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NETL Research Team’s Rapid Kick Detection Technology Granted Patent
NETL Research Team’s Rapid Kick Detection Technology Granted Patent

An NETL research team was recently granted a patent for their groundbreaking invention for rapid kick detection, which results in safer drilling operation and significant cost savings for both consumers and operators by providing real-time updates of downhole conditions to aid in maintaining control of an oil or gas well.

Kelly Rose, Ph.D., ORISE research fellow Brian Tost and University of Southern California professor Fred Aminzadeh were awarded the patent for their invention “System for kick detection during a drilling operation” April 9. Click here to view.

During hydrocarbon exploration, limited information on subsurface environments can result in unexpected changes, which can cause “kicks,” or a sudden entry of water, gas, oil or other formation fluid into a wellbore during drilling.

Kicks occur because the pressure exerted by the drilling fluid is not great enough to overcome the pressure exerted by fluids in the formation. Minor kicks cost time due to loss of equipment control, but more extreme cases — such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill, which remains the largest oil spill in history — can result in total loss of the oil rig, well and even human life.

NETL’s recently patented technology seeks to resolve subsurface drilling and operational uncertainty by enabling real-time updates of well conditions. Most wells rely on surface-based observations or costly additional equipment to alert operators of kicks, but NETL’s revolutionary technology detects downhole kicks when and where they occur and identifies the type of kick fluids. This advanced warning gives operators several minutes to adapt to the situation in real-time and maintain control of the well before the effects of the kick are felt at the surface, which ensures safer operation with minimal impact on drilling activity.

Fewer kick events also result in cost savings for consumers and oil companies. Drilling issues from kick events cost the industry $8 billion each year, and 44% of non-productive time on oil rigs was associated with kick- or wellbore instability-related problems. With less time and money spent resolving kick-related issues, energy costs can remain low for consumers as drilling continues efficiently and without interruption. Additionally, NETL’s kick detection technology uses existing well equipment on oil rigs, which forgoes the cost of installing more expensive options.

This promising innovation was recognized for its potential to aid in hydrocarbon exploration by earning the Innovative R&D Winner award at the 2017 Shale Gas Innovation Contest. Several oil and gas companies such as Saudi Aramco, Chevron and Total have also expressed interest in pursuing further development. This patent is still available for licensing; contact NETL Partnerships if interested in more information.

Researchers at NETL strive to discover, integrate, and mature technology solutions to enhance the nation’s energy foundation and protect the environment for future generations. The Lab’s recent patent in real-time kick detection furthers its mission to create technological solutions addressing America’s energy challenges.