SPE Distinguished Lecturer

Schlumberger Careers

Geoff Downton, Rotary Steerable Systems Current Trends and Future Directions

Since 1998, Geoff has contributed to the development and innovation of Schlumberger’s rotary steerable systems and drilling tools, with an emphasis on automation and control.

Explain the topic of your SPE lecture.

“Rotary steerable systems (RSS) control the direction of hole propagation while the drill string is rotated, which enables high-quality boreholes to be drilled faster and farther than is possible using other methods.

RSS have evolved continuously since they appeared in the mid 1990s. My lecture looks at factors that influence RSS design, including today’s factory and automated drilling. I also discuss the revolutionary developments we can expect to see in the next 25 years, particularly in the area of self-steering robots controlled by the surface drilling rig.”

“Rotary steerable systems support a highly competitive directional drilling market. Expect to see revolutionary developments in the next 25 years, particularly in the area of self-steering robots controlled by the surface drilling rig.”

Why are RSS important to the industry today?

“RSS are a more costly service compared to alternative solutions. However, the sheer technical advantage of being able to control steering at the coalface, as it were, rather than by mechanical means from the surface, has meant that wells—especially those in the ever-growing horizontal drilling market—are proving more cost effective overall. RSS wells are faster to first pay, and have smoother boreholes, less hassle and more consistent results.”

How do RSS factor into Schlumberger’s success?

“RSS have grown steadily in commercial and competitive importance to Schlumberger over the past 20 years. Our steering-at-bit innovation is an especially exciting recent development. Most companies working in RSS put their steering actuators on a nonrotating sleeve close to the bit, whereas we allow the steering actuators to rotate with the bit—a simpler, more elegant mechanical solution.”

What response have you had to your lecture so far?

“Students generally ask futuristic questions about automation and artificial intelligence. Small operators currently using mud motor technologies are curious to understand the advantages of RSS. Some have had bad early experiences and are looking to see how things have improved.”

Geoff Downton headshot

Start Date: 1998