Design for control, guarantee containment

Posted on 10 September 2013

Chevron WELLSAFE initiative aims to drive enhanced discipline around well control

By Linda Hsieh, managing editor

Leo Tolstoy once wrote, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” When it comes to well control, however, Chevron is not waiting around. With a global well control initiative that will be rolled out later this year, the company is pushing change from within.

From its corporate drilling and completions team through its 15 business units and outwardly to every one of its drilling contractors around the world, Chevron has developed a program called WELLSAFE to drive a higher level of planning and operational discipline that will prevent another Macondo-like catastrophe from shutting down an entire industry.

“Design for Control, Guarantee Containment” is the motto under which WELLSAFE will operate, David Payne, Chevron VP of drilling and completions, explained. “If you look at the biggest opportunity for failure that can create the most damage in our industry, it’s a blowout. So when we started on this process, we focused on what we really wanted to do, which is eliminate the unplanned release of hydrocarbons from a well.”

In simple terms, WELLSAFE is an assurance process under which every Chevron business unit, every Chevron well and every rig that works for the Chevron drilling and completions organization must be certified to certain well control standards. The program is made up of two primary modules – the first encompasses well design and planning, and the second focuses on rigs and rig operations.

The first package ensures that each and every well Chevron drills meets a high level of engineering requirements that impact well control. This will apply to all wells, from the simplest onshore wells that are drilled in a matter of days to the most complex ultra-deepwater wells that may take months to complete. “There’s an execution assurance piece to this package to ensure that we executed per our plan or that we followed the appropriate MOC,” WELLSAFE project manager Mike French said. “These pertain to our primary barriers – primarily the casing, mud weights, leak-off tests or FITs, casing integrity tests and the cement.”

The rig operations module will ensure rig-specific procedures are in place that could impact the operator’s or contractor’s ability to maintain well control. Such procedures – hole monitoring, shut-in and well kill, for example – will be aimed at clearly defining and communicating the roles and responsibilities of the crew members. “It’s really focused on monitoring the hole to be able to detect an influx, and then if there is an influx, ensuring that everybody knows clearly what they are supposed to do,” Mr French explained.

A model for success

Image courtesy of Chevron Whether it’s a deep, complex well offshore or a shallow, straightforward well on land, each will have to be WELLSAFE certified under Chevron’s new well control initiative WELLSAFE, which is based on the US Navy’s SUBSAFE program.

Image courtesy of Chevron
Whether it’s a deep, complex well offshore or a shallow, straightforward well on land, each will have to be WELLSAFE certified under Chevron’s new well control initiative WELLSAFE, which is based on the US Navy’s SUBSAFE program.

In 1963, the US Navy lost the USS Thresher nuclear submarine while it was on a deep test dive approximately 200 miles off the northeast coast of the United States; 129 people were killed. The fact that the Thresher was the most advanced and capable submarine at the time but sunk under non-combat conditions was a wakeup call. “Admiral (Hyman) Rickover brought everything to a grinding halt and said, we have to figure out what’s happening and why it’s happening, not so much on that submarine but systemically,” Chevron OE advisor Tom Nosenzo said. With 27 years of experience in the Navy, Mr Nosenzo was brought into Chevron in 2011 to provide an external perspective on WELLSAFE.

Within months after the Thresher loss, the Navy had created and launched SUBSAFE, a program to provide maximum reasonable assurance of the integrity of submarine design, systems and materials. The Navy has not lost a single SUBSAFE-certified submarine at sea since.

“Some people think SUBSAFE is a flawed system because the Navy has had accidents with submarines, but they have also recovered every submarine. They all made it back to shore with their crews, and that’s really the intent of SUBSAFE,” Mr Payne said.

In 2011 after Macondo, as Chevron looked to outside industries seeking ways to improve its own, SUBSAFE quickly emerged as a model of success. In August that year, a group of Chevron leaders made its first visit to a submarine base in Kingsbay, Ga. “We got to tour a submarine and their training center, and it gave us a sense for how they manage their business and the level of discipline they have in following procedures. It was impressive,” Mr Payne recalled.

Perhaps more importantly, the visit also allowed Chevron to see how SUBSAFE principles could apply to the oilfield. “We watched a torpedo loading. We got to go on a flooding trainer and watch a group of sailors battle flooding, including the procedures and communications that went on during that process. We got to go on a ship control trainer and watch the crew do an emergency surfacing of a submarine and how they reacted. When you get to see it in action, it’s different than listening to PowerPoints. The light really turned on during that visit,” said Frank Pearson, a Chevron OE performance engineer who spent 23 years on nuclear submarines before joining Chevron in 2006.

After a second visit the following year to another submarine base and naval air station in Seattle, Wash., WELLSAFE began taking shape over the course of 2012 and into 2013. In July 2012, Chevron held a three-day workshop with representatives from all of its business units to discuss the well design/planning module. Drilling contractor representatives were invited to participate in a second workshop that was held in April this year to discuss requirements for rigs.

Although revisions for both modules are still ongoing, Chevron anticipates it will roll out final WELLSAFE standards by the end of this year, then kick off an implementation phase across its global drilling and completion operations in 2014.

Image courtesy of Chevron A breakout group, including employees from five Chevron business units and representatives from Ensco, Ensign and Helmerich & Payne, discusses requirements for rig-based operations at a WELLSAFE workshop in April 2013. There were five breakout groups at the event with 56 participants and 10 facilitators.

Image courtesy of Chevron
A breakout group, including employees from five Chevron business units and representatives from Ensco, Ensign and Helmerich & Payne, discusses requirements for rig-based operations at a WELLSAFE workshop in April 2013. There were five breakout groups at the event with 56 participants and 10 facilitators.

Lessons from SUBSAFE

One key and very intentional aspect of WELLSAFE is its narrow focus; anything that does not have a direct and material impact on well control was not included. This was one of the most important learnings from SUBSAFE, Mr Payne said. “The beauty of SUBSAFE is that it’s very disciplined. It is strictly focused on maintaining the integrity of the hull and the survivability of the ship.” An overly broad focus would hamper implementation and end up achieving nothing at all.

The commercial airline industry is another good example where this philosophy can be found. “An airline is a high-reliability organization when it comes to the equipment, maintenance and the crews who fly the airplanes. It’s not a high-reliability organization when it comes to baggage handling or ticket management. They’ve identified the critical points in their business and gotten very good at them,” Mr Payne said.

Therefore, Chevron has built in a very strict focus to its own program. “For example, with WELLSAFE we don’t have a single requirement associated with developing a cost estimate or a days-versus-depth curve, because it doesn’t have an impact on well control. The reality is that Chevron will require those things in order to run its business, but they are not WELLSAFE requirements,” Mr French said.

Chevron also chose to adopt a reporting structure for WELLSAFE that is similar to SUBSAFE’s, in the sense that there will be an independent line of command separate from Chevron’s business units. Under this structure, “WELLSAFE examiners” will be assigned to individual business units and will be responsible for ensuring that all requirements for well design and planning have been met and executed. No well will be spud without being WELLSAFE-certified by the examiner.

“All the WELLSAFE examiners will be independent of the business unit, allowing them to step back from the business side of it and truly make a good engineering call,” Mr French said. Such verification will act as a form of real-time assurance that global standards on things like casing design and cementing are being met, he added.

Central to the examiners’ jobs will be the concept of objective quality evidence, which simply means proof that something has been done. “For WELLSAFE, nothing has occurred unless there is objective quality evidence that it has occurred,” Mr Nosenzo said. “It’s something that allows you to go back and verify that you did something you said you were going to do. It’s all part of building an assurance process so we can show that we’ve followed the processes and procedures we have put in place.”

Rig requirements

Compared with the well design/planning package, which will adopt a more prescriptive approach to ensuring that every Chevron well meets global well control standards, WELLSAFE will take a more “goal-setting” approach when it comes to contractors and their drilling rigs. There will still be requirements ensuring that well control equipment meets global standards and that there are rig-specific procedures with a direct and material impact on well control. However, flexibility has been built in to allow each business unit to determine how it goes about meeting those requirements.

“We’ll have expectations on what we want them to accomplish, but it’s really self-governing as far as day-to-day assurance. WELLSAFE defines the intent at a high level but leaves the way in which they deliver that intent to the business unit,” Mr French said. “That way they own it and build a culture from within.”

Although final requirements for the rig/operations package remain under development, Mr French noted that developing more structured and rig-specific well control drills will be a significant component. “We’ll work with the rig contractors to establish a better means of utilizing both verbal and exercise drills to ensure that all of the crew members truly understand their roles and responsibilities,” he said.

These will include not just the typical shut-in drills but also hole-monitoring and well-kill drills where crews talk through the steps that must be taken, as well as potential complications and scenarios. The shaker hand, for example, might be asked, “What are the things that you would see in the pits that could indicate we’re drilling into pressure?” or “Why would a change in cuttings be potentially indicative of a transition zone?”

The important goal to achieve is that each crew member knows not only what he’s supposed to do but why he’s supposed to do it. “In the nuclear navy, the operators understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. When they take action, most of the procedural steps will tell them why, particularly with a nuclear power plant. We’re creating that same concept with WELLSAFE,” Mr Pearson said.

While the WELLSAFE team is still developing methodology for how to evaluate the drills, Mr French emphasized that such evaluations will be more like qualitative assessments, not a grading of individual performance. “Our program is not set up to verify that each member of the rig contractor’s crews is competent. The rig contractor is responsible for developing and assuring competency,” he said.

The frequency for conducting the drills also will be established by each business unit, as long as it meets minimum expectations set by WELLSAFE. This allows the business units to work with local contractors and ensure the drills are operation-specific. “The goal is to build standards and rigor into the process as a way to better assess how capable and ready our crews are. You need a system that shows whether you’re getting better or worse so you can do something if you see declining performance,” Mr Nosenzo explained.

A culture of discipline

Image courtesy of Chevron Every rig that works for Chevron’s drilling and completions organization will have to be WELLSAFE certified. The company notes that it will take a “goal-setting” approach when it comes to requirements for contractors and their drilling rigs.

Image courtesy of Chevron
Every rig that works for Chevron’s drilling and completions organization will have to be WELLSAFE certified. The company notes that it will take a “goal-setting” approach when it comes to requirements for contractors and their drilling rigs.

As Chevron moves closer to implementing WELLSAFE, the operator says it has already seen positive feedback from its contractors and hopes the program will drive more rigor around the use of procedures, even for everyday tasks. “When you go out to the rig, very infrequently do you see them break out a procedure and use it. Compared with the Navy, procedural usage is not so integrated into the culture. On a submarine, you won’t find them starting up a turbine or shutting down a lube oil purifier without a written procedure open and following the actions. On every aspect, procedures are expected on a submarine,” Mr Pearson said. On rigs, however, he finds it’s common thinking that “someone who needs a procedure to do his job doesn’t know what he’s doing.” This rationale might have worked decades ago when industry was dealing with relatively low-complexity tools and environments, but a cultural shift is needed in today’s age of high technical complexity, he contended.

Mr Nosenzo, who like Mr Pearson comes from 20-plus years in the military, agreed that integrating WELLSAFE into the rig culture will be a key to success. “A lot of people tell me that you can get people to use procedures in the Navy because you can just order people to do things. That’s really not how the military functions. Yes, you can order people to do things they don’t want to do, but they tend to not do them well,” Mr Nosenzo said. “In the Navy, the Marine Corps, the Army or anywhere, you need more than brute force. You need to build a rapport with people and understand how they work.”

Further, although he does see room for more operational discipline on rigs, Mr Nosenzo emphasized that it’s not because the crews are undisciplined. “If I don’t give you a clear standard, clear directions and clear procedures, how can I say that you’re disciplined or undisciplined? That’s why with WELLSAFE we have rig-specific requirements for most of our common processes. It may not be the same on every rig, but everytime you do it on that rig, you ought to be proceeding in the same direction.”

To ensure that it is setting reasonable expectations, Chevron has actively engaged drilling contractors throughout the development of WELLSAFE. Approximately 13 contractors representing land, shelf and deepwater drilling participated in the April 2013 workshop, and a Transocean representative actually sits on the WELLSAFE decision review board.

“What we’re asking with WELLSAFE is not a huge step,” Mr Payne said. “We’re just saying that it’s not good enough to be compliant 60% of the time or 80% of the time. We’re driving discipline and rigor into the system so you have to follow our requirements 100% of the time, whether you’re on a land rig or a deepwater rig, in every country where we operate and every place where we have operational control.”

The industry can’t afford to have another Macondo, not just in the Gulf of Mexico but anywhere in the world. And for Chevron, the road to “Design for Control, Guarantee Containment” has begun with WELLSAFE.

1 Comments For This Post

  1. Jay Bhalla Says:

    Let us also make sure that all diesel engines operating within 100 feet of the well bore are protected with an airintake “certified” shutoff valve and a :certified”spark arrester to prevent the diesel engine from runaway condition.

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