The purpose of this paper is to identify the most important advances in petroleum production engineering in the past decade. Of course, a review paper in the allotted space simply cannot do justice to all new technologies, especially those that are gradual advances to established techniques. We then expound upon two technologies that we feel already have made or have the capacity to make quantum impacts on the petroleum industry. These are high-permeability fracturing (often referred to in the vernacular as frac-pack and variants) and complex well architecture (which deals with wells with a main or "mother" bore from which branches are drilled). At the end of this paper, we have added a Bibliography section that includes several recent papers which, while not individually referenced in the text, add important contributions to the body of knowledge and experience in the two areas that we write about.
Petroleum production is a mature engineering discipline where progress often comes from pushing the limits. One of the most obvious examples is the evolution of off-shore technology: first leaving on-shore, then going "deepwater" and now "ultra deepwater." As subsea oil and gas developments reach ever deeper into the oceans (currently 2,500 m), new challenges for topside, subsea and downhole equipment arise. In artificial lift, progressive cavity pumps have been successfully applied where emulsions and/or solids production make ESP's less reliable. Downhole separation (both gravity and cyclone based) of oil and water, and reinjection of the latter within the same wellbore, are major improvements, especially because the costs of water lifting, processing and disposal from the surface costs are ever increasing(1, 2). Subsea flow assurance becomes a major constituent of production(3) and multiphase pumping provides a viable option, changing the economics of marginal off-shore locations(4).
If one can predict the long term impact, however, the most influential change is the evolution of real-time monitoring and control of both surface and downhole conditions(5-7). Multiphase metering systems offer a significant increase in functionality over traditional test separators.
The continuous monitoring of all produced fluids and the possibility of remote intervention are transforming the way engineers do their job. Combining logging, imaging, and 3D visualization techniques with continuously available engineering data such as pressure, temperature, and saturation coming from permanent ownhole instrumentation, allow engineers to improve the management of their reservoirs and individual wells within it(8).
Many of the improvements are driven by progress elsewhere. The most convincing example is the evolution of the technology of sensing and transmitting data. Since this technology is driven by consumer electronics, it is not surprising that the price of a microchip, equivalent in computing power to yesteryear's mainframe, is only a couple of dollars, but increases tremendously for every additional 10 degrees, and/or 689.5 kPa (100 psi) temperature and/or pressure rating. The bottleneck for the newest technology to penetrate into our wells is reliability under high-temperature, high-pressure (HTHP) and chemically hostile conditions(9). Pressure and temperature are only the first things to look at.