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The Traveling-Cylinder Diagram:

A Practical Tool for Collision Avoidance

.... L. Thorogood, SPE, and 5 ..... Sawaryn, SPE, BP Exploration Co. Ltd.
Summary. The "traveling-cylinder" diagram aids collision risk assessment during planning and collision avoidance during directional drilling at muitiwelliocations. Survey results can be plotted directly on the diagram, enabling an immediate visual risk assessment. This paper describes the conceptual basis of the diagram, how the diagram is used during planning and drilling, and how the
information on the diagram can be interpreted.
For many years, directional wells have been drilled from pads and
platforms close to each other with standard plan-view and verticalsection drawings. Wellsite personnel sometimes have encountered
serious problems with'the visualization oftrue well separations and
convergence or divergence rates. In some instances, difficulty in
interpreting the standard well plots apparently has contributed to
subsurface collisions. An alternative way of displaying the information is needed to improve safety in this type of operation. To
aid collision avoidance effectively, the chosen method must (I) represent a complex situation simply; (2) clearly present the relative
positions and convergence rates of other wells with respect to the
plan under consideration; (3) show the actual position of the well
being drilled relative to its planned course and to adjacent wells
with a minimum of distortion; and (4) present complex 3D interwell tolerances on the allowable position of the borehole trajectory
simply and unambiguously.
The traveling-cylinder diagram meets these requirements. The
original hand-drawn version was developed by Lyons and
Mecham 1 for use at the THUMS offshore development wells. The
procedures were gradually computerized over the years to increase
efficiency and to reduce errors. 2 ,3 The projection reportedly was
derived from a technique used to check for physical interference
in pipework in a chemical plant. Hough4 describes an early system for computerized collision checking used in the southern North
Sea in the early 1970's. The first computerized implementation of
the diagram was devised in 1977. 5 During the early 1980's, the
volume of computer code used in directional drilling grew dramatically as directional contractors responded to a growing demand
for engineering support. 6 Various algorithms were devised to
check for interwell collisions, and software to produce travelingcylinder diagrams was developed by several companies.
Numerous references to the diagram exist in the literature, 1-8
but little information on the basis of the method 7 is available in
the public domain. Because the underlying principles have not been
published, they have not been subjected to public discussion or peer
review. Consequently, the various implementations tend to reflect
the desires of the end users and the assessments by individual designers of the computational difficulties involved. This paper shows
how the four key requirements are implemented in the normal-plane
traveling-cylinder diagram, presents a computationally efficient implementation of the normal-plane version, and illustrates its practical application at the wellsite.

NormalPlane Projection
The normal-plane projection is used to display the intersection of
wells with a plane constructed in space to be normal to the direction of the planned well at the point of interest (Fig. 1). The calculation is repeated at a number of points along the planned well. The
results are superimposed on the same diagram (Fig. 2). The relative separation between the planned and adjacent wells is indicated
by the locus of points obtained at successive depths.

Visualization of the Diagram

To obtain a clearer understanding of what is happening, imagine
the normal plane replaced with a polystyrene disk set at right anCopyright 1991 Society of Petroleum Engineers

SPE Drilling Engineering, March 1991

gles to the planned well. The planned well passes through the center
of the disk. If the adjacent wells are represented as hot wires, then
they bum a trace in the disk as the disk is pushed down the well.
Wells that are nearly parallel to the plan tend to have a single large
hole burned in the disk; those with high convergence rates have
lines that move rapidly across the disk with depth.
The disk in Fig. 1 is shown in several positions down a planned
well generally trending northeast. We assume that the planned and
drilled wells start side by side, but Fig. 2 shows that the drilled
well gradually falls behind section and moves to the right of the
planned well.

Plotting Conventions
At first sight, the diagram appears to be confusing; but with training and experience, it is simple and easy to use. The diagram fulfills the four key requirements outlined in the Iiltroduction; however,
a number of important conventions associated with its use deserve
special attention.
Depth Annotation. The depths marked on the paths of the adjacent wells should always refer to the measured depth (MD) in the
planned well at which the normal plane was constructed and at which
the intersection was computed. This practice aids visualization and
decision making. During the drilling of a well, all depths, bit runs,
casing points, and formation tops are normally referred to in terms
of MD. The primary key for all'survey data is the station's MD.
Seen in this practical context, the widespread use of true-verticaldepth (TVD) -referenced diagrams is quite inexplicable. Because
TVD is a derived quantity, it appears to be an indirect and unnecessary complication to require that users convert station MD to TVD
before using the diagram. Furthermore, the use of TVD is ambiguous; because the normal plane is inclined to the vertical, TVD
varies over the plane.
Azimuth Reference. As Fig. 2 shows, diagrams are conventionally plotted in polar coordinates. The angular values should be normalized by the current wellbore azimuth. In this way, the angle
plotted is the sum of the angle of the point relative to the local high
side and the high-side azimuth of the planned well at the depth of
interest. Thus, Point 4 in Fig. 2, which is 153 to the right of high
side and at a depth that has an azimuth of 40, is shown with a
bearing of 193 .
If the planned well consists of a simple buildup followed by a
tangent section, then the high side will always be located at the angle corresponding to the borehole target azimuth. By contrast, a
well with 20 of right-hand walk will start with a high-side arrow
10 to the left of target azimuth and will finish tOO to the right.
Iil cases where high-side azimuth varies over the section represented
by the traveling-cylinder plot, depth-annotated high-side arrows may
be used to show this variation.
We discourage the use of the local borehole high-side direction
as the diagram's zero reference. This practice, a convenient aid
to appreciating the diagram's meaning in simple build-and-hold
cases, leads to difficulties because plots involving complex well
shapes with vertical segments will exhibit discontinuities.
In vertical wells where high side is indeterminate, the angle is
the horizontal bearing of the point from the planned well.


Fig. 1-General 3D view of well.

Well Separations. The nonnal-plane projection provides a physically meaningful representation ofthe subsurface situation and permits actual well separation to be measured irrespective of inclination.
This property is also shared with plan-view plots in the immediate
vicinity of the platfonn only, where all wells are nearly vertical.
Plot Scale. For most effective use, the diagram should be proportioned so that survey errors over the interval of interest are no greater
than 10% of diagram radius.

DlrectlonalWell Design Software

Discussions 89 of the methods for planning the trajectory of a
deviated well are usually limited to simple well shapes contained
within a single vertical plane, e.g., build-and-hold, build-anddrop, and more recently, various horizontal-well methods.
McMillian's 10 work provides for the effects of bottomholeassembly (BHA) walk tendencies. In practice, the exercise is much
more complicated because wells do not usually exist in isolation.
On multiwelllocations, the design task involves generating a true
3D borehole path that reflects the actual constraints imposed on
a real well by its neighbors. 5 ,7,l1,12
Several proprietary software packages are available to perfonn
this task. 3,5-7,11,12 Inevitably, the trajectory of a planned well can
be defined in many ways. One of the most common is to model
the trajectory in tenns of a dummy survey to simplify plotting and
interpolation calculations. Experience shows that planned wells can
be represented by a sequence of arcs of circles and straight lines

Fig. 2-Traveling-cylinder view of well.

that result from a rninimum-curvature-type calculation. 13 Circular arcs can be used to defined wellbore trajectories adequately,
even where build and walk rates are defined separately. 14 Some
wells can be specified in as few as three or four segments, the average well in 6 to 10, but never more than 20. The geometrical simplicity of this approach pennits analytic solutions to be developed
for proximity calculations. The limited number of segments results
in computationally efficient planning and collision-checking
Appendix A of Ref. 15 summarizes the techniques needed to construct collision scans and to perfonn the principal mathematical operations. It reviews the properties of the circular arc, interpolation
on a circular are, intersection of a survey with a plane, and location of a normal plane intersecting a well from a point and shows
that the shortest distance from a point in a drilled well to a planned
well lies in a plane nonnal to that of the planned well.

Planning a Deviated Well

Directional drilling at a multiwell location is a safety-critical operation. The consequences of drilling into an adjacent well can range






Fig. 3-Flow chart of directional-well planning procedure.


Fig. 4-Traveling-cylinder diagram showing adjacent wells.

SPE Drilling Engineering, March 1991





~ 2000


------ C






o - 1000
8 - 2000
$ - 2500
- 3000
.t. -



Fig. 5-Vertical-sectlon and pian-view diagrams of a well cluster.

from the costly to the catastrophic. Thus, the operation's manage- tivities in the base office. While it is an essential.part of the wellment procedures must be subjected to a formal quality-assurance design process, its principal business application is as a simple,
check. The resulting systems must ensure that organizational struc- robust tool for collision avoidance at the wellsite.
tures and responsibilities are clearly defined and that all work in
Survey readings are taken while the well is drilled. The travelingthe design stage is formally checked and recorded so that the re- cylinder coordinates can be computed for each station and plotted
sults are traceable and auditable in the event of an unexpected in- on the diagram in the same way as the surveys of the other drilled
wells. Contrary to some impressions, a computer is not necessary
Planning begins when the engineer receives a geological prog- at the wellsite for collision checking when a traveling-cylinder dinosis. This document will normally detail the anticipated litholo- agram is used. The coordinates for the plot can be estimated by
gy, target location, target-area tolerances, accuracy required of a manual procedure described in Appendix B of Ref. 15. The acsurvey results at target, and desired inclination through target. These curacy of this method is limited by the resolution of the plot scale.
data must be checked carefully before they are entered into the com- Coordinates obviously should not be derived from a l-in./200-ft
puter data base. Independent validation of their correctness is es- [l : 2400] scale drawing if the directional tolerances are on the orsential. A check must be made on survey data in the well if any der of 10 ft [3 m]. Common sense must be used; e.g., a l-in./50-ft
surface casing strings have been batch set beforehand. The deepest [1 : 600] scale drawing could be used if the to!erances were ~ 25
survey station is normally used as the starting point for the plan. ft [8 mJ.
Although use of hand calculations is feasible, the method is greatly
The planner generally should construct the most direct trajectory
from the starting point to the target. Fig. 3 illustrates this iterative facilitated by suitable computer equipment at the wellsite. Because
all the adjacent well data are included on the diagram at the planprocess.
All wells in the vicinity initially should be scanned for possible ning stage, continuous real-time searching of a survey data base
intersection on each pass through the planning loop. Once an ac- . for possible well interference is not necessary at the wellsite durceptable trajectory is defined, all those not presenting a significant ing drilling. Elimination of a satellite survey data base reduces the
collision risk can be eliminated from the plot (by inspection) to im- possibility of errors and cuts out the associated resource-consuming
prove the clarity of the diagram. For long-reach wells, it is advisa- quality-assurance effort required to ensure integrity of the remote
ble to use a drillstring simulator 16 to check that torque and drag data base. The only data that must be loaded to initialize the calculimitations are not exceeded. The required survey accuracy must lation are the details of the well plan. This normally should have
be defined, and the errors associated with the various surveying to be done only once for each well. Considering recent developoptions must be estimated to establish the most cost-efficient ments in satellite-communications technology and the power of the
program. I?
new generation of relational data bases to support distributed busiIt is advisable to record the results of each step of this process ness functions, however, the need to operate in total isolation is
on a well-planning checklist. This sort of document provides a struc- somewhat reduced. II
tured mechanism to check the work independently. If it is then stored
as part of the permanent well record, it can be used to provide a Diagram Interpretation
clear audit trail in the event of a mishap during drilling.
To understand how the plot is interpreted, consider Fig. 4. We can
conclude that a well is being drilled in a southeasterly direction beUse of the Traveling-Cylinder Diagram
cause of the poSition of the high-side arrow. The position of the
at the Wenslte
planned well always remains at the center at all depths. Single shots
The traveling-cylinder diagram has a reputation for being a tool plotted along Path A indicate that the actual well is moving rapidly
confined exclusively to engineering planning and monitoring ac- away from the plan above and to the left of the planned course.
SPE Drilling Engineering, March 1991











(MD in A)


Fig. 6-Traveling-cylinder view of a cluster with tolerances.

Path C shows a nearby well. This well started off behind and to
the left of the planned well and then came around beneath the
planned path before moving to the right. Note the congestion of
points between 3,000 and 4,500 ft [914 and 1372 m] on Path C.
This feature is interpreted as an interval where Well C and the
planned trajectory run almost parallel to each other before diverging sharply. Path D is a trace characteristic of drilling past an exploration well located to the left of the planned track. The relatively
large distance between the points, compared with those of Path C,
indicates a sharp convergence angle between the wells, in this case
about 45.
When a planned well is being drilled, it is usually close and
parallel to (within a few degrees of) its associated plan. Separation
from the plan is equal to the traveling-cylinder-coordinate radius
value. At common depths, the distances to other wells can be read
directly from the diagram.
Consider in Fig. 4 Path B, which represents single shots in the
well being drilled, and Path C, from a nearby drilled well. Path
B drifts below and to the right of the plan and is converging with
Path C. At 2,000 ft [610 m], the separation is 26 ft [8 m]. A visual
interpolation can be made in Path C to estimate a point at 2,300
ft [701 m]. The separation is now reduced to about 13 ft [4 m].
Again, a visual estimate of the position at 2,500 ft [762 m] can
be made by extrapolating the trend of Path B. A collision is likely
unless corrective action is taken promptly.
This ability to assess well separations rapidly by inspecting a diagram is extremely valuable at the wellsite. The major advantage
is that the complete context can be assimilated at a glance and quantitative judgments made readily. In this respect, the technique is
simpler, cheaper, and more reliable than computerized implementations of PC graphics packages with 3D pan and zoom capabilities.

Collision Avoidance Without the

Traveling-Cylinder Diagram
One method of preventing collision is to confine the well in a zone
close to the plan by use of tolerance lines drawn on the plot. The
well course must then be kept within these boundaries for specific
depth intervals. Consider the conventional vertical-section and planview plots in Fig. 5, where one drilled well, Well C, is high and
right, and another, Well A, is low and left relative to the planned
well, Well B. Drawing unambiguous tolerance lines on these diagrams would be difficult and the results would likely be confusing.

Alternatively, tolerance lines may be omitted and guidance on

minimum separations provided as a table of separations as functions of depth. 18 The procedure could be further embellished by
constructing ellipses of uncertainty around the drilled wells. In either
case, the well site staff are faced with the task of computing the survey, plotting the results, determining the appropriate separation
criteria, and establishing whether the criteria have been infringed.
Simultaneous examination of vertical-section and plan-view diagrams to establish the possibility of an intersection is further complicated by the movement of the wells across the drawing. This
absolute motion must be removed before relative motion can be
assessed. While none of these tasks are impossible, it is questionable whether it is prudent to require such a complex decision-making
process to be performed routinely by personnel operating in harsh
conditions and often under stress.

Collision Avoidance With the

Traveling-Cylinder Diagram
Tolerance lines are marked on a traveling-cylind~r diagram to prevent collisions. Fig. 6 is a traveling-cylinder view of the situation
shown in Fig. 5. The positions immediately become much clearer.
It is evident that the well can be allowed to drift high left or low
right. Furthermore, the clarity of the diagram is such that all the
interpretation problems associated with the conventional drawings
are eliminated. The process is reduced to (1) acquiring survey data
in conformance with a formal quality-assurance procedure; (2) computing results, including traveling-cylinder coordinates; (3) plotting the results on the diagram; (4) evaluating visually the most
probable development; and (5) drilling ahead if the well is still within
tolerance or taking appropriate corrective action.
Because the diagram displays true relative motion, assessments
regarding the possibility of infringing upon a tolerance line can be
made quickly and plans for the necessary corrective action made
in good time. In essence, use of the diagram provides the user with
a very simple "go/no-go" decision-making capability that doesn't
require considerations of survey accuracy. This simplicity lies at
the heart of safer operations because reductions in complexity reduce
the chances of error.

Well Separation Tolerances

The positioning of tolerance lines on a traveling-cylinder diagram
must account for government regulatory requirements, company
SPE Drilling Engineering, March 1991

well shut-in policies, and positional uncertainties in the surveys of

the wells involved. Some organizations adopt criteria based on
horizontal projections of ellipses of uncertainty. Other companies
confine themselves to specifying a fixed separation rule directly
in terms of feet per 1,000 ft of drilled hole.
All subsurface separation criteria ultimately are based on estimates of survey instrument performance. The size of any exclusion zone is therefore a consequence of the magnitude of the errors
predicted by the models. While safety is paramount, overly conservative estimates of the errors can lead to slots being labeled undrillable. Conservative estimates giving rise to unnecessary well
shut-in or downhole plugging may cause severe penalties in lost
time or production. To maximize efficiency, it is advisable to
minimize as much as possible any conservatism in the performance models. If reliance is to be placed on these calculations to this
extent, it is essential to ensure that the survey instrument performance models employed in this process are properly validated l7 19
and that wellsite quality-assurance procedures are developed to ensure that the actual performance of the survey tools at the wellsite
comply with the assumptions made during planning. 19.20
A new technique based on a risk assessment approach was recently devised. 21 A mathematical analysis of the probability of collision is linked by means of a decision tree to an evaluation of the
consequences of an intersection. This risk-based approach s~pli
fied management of the operation and enhanced safety and effiCIency
because appropriate margins were defined objectively in each individual case.
Whichever method is chosen, the task of transferring the separation criteria onto any type of well plot has significant potential
for error. Careful checking of the work is essential. In a large organization with a wide range of staff skills and training levels, the
risks associated with errors may not be acceptable. Consequently,
there is good justification for incorporating a standard set of rules
into a computer code to enable the tolerance lines to be constructed automatically.

Integrity of the Method

To reduce the risk of drilling into another well, it is necessary to
be able to check all wells representing a possible collision risk. With
the complexity of modern field development projects, this does not
mean only all wells from the same platform or all wells in the same
field. Some wells are drilled from a platform in one field to a target in another field. En route the well may have to avoid old vertical appraisal wells. Also, wells may overlap with those from another
For these reasons, storage of well information on a relational data
base is of considerable value. It permits software designers to set
up rigorous well-selection criteria and to perform the necessary
drilling-grid-coordinate transformations between different platforms
The scanning software must be designed to check all wells on
each pass. Systems should not be permitted to operate on reduced
sets of wells resulting from a manual screening process by the engineer. On congested platforms, this apparent optimization of the
computer processing can have serious consequences. Surprisingly
small changes to the plan can transform previously discounted wells
into potential collision risks.

Scanning Procedure
Once a group of wells has been selected, a scanning procedure must
be adopted that excludes completely the possibility of missing a
collision risk. Some scanning routines carry out foot-by-foot
searches, resulting in lengthy checking times. If a collision scan
is performed with the normal-plane method by making discrete steps
down the planned well, then the method is incapable of detecting
a potential collision when the two wells converge at right angles.
For example, Fig. 7 clearly shows that an intersection will be missed
unless the depth in the planned well can be picked with mathematical precision such that the drilled well lies precisely in the normal
plane of the traveling cylinder.
The difficulty is eliminated by performing the scan down the
drilled well. Scanning down the drilled well involves the calculaSPE Drilling Engineering, March 1991



Fig. 7-Sectlonal view of perpendicular convergence.

tion of the closest point in the planned well from the current point
in the drilled well. In effect, this process is achieved by dropping
a perpendicular onto the planned well. By defmition, this solution
lies in the normal plane of the traveling cylinder and can therefore
be plotted directly onto the diagram. The necessary equations are
given in Appendix A of Ref. 15. Because every point on every
drilled well is checked, this method always produces a solution.
In the event of a perpendicular intersection, the planned well will
appear as a line across the plot with annotations at a constant depth.
This distinction may appear somewhat academic where wells are
drilled from a single central cluster because perpendicular intersections are unlikely to occur. However, perpendicular intersections are very likely when a well is drilled through the cluster of
an adjacent platform.
Scanning must occur down the full length of the drilled well. Under no circumstances should scans or plots be stopped at the point
when a specific separation has been achieved. Real wells have
curves, kinks, and large bends. It is not uncommon to encounter
situations where the well diverges beyond a distance where a Collision is possible only to converge again at a greater depth. This condition, where the well comes back onto the diagram, is especially
likely to occur during infill drilling. In this instance, early wells
may have been drilled with large amounts ofleft-side lead but later
wells that use PDC bits may be drilled with a much more direct
track to target.
Drilled wells should not be significant risks if they come within
only 10% of radius from the edge of the plot. If they do, the plot
is too small. To ensure that a drilled well will always appear, the
scan interval must be less than half the length of a chord at 90%
of the plot radius. Elementary geometry shows that the minimum
scanning interval should be S 40% of plot radius.
When the traveling-cylinder scan is implemented, care must be
taken over "end effects." Unless proper checks are built in to the
procedure, undetected interference is possible if a well drills into
the error cone surrounding a drilled well but does not actually pass
it. If the convergence rate is high, the end of the well could be quite
close to the drilled well with no indication on the traveling-cylinder
diagram. Because the problem disappears altogether if the planned
well passes the drilled well, it is clear that suitable checks for these
end effects must be built into the scanning code and appropriate
warnings issued to the user.

1. The normal-plane traveling-cylinder diagram is a powerful tool
for collision avoidance because it provides a simple representation
of a complex situation, a clear presentation of relative positions
and convergence rates with other wells, a view of the well being
drilled in relation to the planned well with low distortion, and a
means of displaying 3D tolerances around the borehole trajectory
simply and unambiguously.

.John L. Thoro.
good, head of Drill
Ing Technology at
BP exploration Co.
Ltd.'s Drilling Tech
nology Dlv. In
Aberdeen, has 17
years' experience
In drilling engineer
Ing and operations.
He specializes In
the development
of computerized
methods of well design, collision checking, and directional
survey analysis and has written several papers on various
aspects of well surveying, dlverter systems, and drilling per
formance. He holds a degree In engineering science from
Cambridge U. Thorogood was a 1989-90 Distinguished Lee
turer and serves on the Editorial Review Committee. Steve
.J. Sawaryn Is senior engineer at BP Exploration Co. Ltd. 's
Technology Dlv. In London. He specializes In the development of drllllng-engineering applications and Information systems. He holds a degree In chemical engineering from
Cambridge U.

2. The normal-plane diagram must embody angles normalized

to the well azimuth and annotations corresponding to MD's in the
planned well. Computerized collision checking should take place
down the drilled wells.
3. The traveling-cylinder diagram is an integral part of a fully
auditable trajectory design procedure.
4. A manual calculation method allows the normal-plane diagram
to be used at the well site without computers.
5. If a computer is used at the wellsite to automate the calculation, the only data needed to initialize the calculation are the wellplan details. Because all information about the adjacent wells is displayed on the diagram, extensive scanning software is not necessary. By preparing the diagram during the planning phase, the need
to maintain an up-to-date survey data base at the wellsite is eliminated, thus reducing chances of error and maintenance costs.
6. Anticollision tolerances imposing complex 3D constraints on
the well path are easily represented on the traveling-cylinder diagram. Plotting survey data on the diagram provides well site staff
with a simple go/no-go decision and visualization of collision potential, without the need to interpret well convergence or survey error
7. Assumptions about survey instrument performance playa key
part ill the process of determining allowable well separations. The
models used must therefore be subject to careful validation and
quality-assurance standards set up to ensure compliance at the

We thank BP Exploration Co. Ltd. for permission to publish the
paper. We also acknowledge the contribution of the many individuals
within BP Exploration and in service companies who have read and
commented on this manuscript.















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SI Metric Conversion Factor

ft x 3.048*
Converslon factor is exact.


l. Lyons, E.P. and Mecham, O.E.: "Design and hnplementation ofDirectiona! Drilling Programs, Thums Offshore Islands Development Wells,


Original SPE manuscript received for review Feb. 27, 1990. Paper accepted for pubHca
tion Nov. 28, 1990. Revised manuscript received Nov. 13. 1990. Paper (SPE 19989) first
presented attha 1990 IADC/SPE Drilling Conference held In Houston. Feb. 27-March 2.

SPE Drilling Engineering, March 1991