September 2022

Drilling Advances: Drillers leading ESG brigade

There was a time when investing in a plant dedicated solely to producing electric vehicles could be seen as being as foolhardy as exporting beef to India. Now, of course, old-line manufacturers are churning out battery-powered cars and trucks, and some bureaucracies are even going as far as advocating for eventual bans on petrol-powered motoring.
Jim Redden / Contributing Editor

There was a time when investing in a plant dedicated solely to producing electric vehicles could be seen as being as foolhardy as exporting beef to India. Now, of course, old-line manufacturers are churning out battery-powered cars and trucks, and some bureaucracies are even going as far as advocating for eventual bans on petrol-powered motoring. 

Well acquainted with government edicts and societal discontent, the oil field is aggressively taking steps to reduce noxious emissions and come to terms with now-ubiquitous environmental, societal and governmental (ESG) initiatives. Consequently, decarbonizing the rig site through electrification and eventually eliminating diesel-fueled power generation is the Holy Grail du jour of the drilling set. After years of scraping for operating cash, it now has the resources to invest in grid connection, batteries and similar technologies for rigs and associated wellsite equipment. 

Take Nabors Industries’ recent $7-million investment in a fledging California sodium-ion battery company, for instance. Nabors sees the stake in Natron Energy Inc., which made its first commercial shipment only two years ago, as helping advance a promising technology for reducing emissions. “Together, Natron and Nabors will target drilling operations, where Nabors has already started to combine energy storage solutions with traditional fuel-powered generators to lower emissions and fuel consumption,” says Nabors CEO Anthony Petrello. 

The investment will help further breakthroughs to extend the operating life of sodium-ion batteries, compared to that of supply-challenged lithium-ion batteries that can be recharged repeatedly. 

The electrification push goes beyond land, with Seimens Energy in the process of deploying its BlueVault lithium-ion energy storage system on a third Maersk Drilling jackup. Designed to generate low emissions, especially from hybrid power plants, the BlueVault was installed on two Maersk harsh-environment jackups in the Norwegian North Sea early last year. Subsequent data showed carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions being cut by 25% and 95%, respectively. Northern Drilling Ltd.’s West Mira ultra-deepwater semi was the world’s first offshore rig to use the lithium-ion energy storage technology. 

Given their highly variable power consumption for drilling, dynamic positioning and station keeping, offshore rigs are ideally suited for hybrid diesel-electric power plants. The BlueVault technology is engineered to reduce the transient load on generator sets, meaning that basic power requirements can be met by fewer engines operating at a higher load, thereby decreasing carbon emissions. 

The Maersk jackups are likely to fall under a new umbrella, with the expected Oct. 3 closing of the merger of Noble Corp. and the Danish contractor. 

A true test. Canada’s Precision Drilling Corp., meanwhile, is putting public acceptance of electrified drilling to the ultimate test in Ithaca, N.Y., an area where even the suggested appearance of a rig would likely generate widespread heart palpitations. What’s more, the exploratory drill site abuts the campus of liberal Cornell University. 

At the same time, the objective of a 10,560-ft borehole drilled by the Precision grid-powered super triple rig should draw nods of approval from local progressives. The pilot project is testing whether Earth Source Heat (ESH), namely geothermal energy, could be used to warm the Cornell campus. The so-called Cornell University Borehole Observatory (CUBO) project began on June 21, on a university-owned parking lot near the campus. A battery of tests during and after drilling will analyze the temperature, permeability and specific rock characteristics, to assess the feasibility of moving forward with the proposal to use geothermal energy as the university’s primary winter heating source. 

The rig incorporates Precision’s EverGreenEnergy package, a key component of which enables the rig to accept high-voltage power from a utility provider. Once connected, the power is adjusted to 600 V at the grid power feeder bay installed at the rig, and should harmonic mitigation be required, an active harmonic filtering unit is installed, Precision says. Grid power, likewise, can be connected to Precision’s associated battery energy storage system to compensate for transient load spikes, resulting from the instantaneous rig equipment power demand. 

President and CEO Kevin Neveu said the project not only validates the efficacy of electric-powered rigs to “significantly decrease rig emissions and mitigate noise in an environmentally sensitive area,” but it also helps advance the development of clean-burning geothermal energy. 

On-site LNG. Contractor emission-control investments also have gone beyond batteries and grid-connection schemes. A case-in-point is Helmerich & Payne’s second-quarter $33-million cornerstone investment in Argentina’s Galileo Technologies S.A., which develops gas liquefaction, compression and re-gasification technologies. Essentially, Galileo technology would liquefy and monetize otherwise flared or stranded pipeline or wellhead gas. The then-converted liquefied natural gas (LNG) would either be used as a low-carbon fuel for the H&P drilling operation, or it would be transported and stored, creating what is described as “a virtual pipeline.” 

“As the global demand for energy increases, we believe the services and technologies provided by Galileo will gain importance, as the world continues to seek lower emissions, as well as reliable, low-cost sources of energy,” said H&P CEO John Lindsay. “We believe their natural gas technologies and equipment systems have the potential to become increasingly irrelevant, as the global demand for natural gas is expected to increase as an important component of the energy transition.”  

About the Authors
Jim Redden
Contributing Editor
Jim Redden is a Houston-based consultant and a journalism graduate of Marshall University, has more than 40 years of experience as a writer, editor and corporate communicator, primarily on the upstream oil and gas industry.
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