The initial stage of well construction focuses more on structural and handling issues than drilling engineering, but it is still traditionally managed by drilling engineers. There is currently a very fragmented market of companies offering narrow specialist services to assist, and they generally have limited experience of the broader picture. For example, there’s little interconnectivity between those that supply key components such as conductors and businesses that provide engineering such as riser analysis. This has created gaps in understanding of the full project requirements that the nonspecialist drilling engineer must try to manage, often leading to unnecessary and costly mistakes. There is little incentive for those individual companies to find broader solutions since these will tend to optimize the process and reduce costs to the customer. It’s then very much up to the drilling engineer to try to put the pieces of a complex puzzle together.

The prolonged recovery has forced a mindset change from “Well, this is the way it has always been done” to a mantra of smarter and simpler decision-making to streamline operations both technically and economically.

A huge challenge in any platform drilling operation is bringing together the disparate services and equipment supply and ensuring that every detail and interface is optimized. Aquaterra Energy’s Well Start discipline combines individual early well construction products and services to realize cost savings and technical benefits to the operator’s project. This service is intended to ensure tighter control and management of the most complex interactions between the platform, drilling rig, environment and wellhead.

A new era for drilling

As companies cut spending to weather low prices, the number of rigs drilling for oil and gas in the North Sea plunged to just 27 rigs in September 2016, the lowest number recorded since January 1982. Matched by a corresponding reduction in the pool of experience in operator drilling groups, few operators in the North Sea can call on the experience of multiple new platform development drilling campaigns in their own drilling teams.

Some of the technical challenges and demands of the past are also different from those undertaken today since drilling practices and procedures have changed dramatically, often increasing in complexity. Back in the 1980s platform drilling rigs were common on large developments, but now jackups are the default choice. These introduce additional interface issues and are working at greater depth in more trying environments and in more complex developments. Industry codes and standards also are more stringent and require increased engineering input.

These issues, compounded by the effects of the downturn, have led to operators demanding a more effective, efficient and integrated approach, already available in the completions market. By embedding an initiation expert with experience gained over many recent platform developments into the drilling team from an early stage, operators can be assured they are accessing proven solutions rather than reinventing new ones.

The overall objective of this program is to drive down the amount of equipment required and associated costs by doing smarter engineering rather than looking at each component or process in isolation. Operators receive fully explored global solutions to choose from rather than partial nonoptimized resolutions with potentially wide-ranging impacts.

An example of this is the interaction between analysis, conductor and wellhead system design, centralization, and rig relative defl ection. An integrated team can look at the complex interactions between these elements, leading to opportunities for relatively small changes to the system design while delivering disproportionately large benefits in terms of overall project cost savings in a way that is not possible when trying to manage each element in isolation.

This can ultimately mitigate risk and cut down on costly logistics and capex/opex, halving offshore crew involved by reducing the number of required vendors and replacing them with a single multiskilled crew, removing excess helicopter and accommodation needs.

Ease and expertise

Two major operators recently adopted this approach on drilling developments in the Norwegian North Sea and Central North Sea. Aquaterra provided an integrated package of specific services and equipment to overcome the unique challenges on each project as well as helping the operators with third-party equipment specification and selection to reach optimized solutions. The capex, opex and risk-reducing benefits ranged from the resolution of riser issues and rectifying potentially costly wellhead specifications to managing the entire conductor tendering process, supplying the required centralizers and addressing well proximity challenges.

In Norway the company worked with the operator to optimize all equipment and operational choices in the campaign up to the point of BOP installation on each well. Riser analysis was performed at the outset to scope out equipment specification and installation tolerances with a single project manager in partnership with the operator and other contractors. This generated a detailed understanding of each element of supply and how it interacts with other equipment and the environment around it. This knowledge was used to recommend cost- and time-saving optimization and ensure that all components were fit-for-purpose and that equipment and the deployment methodology was seamlessly executed within the very project-specific requirements of the field development. In turn, this allowed the operator to focus on planning activities for the subsequent drilling, completion and first oil phases. The scope of work also extended to the drilling contractor in the interface, design and manufacture of the surface riser system and bespoke shallow gas diverter.

The combination of direct service provision in areas such as riser analysis coupled with project management support meant the operator secured the most economic but, perhaps more importantly, the most appropriate technical solutions. More than $3.2 million was saved in direct and indirect costs compared to a similar well development using a conventional and fragmented approach. Significant capex and opex savings were made because of the harmonization of products and services along with the reduction of project management costs and crew members offshore. Safety was improved, and overall project risk was reduced by Aquaterra engineers managing all interfaces and compliance with standards, specifications and analysis requirements in collaboration with the operator’s drilling engineering team. To date, managed work scopes have been completed with zero nonproductive time and within the allotted time periods.

A short cut to optimized drilling

The need to build and maintain momentum for a stronger and more sustainable oil and gas sector globally is greater now than in previous downturns. The industry is looking beyond stringent short-term cuts and is investing in effective technical and economic gains through integrated and collaborative approaches.

Collective expertise and in-depth experience in direct service provision and project management of complex interfaces can bundle the deployment of products and services while improving efficiency and reducing project management costs, risk, lead times and capex/opex. In a single project this will allow the well to be spudded, the conductor run and the whole system rigged up and ready to start drilling with well control in place.

It is clear that working in partnership means the global oil and gas industry can confidently learn from past experiences and share novel insight and ingenuity to optimize operations, cut costs and remove the risk from future well developments.

References available.

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