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Tough Tools for Tough Jobs: E&P tools gain from IC and MEMS improvements


With volatile crude oil prices hovering around historic highs, the current market conditions may seem perfect for those in oil & gas (O&G).  While price/barrel is good, conditions are becoming tougher with new challenges entering the scene, as recently reported here by Oil & Gas Journal, regarding the US Energy Information Association's (EIA) Annual Energy Outlook 2011 (download a copy here).

The sites for successful drilling are becoming farther out of reach, whether at new depths or requiring new techniques to extract fossil fuels (e.g., hydrofracking and other horizontal drilling, extreme depths, subsea, and new extraction methods from oil sands and shale).  The impact of these harsher and more complex conditions include greater costs and demands for more complex tools that can both better ensure success by standing up to even more rugged and extreme conditions (heat, pressure, vibration, distance from base, etc.).


Aiding in the complex task of exploration and production (E&P) of these resources are the next generation of integrated circuits (ICs) and micro-electromechanical sensors (MEMS), as well as improvements in real-time communication between drill heads and related tools to above-ground control stations (see this telemetry data system from National Oilwell Varco for one example).

Driven by both market internal needs from the E&P sector, as well as broader semiconductor drivers, sensors (MEMS), ICs and data transmission systems are leap frogging improvement generations.  These improvements are squarely based on addressing feature requirements for 'always on and always available.'  What this feature set equates to are significant improvements lowering power consumption, heat emissions/transfer within the chip, alongside of smaller geometries which allow for more complex technology solutions to be combined on a single board.  Coupling these solutions with greater battery power in smaller footprints as well as improvements in materials to resist thermal, pressure and vibration effects under extreme environment conditions, means that not only are military, aerospace and O&G markets benefitting, but general consumer electronics are seeing a trickle-down effect.  The positive side of these broad reaching improvements is reduced costs for specialty industries and specialized tools; a welcomed benefit for O&G where tool costs have traditionally been high.

With increasing challenges from drilling environments as well as pressure for improved margins and alternative energy choices by global consumers (and therewith legislation), the next generation of semiconductor advances are already providing exciting new solutions to the E&P sector (see for example this and this recent NYT articles).

Lisa Ann Cairns, Ph.D.
Written on Tuesday, 03 May 2011 07:20 by Lisa Ann Cairns, Ph.D.

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