THE WOODLANDS, Texas - Hydrocarbons produced after well interventions can be some of the cheapest barrels to produce. Then there are the obstacles: technological limitations, schedules disrupted and the persistent need for more data.

Still, innovations have made it possible for operators to bring wells back to life, panelists said on March 22 at the SPE/ICoTA (Intervention and Coiled Tubing Association) Well Intervention Conference and Exhibition in The Woodlands.

But certain challenges remain.

While operators tend to have a list of wells planned for intervention and integrity activity, sometimes those plans go awry. Emergency shut-ins of high-producing wells or the fracking activity of a nearby well can throw off the best laid plans of E&Ps.

“There's no doubt that intervention barrels are the cheapest barrels you can get out of the ground. The well’s already drilled, it's already there. It just needs a bit of TLC, a bit of nurturing to get it back online,” Tony Ryan, manager for well intervention and well integrity at ConocoPhillips, said.

Any number of problems can prompt intervention: corrosion or scale, safety valve issues, hydrates, sand production, stimulations to address well declines and water handling constraints.

Geography also matters, said Rebecca Ugalde, a continuous improvement engineer at BP.

“It depends on what area of the globe we’re talking about, specifically for BP,” she said. “Each region has its own challenges.”

The type and location of the problem plays a role in determining whether to intervene in a well, and if so, how to carry out the well intervention.

Ugalde noted BP is seeking more capabilities from light well intervention (LWI), or riserless intervention, that eliminates the need to use a vessel with a high pressure riser.

Subsea, hydrates can plague flowlines, said Roger Roman, technical advisor for completions and well interventions at Petrobras. The first choice is to solve hydrates remotely in order to avoid the cost of remediating with a rig, he said.

But Petrobras’ highly prolific sub-salt wells, which may average 50,000 bbl/d, make it worth the expense. “Whenever there is a problem, we get the resources,” he said.

Onshore, Ryan said, there may be a tendency to gravitate toward using workover rigs because of the “sense of reliability” that they offer.

At ConocoPhillips, “we'll do everything we can to avoid the use of the rig offshore,” he said. “But land workover rigs offer a sense of ‘you get the job done.’”

‘No plan survives contact with the enemy’

Operators handle the inevitability of interventions differently.

Some, such as Petronas, design with future troubles in mind.

Petronas tries to design wells that are “intervention friendly,” said Mohd Abshar Mohd Nor, general manager for well intervention, workovers and well integrity at the state-owned company.

To that end, the E&P includes intervention specialists in the well’s completion design phase.

“Every well drilled needs an intervention, at least one, sometimes 20 over the lifetime,” he said. “Every well drilled eventually requires some measure of integrity, some patching, fixing a leak.” Abshar said increased drilling is only going to drive up the need for more intervention specialists.

Petrobras takes a more box-of-chocolates approach.

 “You don’t know what you’re going to find,” Roman said. That means “we must be ready for pretty much everything.”

Onshore, being ready for anything may mean shuffling the intervention schedule for wells.

“Sometimes you have to look at your schedule and go and do a defensive installation of a plug because somebody's fracking down the street from you,” Ryan said. “No plan survives contact with the enemy, right? And as soon as somebody starts fracking down the road, it's like somebody fired the first shot in a war. You need to react and be ready to deal with it.”

Icota OpRoundtable
Co-moderator Matt Billingham of SLB, panelists Tony Ryan of ConocoPhillips, Mohd Abshar Mohd Nor of Petronas, Roger Roman of Petrobras and Rebecca Ugalde of bp, and co-moderator Kamel Ben-Naceur of Nomadia Energy Consulting during the plenary breakfast at SPE/ICoTA Well Intervention Conference and Exhibition in The Woodlands. (Source: Jennifer Pallanich/Hart Energy)

Spotify for drilling

As a national oil company, Petronas faces particular problems related to technologies, Abshar said.

The company cannot always take advantage of technologies offered by international players because the company is focused on developing local vendors and resources.

“That means our toolbox is very limited,” he said.

Petronas’ intervention success rate has declined because the company has chiefly focused on the easiest repairs.

“We are running out of low-hanging fruits” to focus on, he said.

Technologies that would make the biggest impact for intervention at Petronas are automation and digitalization, he said.

Automation would increase efficiency and safety while digitalizing the workflow to aid in the ability to carry out intervention work, he said. And it would make more data available during operations.

Abshar, who has a drilling background, said the lack of real-time information during interventions means the specialists are essentially operating blindly.

One of the reasons more data is unavailable in interventions, Abshar said, is because drilling and intervention operations have different mindsets in terms of cost.

“Drilling is high cost. You pay for it,” he said.

Instead, he said, operators try to trim costs from intervention operations, but this means they are missing out on the ways data could better inform their interventions.

Ryan said that, if it were possible, he’d have data available on every ConocoPhillips operation.

He sees a future where interventions will be digitized to a point where information “just flows freely” to specialists’ phones and laptops in the way that music flows to them through their Spotify accounts.

At first, he noted, everyone signed up for free Spotify accounts, but many started paying for the premium service after they saw the benefit of the service.

“I think that's kind of how we should look at the data streaming services for well intervention. If it's there, we'll become addicted to it,” Ryan said. “We'll start [to] need it, as opposed to it being nice to have.”