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RFID-Enabled Valves Promise to Maximize Oil Well Output

To control valves and other downhole tools, an operator drops passive RFID tags, encoded with instructions, into a well.
By Rhea Wessel
By controlling the valves along a well's vertical and horizontal sections, companies can first deplete reserves at the farthest horizontal point first, then work back toward the vertical portion, thus keeping water from blocking oil flow. If tools cannot be controlled reliably from the surface, this sort of timed and strategic depletion is not an option.

Some systems do exist for controlling tools in the hole, but Purkis says the industry considers them unreliable. Hydraulic lines are one common means of controlling tools.

Daniel Purkis
"It's like operating brakes on a car," Purkis states, adding that the hydraulic lines may need to be up to 20,000 feet long, and that such lines are expensive and prone to damage. In addition, if a well has six tools that need to be controlled, then six hydraulic lines are required—one for each tool.

Another option features electrical cables, also up to 20,000 feet in length. These cables are expensive, Purkis says, because they must be able to survive the corrosive environment and high temperatures found in the well, and are prone to failure.

Additionally, both hydraulic and electrical cables attached to downhole tools require control boxes and generators at the surface. "On an oil rig," Purkis states, "floor space is at a premium."

Petrowell, on the other hand, has devised a system that employs downhole valves and other tools outfitted with RFID interrogators. Operators introduce passive RFID tags into a well's downward fluid flow, and the tags pass through the readers, providing the appropriate tool instructions.

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