that configuration versus more typical?

Well, I mean... Obviously, there's tons of advantages of just running a rotary steerable versus a bit motor. Right? And so as the rotary steerable cost comes down, and their capabilities go up, I expect that to become the primary steering instrument. Right?

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Now, one of the things you just can't ignore is like a positive displacement motor just generates a ton of power, just a shocking amount of power, right?


That a rotary steerable really can't replace with a turbine, or batteries, or whatever else. Right? And so we're still going to have those motors in there because we need that just raw power that we can harness from our pumps with a straight motor. Right? With the motor, right? And then I'm a big believer in putting the MWD below it, because you can pulse below a motor. It does work, and getting those measurements as close to the bit, and then being able to talk to the rotary steerable. Right?

And so the big advantage is using the rotary steerable, having the MWD as close to the bit as possible. Right. And then really still being able to utilize that proven technology of a motor. Right.


So now a lot of people would disagree with me and say, MWD has no business being below the motor. Right. Oh, you have so many extra cycles and the shotgun vibes worse, and the magnetic spacing's harder to get.


Those are all very fair criticisms of that design. Right? Like there's a lot of costs that goes into an MWD and so putting it below a motor is like that's kind of scary, right.

You're going to destroy this really expensive piece of kit.

Yeah. Now that does change a little bit if you have a rotary steerable that doesn't need a motor, but I'm also not a rotary steerable expert. Right. We're trying to be experts in the MWD side of things. Right.

The electronics side.

I say trying because I feel like that's a continual journey. Right. Like we're always getting better, right. So, I mean, if you kind of accept the arguments against that configuration, then a way that I can see that evolving into the future is, and in some cases, it's even being done now is you run a bit and then a rotary steerable, and then you run sort of a sensor sub below the motor, and then you run your motor and then you have your MWD back. Right.


And then you short hop information from that sensor sub back to the MWD. Right?


And so that sensor sub might include things like today, I think like torque on bit, weight on bit, right. Or inclination, right. And a lot of times those subs, their job is to stab into the rotary steerable and then hop that information back across to the MWD.

They also act as a short hop.

Sometimes. Yeah. Yeah. And so that's the design to certain rotary steerable systems. And I've talked to a few customers who have experimented with running that kind of combination. Right.

Okay. Really?

Yeah. That brings me to kind of an analogy that I want to make for the MWD going forward. Right.


And I really began to look at the MWD as kind of like becoming more and more like a smartphone. Right. And I'm not going to say iPhone or Android because I'm not going to pick a side in that debate, even though you and I are both iPhone guys.

That's right.

So, the iPhone, when I look at it, right, it has a bunch of smarts in it, but it has essentially two ways of communicating. Right. It has a short range communication, meaning Bluetooth. Right. And then a long range communication meaning the cell communications. Right.


And so if I extend that analogy to an MWD, right. Then I would say, okay, a short hop would be like, kind of an example of a short range communications, akin to Bluetooth, right.

Yeah. Just within the BHA.

And then whether or not you have mud pulse telemetry or electromagnetic telemetry or both, right. That's akin to your long range communication, your cellular communication. Right.


And so, when you have your smart phone and you're driving down the road, right, your smartphone might be talking be a Bluetooth to your earbuds, right, your wireless earbuds, when you're talking to your car, you'll be talking to your smartwatch. I don't know what all the other crazy things that people connect to Bluetooth to. But the point is, it's like a nice standard wireless protocol that you can connect any number of things to, and get utility from. Right. And so that long range modem can, the cellular modem can exchange information with the internet and get music or information or whatever else to your peripherals, right. Or vice versa, they can send something back about what you are doing, like a fitness tracker. Right. So a fitness tracker could be on your wrist, gathering all sorts of information and then sending it back-

To the cell phone.

Or the cell phone. Yeah. And then back there. Right. And so that fitness tracker might be akin to, or the analogy might be extended to like a kind of a drawing dynamic sub. Right. And so kind of the way I see this, the BHAs evolving over the next five or 10 years. And the reason I keep talking about the twenties is because, so we're going to be doing a talk. No, well, yes, it's almost 2020, shockingly. Where did the time go? But we are going to be doing, I think we were doing a panel at the next IEDD event in October, the 21st and 22nd on how MWD is evolving in the twenties. Right.


And so everyone should come and we were talking about all of these topics, but this is what's got me thinking about this again today. Right. And so, I see kind of that same mechanical structure. Right. But I see that evolving into a lot of very smart BHA peripherals that are all locally talking to the MWD and then the MWD getting all that information up and down. Right.

Yeah. So that's a lot more connected than what we typically see in that. Right. The RSS is kind of in its own world.

You might just have the rotary steerable, like mechanic link to the MWD, or the MWD just mechanically linked to like a LWD sub or like a resistivity collar or nothing else. Right.


I'm a big proponent of the communication has to be wireless. Right. And the communication has to be an open standard. Right. Or at least, a standard that everybody else can develop, too. Right.


And hee is two reasons between that. One, I think that just mechanical, wired interlinks, they're just not practical. They're just too many sizes of tools and too many combinations and too many engineering concerns. I think it's got to be wireless to overcome all that. Right. If you get into the whole thing of like mechanically bolting to some other manufacturer's tool, usually the legal department gets involved. And then once that happens, things just crawl to a halt. Right.

But if we're all just designing to an open wireless standard and agreeing to how that works, or just buying modules off the shelf, that all work according to that standard, then that makes a lot of sense. Right.


It's just a lot more easy to do. And so, wireless and open standard. Right. Because it'd be kind of suck if we do all this and then there's like, okay, well you talk this protocol or that protocol, right. Yeah. Please tell me, please help me. God, we don't end up like with a Q wireless. That's just like some-

CubeX wireless wire protocol. Yeah.

Yeah. You know what, but I know we don't, we're not big fans of the whole CubeX thing, but at least it works and it works.

It gets the job done.

It's pretty standard.

So there is some standardization there, so that's good.

Maybe you can make an argument that any good standard that finally ultimately exists, ends up being a compromise and it kind of annoys you anyways. And you should just appreciate it.

Well, I wonder if the Bluetooth guys have all this internal rivalry?

Or just complaining about Bluetooth and it's like, Oh, it's nice that it exists, but it's a total pain in the butt.

Yeah. It should have been done this way or-

Right. Totally. And so, I see a future where we have a smart bit, right, it has parameters that it's monitoring and recording. It would be really great if we could get inclination and weight on bit right there, right in the bit. And then it's able to talk back, right. A rotary steerable, right. And, a rotary shareable also should be getting us weight on bit, torque on bit. It should be giving us inclination. Ideally we'd have even our gamma sensor down in the rotary steerable. Right. So the rotary steerable might cannibalize MWD a little bit there, right, by like moving the inclination and gamma sensor down to the rotary steerable. You could also have an extra sensor sub that might be measuring weight on bit, torque on bit, shock and vibe, inclination, gamma, right, as [inaudible 00:11:09] gamma, that might go right above the thing. You could have a LWD collar that has its own batteries and it's just wireless and you put it wherever it goes. And it's wireless is back to the MWD. It doesn't have to be physically connected. Right.

Smart motors, maybe they're monitoring their RPM and their motor health and stuff like that. Smart agitators. Right. You could have an agitator that has the ability to turn itself off and on, on command or like maybe different levels of agitation. Right. But the MWD being the central hub of all this. Right. And so any of these parameters that we're wanting to monitor from any of these smart BHA components, communicating that stuff, be a short hop back to the MWD. Right.


And then the MWD communicating that to surface. Right. And then any of the commands that we want to send down being communicated to the MWD and then sent locally back to any of these peripherals. Right. And so, because you might want to change the build rates or the hold inclination maps with a rotary steerable. Maybe you want to turn an agitator on and off or decide how much agitation to give. Just the possibilities are just really kind of endless.

Yeah. I think you really, at that point, start looking at the MWD more of just a means of transmitting data from all these other smart systems back and forth between surface and downhole.

I've always said the MWD is kind of like a device that wants to tear itself apart. Not just because we're beating the crap out of it underground, but because really the sensor wants to be as close to the bit as possible. Right. Ideally ahead of the bit if you can figure out somebody's-

Imaginary world.

Or in a world where like we can do some funky, Star Trek style skating ahead. Right.


And then the transmitter really wants to be as close to the surface as possible. Right. So the further from the bit and the further from other BHA components and the closer to the surface you can get, the better your signal is going to be. And that applies for both [inaudible 00:12:58] and mud pulse. Right. Because mud pulse will have less interference, right, less immediate reflections. And then EM will just benefit from the fact that this really crappy dipole antenna is getting a little bit better.

A little bit more ideal.

A little bit more ideal. Right. And so you could even think about a future where you have maybe a smart bit rotary steerable, it's got inclination, has a little gamma on it. Right. And then made some sort of dynamic sub right behind that. And then a motor that's monitoring its own health. And then maybe after that, you've got a sub that is just doing your magnetic and gyro readings, right.


It just has a short range transmitter. Right. And then your long range transmitter, your mud pulse and your electromagnetic, maybe they're 500 or a thousand feet back from the bit. Right. As far as that short hop will go so that you can maximize, what you're getting out of those transmitters to push further and further. Right.

Right. And so, I think this is all going to be driven by the market.


And so the more aggressive we get, the longer laterals, the more we're going to have to start exploring this kind of stuff to be able to do this. Right. So tell me why this is a bad idea. Tell me where this is going to fall apart.

All of the immediate things that come to mind are cost.

Yeah. It's going to be expensive.

It's going to be more expensive to have multiple smart components. Battery life, keeping all those things powered.

Yes. That's true.

And just standardization, like getting some kind of standardized means of communicating and everybody to kind of play nice together with their competitors.

That sounds like the easier one.

Yeah. That's more of a business and kind of communications thing. The others are pretty big technical challenges.

Well, like the smart bit would be tough, right, to get something that transmits, right, because you'd probably need another generation of smaller electronics and better power sources. Because today I know there's bits that like record some memory, right, but then adding a transmitter, even a short hop transmitter would be tough.

I would take some power.


A lot more than it does just to log data.

Yeah. Well, you're right. And maybe the idea of like five peripherals with one central thing is a bit too crazy, but maybe it ends up being maybe we end up talking to the rotary steerable wireless and then some sort of instrumentation sub and then the MWB. Right, where we go next before it gets too crazy.

Right. And if there was even some level of standardization versus none, like there is now, I think that would be a step in the right direction of allowing some of these systems to inter-operate and be somewhat vendor agnostic.

Yeah. A cool thing you could do is if you did have the transmitters and the sensor sub separated, you could put two sensors subs, redundant sensors.

You could.

And then how could one transmitter and they could all talk, right?

Yeah. And you can measure, you have one near the bit, one from the back and you measure how much bend you have.

And I think that, just over the next 10 years as things evolve, we're going to see a big increase in bandwidth. I think it's possible that by the end of the decade that, maybe I think mud pole systems will be consistently delivering five to 10 bits per second. And I think that EM systems will probably be delivering somewhere like 20 to 30 bits per second consistently, which might give us an overall effect of bandwidth getting close to 30 to 50 bits per second.


Overall. So we're going to have a lot more bandwidth to get there. And we always said, it's 10 more years of work we're talking about. Right.

Yeah. It seems so unreal to think that kind of data rates, but I think it's possible in 10 years.

Right. And then we're also pushing more aggressively for things like closed loop drilling, right, where we want to be able to have a machine at the service, tell the BHA what to do. Right. And so we're going to have to have these downlinking and then short hopping command kind of capabilities. And they need to happen quick if we're going to achieve that. Right. So, the question is what kind of drilling is going to necessitate the development of all this technology? Right. So, certainly, wellbores that are closer together, longer laterals, all this kind of stuff would necessitate kind of these crazy idea for the future. Right?


Yeah. Okay. Well, that's my spiel, man.

That was good. Yeah.

What else do you think our viewers would like to know about this?

I think they would like to know reliability, because that's always a big concern. Is this going to be more reliable than current systems?

It sounds like a lot of jewelry to me. So I mean, I think if that's the way it goes, there has to be gains that really like this BHA has got to be capable of something that traditional BHAs are just not to justify all the jewelry and reliability, when you add more, it doesn't usually go up. Right.


And so, it's really it has to, the benefits have to outweigh whatever reliability you have from adding additional components. Right. But there are real problems to be solved here. We need drilling dynamics while drilling today, that's a big demand. Right?


So how are we going to hook that up to the MWD today? Because that's a [inaudible 00:17:27] based measurement that's difficult to do. Right.


And then I can't tell you how many rotary steerable to MWD communication projects I've seen just peter out because we can't agree how to mechanically fit it together like that. Those are all real needs today that I'm kind of extrapolating out into the future.

Right. And then I think one of the big challenges will be, the simplicity of current systems will have to overcome with similar reliability, better reliability, and then proven that this better modern BHA gives you better wellbore quality, better production in the long run.

That's that's the real trick, right, because when you look at computer systems, we are orders of magnitude more complicated than anything that was done in the seventies, eighties, nineties, aughts, right. So we are certain the complexity curve is going up, right. So you've got to maintain... Or not just maintain, you got to improve reliability while keeping up with that increasing demand and complexity curve. Right.

Which is certainly possible. And it's just going to require the necessary steps to validate and improve those systems.

Totally. All right. Well I think that's all I have for today. I'm Ken Miller.

And I'm David Erdos.

And this is another episode of the Erdos Miller New Technology Podcast. Once again, check out our sponsor, Gibson Reports. gibsonreports.com, excellent MWD and directional drilling market share reports. Thank you.