Critical issues in drilling & completions with Jens Byrialsen, managing director, Egyptian Drilling Company
By Linda Hsieh, managing editor
EDC had two newbuild jackups delivered last year that are both rated to 375-ft water depths, which are considerably bigger than the older jackups in your fleet. In your areas of operation, what is driving these higher-specification jackup designs?
The general trend in Egypt these days is that we are drilling more for gas than oil. The depths are definitely increasing, thereby the pressures that we’re drilling at are also increasing. HPHT is a big challenge we’re up against. We have 15k well control equipment on both new jackups. The next step we’ll likely take is introducing 15k equipment on some of our onshore rigs, which have 10k well control equipment now. We have a few onshore opportunities for 15k equipment too. We are continuously drilling wells from 16,000 ft to 18,000 ft, and a few even deeper.
What major challenges did EDC face in the delivery and startup of your new jackups?
Both rigs were delivered on time, and the startups were reasonably trouble- free. The real challenge is the same as what you hear from other people, which is to get the people that we need for operating the rigs. To hire the necessary people or to find them within our own organization has been a challenge, especially since we are moving into the new generation of rigs, which some people refer to as cyber rigs. The change from old-fashioned SCR rigs to the cyber rigs has been drastic for our drilling crews. The understanding that the driller has to communicate with touchscreens and move around in computer screens to see his systems, etc, that’s definitely a step-change for many of our people. It has forced us to look for some very young and adaptable drillers instead of the most experienced drillers, who have not really been able to face the technology part of the challenge.
Is it actually easier to take a young person who’s more familiar with technology in general and then train them on the drilling side of the job?
A lot easier. We’ve taken in a lot of young people, all with engineering backgrounds, into our special driller trainee program. It’s really been a very successful process. After they run through drilling courses, we put them on fast track on the rigs to move up to be assistant drillers, and from there on let them make their way.
With these new rigs, the training part has been a very expensive part of getting the rigs ready to operate. But it has to be done, and it’s the same for all of us in the industry.
The control systems on the new jackups and, to some extent also on the newer land rigs, have been a step-change for our maintenance people as well. On the old rigs, we had an electrician and a mechanic. On these new rigs, we need to have an ET, electronic technician, who’s taking care of the electronic stuff. That’s been a challenge for many of our people.
Where are your newbuild rigs working now?
The first one that was delivered in April 2010 is working for Maersk Oil Qatar, drilling long-reach deviated wells in Qatar. These wells are not very deep, but they’re extremely long. The second one was delivered at the end of July last year, and it’s in the Mediterranean. We’re in the commissioning and training phase and close to being ready to go into operation if and when we get a contract.
How do you see the future of the jackup market, which still remains fairly weak in many markets around the world?
I am certainly worried about the immediate future. This building boom we’ve seen may result in an oversupply of jackups. At the same time, there are so many jackups out there that were built between 1980 and 1984. Some of them will definitely be retired. This building boom will likely squeeze some of those old units out of the market.
The industry is overdue for a fleet renewal. We’re coming out with rigs now that are much bigger. They have bigger pumps, bigger drawworks, bigger capacities, more deck space and variable loads. We can load much more tubulars on the new rigs than you can even think about on the old rigs, and that gives the operator an advantage. Operators have been very pleased with the capacities that we are coming with.
What do you see as the most critical issue for drilling contractors in the areas where EDC operates?
Today, and I think for some time to come, the human resource part is our biggest challenge. To get the right people and to retain the people. Training requirements are continuously increasing. In this industry, it takes a very long time to bring people to senior positions. When you’re talking about HPHT drilling, it’s even harder to get and train the right people. All the operators are scrutinizing our CVs very closely when it’s HPHT drilling because of the higher risks that we are exposed to. It requires people who have experience to deal with those kinds of issues.
And there are also the post-Macondo issues that will come along in well control. Everybody’s now very focused on what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.
Do you feel the effects of Macondo in your region of operation as well?
Yes. I mean, there haven’t been any drilling stops in the Middle East, but at the same time, it’s spilling over to us because the operators that we’re working for are also working in other parts of the world. I’m sure every international operator is considering this from the boardroom down to the drilling manager.
How is EDC approaching the people problem you mentioned?
We are an Egyptian company, so the main part of our employees are Egyptians. But when we work in the international market, we try to use as many people from the local area as we can. For example, we’ve been very successful in Saudi Arabia, where we are running 58% Saudi content on our crews. We’re very proud of that. It’s good for us, and of course it’s the right attitude to take with the host country.
What’s the way forward for the industry as far as safety?
I think the petroleum industry is doing a great job in HSE and safety for our people and our equipment. If we compare ourselves to other industries, we’re doing extremely good. We’re not doing good enough because we should not hurt anybody when they’re out there, but as an industry, we should be proud of what we have achieved.
In the future, I think that we have to look at safety a little differently. We’ve been looking a lot at the accidents that occur, and we have learned a lot from them. Now we are moving toward learning not from the accident but from the near-misses. Our biggest problem – at least at EDC but I think also in the industry in general – is not equipment. It’s attitude. We have to work hard on the attitude of the people to make sure that they make themselves safe.
We have to work on developing people’s personal responsibility toward themselves and toward their colleagues. People need to take ownership of what is going on and protect themselves and others. We already have the tools to make any kind of operation a safe operation. We have the physical things to separate the man from the risk, and we have the procedures that will basically cover any kind of risk that we are up against. But every time things go wrong, it’s because somebody didn’t use the tools we provided or they didn’t follow the procedures that we provided. That’s a key component to safety.
How does automation fit into your view of improving safety on rigs?
Removing people from the rig floor helps. The rig floor is traditionally the most dangerous place on the rig, but we can see in our statistics that’s changing. The rig floor is not anymore the major place where people hurt themselves; it happens in other places. The more we can make things hands-free, the better off we are. In the drilling industry, we have plenty of opportunities to improve in that area.
So you see automated rigs as the way forward?
You see automated rigs in the smaller end of the rig scales, but we’re not quite there yet for automated rigs in the bigger end. And it will be some time before we are. But it is definitely going to come. It’s something that will develop, and it’s something that may have to be coordinated with our clients as they’re designing their wells and casing plans.