Industry works to empower young workforce in safety, expand understanding of overall well construction process
By Joanne Liou, associate editor
Given your range of leadership roles throughout Schlumberger, what do you see as some of the most critical challenges confronting today’s drilling operations?
For Schlumberger, in particular, it is HSE on the wellsite and in our operations, as well as driving. The industry in general has progressed substantially toward a culture of observing and reporting, which has got us so far. Now the challenge is how can we take that culture and move it to a point where we empower our employees to intervene or stop an unsafe act.
The focus on well integrity is an extension to HSE. Delivering a well is one thing, but to deliver one that is compliant is not only becoming more important but also more visible. Schlumberger now has a well integrity program and well integrity standard whereby we have identified the requirements and acceptance criteria for all well barriers that Schlumberger is providing to our customers, whether it is a safety valve or plug or even fluid. This in turn allows us to drive improvements to the respective service standards, operational procedures, processes and maintenance.
The next challenge is certainly the big crew change. There is a huge demand for competent expertise in the industry, and there is an aging population that will need to be replaced, with a forecasted gap of what is required versus what is in demand. Service companies are challenged to bring an employee up to speed, to a level of competency where they add value and can deliver a service.
For Schlumberger, this is a differential for us, and we are actively responding to this challenge. We have dedicated learning centers in Europe, the US, the Middle East and Russia where we place an emphasis on formal and on-the-job training in a controlled environment. In his or her first year, an average employee that comes to Schlumberger will spend in excess of five and a half weeks in technical and theoretical training. We put in excess of 200,000 days of training each year across the drilling group.
As you mentioned, HSE is at the forefront, and industry has made substantial improvements. What further actions can industry take to continue that improvement?
There are two aspects: continuous improvement and prevention of a catastrophic event. For example, continuous improvement in driving is where a company has implemented a driving standard, and effort is placed equally across an organization to raise risk mitigation to a certain level. The next step-change has to be how you can do more or improve performance with the same resources through looking at the implementation of standards focused on the specific risks of different environments.
The improvements to preventing a catastrophic event at our wellsite operations will come through empowerment. In the past, we would watch an unsafe act, we would report the risk, and then we would address it after the fact. Now we need to move the industry to empower the people to actually shut an unsafe operation down.
Empowerment comes through training, as you must have an acceptable level of competence that enables employees to make a knowledgeable assessment to actually intervene and stop the job. Empowerment to stop the operation without the fear of reprisal is key, and for a younger employee to intervene an older employee’s actions is a cultural change.
How can industry cultivate this change in safety culture? How do you empower a newcomer?
In Schlumberger, it starts from the first day and continues throughout one’s career where safety is core and leads to having the knowledge to observe and intervene. Now that we are starting to develop the culture of actually intervening, we track the interventions and award those that intervene. We are indeed seeing a change in culture, albeit slowly.
HSE approaches share a common foundation across the organization with some variation region to region. Does the well integrity challenge share a similar foundation?
With our well integrity program, we have looked across the services and products that Schlumberger delivers and which ones have an aspect of barrier or barrier technology. From that program, we were able to develop a well integrity standard. A standard for Schlumberger is a minimum requirement, and this minimum requirement bridges operations, training and verification of training. One of the key objectives of the standard is to define a well integrity training package required to ensure that personnel involved in maintaining and operating well barriers have the required knowledge and skills.
Training centers worldwide are playing an important role in industry’s response to the big crew change. How is Schlumberger utilizing these centers across the company’s different segments?
For the drilling group, these training centers are uniquely positioned, not only to give expertise in the silos of our different segment offerings, but also to give Schlumberger the ability at a very early point in the individual’s career to start expanding their understanding of the overall well construction process through interaction with other drilling related service lines.
For example, very early in their career, our mud-logging population is now able to exchange ideas and experiences with other engineers who are specialized in the design of fluids systems, formation evaluation or well placement. This enhances the understanding of our young technical experts early on, across multiple service lines.
Is industry doing enough to promote this sort of cross-pollination and collaboration between different groups?
I do not think we do enough. The reality is the industry, primarily for economics, is often forced to make hard decisions on staffing today that impair our ability to address the challenges of tomorrow. Historically, we have been quite brutal on ourselves with headcount reductions through the cycles that we now must find a way to correct.
Along with safety, well integrity and manpower challenges, what technical challenges are holding back goals you have for your drilling group?
The challenges of drilling a well can be broken into three broad categories: geology, geometry and geography.
The geological challenge is all about putting the well in the right spot within the reservoir and addressing geomechanical concerns as you construct the well. The desired targets are moving further away from the surface, so we are drilling longer wells with trajectories that are getting increasingly more aggressive. The geometry adds to the challenge of the geology.
With the phrase, “There is no easy oil left,” we are actually drilling in more and more harsh environments, but not harsh only in terms of the downhole conditions, but also in terms of logistical challenges associated with remote areas.
We, as an industry, have done a very good job applying discrete technologies, products and services. The next step-change will come from taking these incremental step-changes from discrete products and services and putting them together into an integrated drilling system or system engineered approach. There are many examples, such as drilling fluids and bit performance, where one technology performs better with understanding of how another technology interacts and are dependent on each other.
Our approach is not only to invest in the development of discrete products and services for enhancements in drilling performance, but we also are investing in integration technologies that allow us to model the interdependency of such products. For example, we are now able to model the whole drill string from bit to surface to allow us to better understand and manage the performance of the system with a holistic approach.
How are companies integrating these systems to mitigate issues in geology, geometry and geography?
The advancement of technology in the drilling domain has been strong. The evolution of rotary steerables, motors and the transition of measurements we previously conveyed on wireline to drill collars – logging while drilling – has been outstanding. We have seen significant improvements in functionality and reliability of these technologies so they are now run on a daily basis. You can extend this as far as drilling fluids, where the Holy Grail of having oil-based performance in a water-based system is getting closer.
In the past, you would have never heard of a PDC bit being able to run effectively in heterogeneous formations, and now this customization is part of what we do everyday. For example, the new Spear shale-optimized, steel-body PDC bits we introduced for the unconventional shale markets has set a new benchmark for shale drilling performance and to date has now been run over 6,000 times in US land operations.
We are able to demonstrate that discrete technology enhancement is bringing incremental improvements. From these discrete products and services, the next step-change is truly going to be to deliver complete drilling systems that are fit for purpose and that are engineered to address specific customer challenges.
How are service companies working with operators to improve the process of implementing new technologies?
For Schlumberger in particular, we are participating in industry forums and being members in industry seminars, societies and associations. I think we are close with the trends of where the industry is going. We make a tremendous effort to listen and align with our customers. Our customers are inclined to do joint collaborations, and we are developing new technologies with them.
This collaboration brings advantages in many facets. It puts all the players around the table to actually design the technology that is required. On the service side of the business, these collaborations allow us to introduce technology much faster. It addresses one of the challenges we have in the industry, which is the adoption or the early entry of technology and how quickly we put technology into a well construction workflow.
Are there certain conditions that need to be in place or certain conditions that help cultivate this collaboration?
One condition is openness to aligning objectives. For a service company to deliver to any customer – to have a dialogue on what is the ultimate goal, what are the parameters or the functionality that is required to meet the goal of a customer – this is important. From that alignment, you can establish key performance indicators (KPIs), but the biggest challenge is once you design KPIs that are aligned with your customer, there needs to be a business model that compensates or awards meeting those KPIs.
What can industry do to facilitate the introduction of new technologies in a timely manner to support the adoption process and acceptance?
The tenure to take a new technology and get it to a point of maturity that makes it part of your day-to-day program is quite long compared with other industries. For measurement while drilling and rotary steerable systems, it took five to 10 years for them to mature into the drilling workflow. The industry needs to do things differently to get new technology into the operations. Managed pressure drilling and drilling automation are on the radar, and logically, it makes sense that they will bring substantial improvement, but how long will it take for those improvements to become widely accepted and implemented?
Asking an operator to change out a proven technology with a new system is a hard sell, but if you engage the customer early in the process and you understand the requirements, the challenges and the benefits for both parties, by the time you get technology to the point of field testing, the risks and benefits are understood.
Underlining these challenges is the need for it to be cost effective. It’s a balance of functionality and the cost to deliver the service. We have made advancements in automation and remote operations, for example, as a means to lowering the cost of service deployment, and in time, we believe the industry will evolve this way.
There is a bottleneck in bringing technology into the industry, and it will only be reduced through better alignment between operators and service companies and the vertical integration in the drilling workflow.
What direction does industry need to take to help integrate more automation into operations?
The first place I see automation working is in those operations that require an efficiency component or are otherwise uneconomical, for example, factory drilling in unconventionals.
Automation is an enabler; it is not the ultimate solution to replace knowledge-based decision making. In addition, automation does not solely belong in the domain of service companies. There will be a need to be aligned with the operator and the drilling contractor. The drilling contractors bring the efficiency of linking and automating the surface operations of the rig. Our challenge is the link between the surface and the downhole tools and measurements.
Since a common goal of new technologies is to sharpen performance and cut costs, what issues stand in the way of achieving these goals?
The balance of costs and functionality is a major issue. Two components to consider: fit-for-purpose technology that delivers the required functionality and reliability.
A specific example in unconventionals is the gap in technology for measurements in real time taken in the drilling BHA to allow better placement of the well. You need something that is cost effective, and you need a completely reliable system. If you can do this, you can better place the well in the reservoir sweet spot. Schlumberger analyzed the functionality required and built a technology that is fit for purpose.
We recently introduced the iPZIG at-bit inclination, gamma ray and imaging service. With this new technology, we put an azimuthal gamma ray and an inclination measurement directly behind the bit to give an indication of the BHA position relative to the formation. It has the fit-for-purpose functionality required to do well placement in unconventionals, but it does not have extra features, maybe required in conventional reservoirs, that would cost you more money.
The second component has to be reliability. It is a challenge to ensure that the next generation of functionality has improved reliability to the previous generation. To have increased functionality and decreased reliability only means an increase in cost. It goes back to working with customers to understand the mission profile – the characterization or parameters under which you are going to apply your technology, in terms of temperature, pressure, angle, torque, among other parameters.
How have unconventionals driven technology development? Is there a particular area industry needs to focus on to improve activity in unconventionals?
Unconventionals have brought advancements in well construction. It has happened through the advent of technology, such as rotary steerables. We are now able to effectively and efficiently drill the curve and the lateral of a well with one BHA, in one run.
The requirements to be successful in unconventionals can be broken down into two tasks. First is understanding the reservoir quality, putting the well in the right place in the reservoir. Second is completion quality, selecting the correct technology to complete that identified section of the reservoir.
The fracturing industry has made step-changes in completion quality, including completion hardware that goes into the well and how we place multistage fracturing. One of the gaps is the need for remote operations or automation that will bring efficiencies. There also is a lack of real-time formation evaluation that will allow you to address both the reservoir quality, i.e., well placement, and the completion quality, i.e., stimulation placement.
How can industry improve formation evaluation?
The industry is starting to embrace the need for an improved understanding of the formation along the lateral section of unconventional wells – unconventional reservoir quality – and linking that to the completion quality. Rather than making assumptions from measurements made in an offset vertical well, real-time formation evaluation measurements along the lateral will enhance completion quality and ultimately improve production rates. This will be achieved through better well placement in the sweet spots of the reservoir and helping develop the optimum completion strategy.
As a global industry in the business to meet the growing energy demands, how are we positioning industry to meet that challenge?
If you look back, nobody would have expected the unconventionals to be the boom that they are today and the industry has quickly adapted itself to capitalize on these opportunities.
We remain focused on improving the drilling efficiency and the production from today’s operations, hopefully allowing more and more prospects to be economically viable. However at the same time, we are well aligned with what the industry will need in tomorrow’s geological, geometrical and geographical challenges.
New frontiers of development will always take you to areas where the industry is not mature. The logistical challenges will always be there. I do not see it getting any easier.
However, closer collaborations between the service companies and the operators will help better identify what is required to be successful. This in turn will drive the development of the new technology needed to address these challenges.
iPZIG and Spear are marks of Schlumberger.