As global demand for energy rises, the number of wells drilled in the coming decades is likely to exceed the number drilled in the last century.

Shell has been drilling for energy resources for more than 100 years. We produce oil and gas from more than 25,000 wells worldwide. Each year we drill almost a thousand wells to find and produce more resources to meet the world’s growing need for energy.

Increasingly these wells are located in challenging and complex environments, trapped thousands of metres underground in unusual rock formations or deep beneath the ocean under thick beds of salt.

Our task is to locate the fields, drill the wells and produce the energy safely and efficiently, with minimum impact on the environment. 

To achieve these goals we continually develop new technologies and refine our safety processes, and apply the same global standards to all our well designs and operating procedures.

We deliver a four-year wells training programme and special mandatory advanced well control courses at four state-of-the-art centres around the world. They equip all of our wells engineers with the knowledge and experience to drill, complete and maintain wells in the safest possible way, in environments ranging from land to waters thousands of metres deep.

More energy from greater depths

During drilling, tubes, called casings and liners, are inserted into the hole to prevent it from collapsing and isolate the well. Traditionally, as the drilling goes deeper, each liner has to be narrower than the previous one. The more liners are inserted, the narrower the well becomes, reducing the amount of oil and gas that can flow in.

In 2001 Shell drilled the world’s first mono-diameter well comprising multiple consecutive liners, which we expanded to the same final diameter once lowered in the hole. Since then we have worked on a range of variations to the technology to overcome a decades-long dilemma – allowing more oil or gas flow through the well while reducing its cost and environmental footprint by using less steel and cement.

This is currently the only expandable technology able to maintain the well diameter over several drilling sections.

In 2015 we successfully completed our sixth installation of mono-diameter technology, at our deep-water well operations in the Gulf of Mexico. This lets us tap into resources below other reservoirs that could otherwise not be economically produced.

Read more about wells engineering in our careers section

Engineers monitor all aspects of operations

The digital oil field

Shell was one of the first companies to use Smart Fields, or Digital Fields, technology. Thousands of sensors built into equipment in the field, such as valves and pumps, send data about temperature, pressure and other field conditions to control centres on land. There, teams of specialist engineers monitor production in real-time and work with colleagues in the field to optimise it.

“Smart Fields is about integrating people, processes and technology,” said Joseph Low, a senior engineer based at Shell’s Kuala Lumpur centre. “You can make decisions or solve problems in a day whereas before they might have taken a week and have slowed production down.”

Smart Fields is the result of dedicated research and development, and collaboration with partners. Its integrated solutions – such as collaborative work environments that use high-quality videoconferencing, smart wells, reservoir surveillance solutions, fibre optics and real-time production monitoring  – have become standard oil field practices. 

The technology has enabled projects to increase production, reduce downtime and improve the overall recovery of oil and gas while reducing costs and minimising safety risks.

A drilling production line

Wells represent the biggest single expenditure in the development of onshore tight and shale gas resources, which is natural gas held in rock pores up to 20,000 times narrower than a human hair.

Developing a tight or shale gas field can require hundreds or even thousands of wells in order to access resources spread over a large area that are trapped inside tiny rock pores. To drill the wells faster and more efficiently, Shell and China National Petroleum Corporation have developed a system to mass-produce wells using a standard design and standard components.

The joint venture turns the traditional approach to drilling on its head: it moves away from rigs designed to perform multiple tasks to more specialised equipment better able to deliver the best performance on a given task. This is supported by a range of services tailored to meet the projects’ needs, such as technology to ensure the drilling trajectory of wells stays inside gas-producing zones, and allowing teams to monitor and maximise production in real-time.

The rigs can be moved easily from one well to another and are supervised from a central control room. The combination of speed, automation and standardised tasks reduces the cost and duration of drilling projects.

Smaller, leaner drillships

Reducing the cost and environmental impact of drilling is a constant target. Working with drilling contractor Noble Corporation we developed a new deep-water drill ship design and deployed the Bully and Globetrotter floating drilling rigs to reduce the cost and environmental impact of deep-water drilling.

The four rigs are smaller, lighter and more fuel-efficient than traditional drillships of comparable capacity while being packed with innovative technology that drives efficiency.

The Bully class, for instance, uses 30% less fuel than similar-capacity drillships. Using the Bully 2 helped us finish the drilling campaign for the third phase of our Parque das Conchas deep-water project off the coast of Brazil more than 130 days – about 40% – ahead of an ambitious schedule.

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