University of North Dakota dedicates training, drilling labs

By Patrick C. Miller | October 23, 2017

The practice of drilling wells on paper before drilling them in real time is giving way to using virtual reality and simulation technology to provide better training and more realistic results.

Petroleum engineering students at the University of North Dakota School of Engineering and Mines in Grand Forks now are being trained on these new technologies in the university’s Collaborative Energy Complex. This month, the school dedicated drilling simulation, virtual reality and innovation labs within the Department of Petroleum Engineering and Institute for Energy Studies.

“This is really cutting-edge stuff,” said Grant McGimpsey, UND vice president for research. “It’s a facility that helps students do the research, helps them learn, helps faculty to their research, supports faculty and students together in their relationships.”

Hess Corp. and Drilling Systems Ltd.—headquartered in the United Kingdom—sponsored the Drilling Simulation Lab, which features the DrillSim 5000.

Will Lehman, director of geological science and engineering development in the Hess Houston office, said, “This was an opportunity for Hess. I’m very proud of the company. So when this came about and we first had a conversation, there was no doubt we were going to jump in and be part of it.”

Euan Kennedy, Drilling Systems business development manager for the Americas, said UND is one of five universities in the nation with one of the company’s DS 5000 simulators, which replicates a detailed drill-floor environment to provide a real-life experience for students, researchers and professionals. The simulator allows an instructor team to set up drilling and well control scenarios based on events experienced in the field.

“For UND, this is a fantastic tool to support different parts of the curriculum—to take the students into a more immersive world,” Kennedy said. “It’s very easy to discuss things on paper, but to visually go through the operation and see the consequences of actions, it gives students the experience to work on what they will potentially be using when they’re employed. It’s very powerful.”

The Hess Virtual Reality Lab was developed and installed by Qbit Technologies, a California startup company specializing in VR solutions for training and business. Using 3D virtual simulations, students start with a drilling scenario and then learn by doing and practice.

The lab’s collaboration features provide distance users anywhere in the world with the same level of interaction as those in the lab. VR training enables dispersed teams to meet in shared virtual spaces and interact while working on machinery and performing simulated drilling operations. Companies in North Dakota’s Bakken shale play can use the simulator for workforce training on the UND campus.

“I’m very proud to look around at this building and to have been a part of it,” Lehman remarked during the dedication ceremony.