Baker Hughes introduces ‘smart’ drill bit

Howard Hughes Sr. revolutionized the drill bit to more than 100 years ago to accelerate the oil boom that made Houston and Texas the nation’s energy capital. Today, his legacy company is aiming to make the next evolutionary step with new drill bits that automatically adjust to the underground rock terrain.

The pressure-sensitive technology is part of a growing effort from Baker Hughes and other power players like Schlumberger and Halliburton to build more durable and faster-drilling bits that adapt to any type of shale rock.

Houston-based Baker Hughes on Tuesday launches its TerrAdapt self-adjusting drill bit, which, for the first time, automatically extends diamond-material buttons to provide additional protection to the bit’s diamond cutters when the going gets too rough and retracts them when the rock softens up.

Oilfield services companies used to just modify more expensive offshore drilling technologies to work onshore, but now they’re increasingly developing products specifically for shale rock drilling as the U.S. onshore market increasingly dominates the industry, said Byron Pope, an energy analyst with Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. in Houston. After all, horizontally drilled extensions from onshore wells now extend more than 10,000 feet on average.

The new TerrAdapt drill bit that adjusts on the fly is a potential game changer, Pope said. “The difference with the technology is you don’t necessarily have to customize it for the Permian or Eagle Ford,” he said. “You can just have that one bit.”

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