Drilling Ahead: Once again, downturn has proven to be a good thing for technology

Posted on 04 February 2010

By Linda Hsieh, assistant managing editor

Ever since the industry got rolled over by the monster how-low-will-it-go recession approximately 18 months ago, industry technology leaders have made various comments about how downturns can actually be a good thing for technological innovations.

This being the first downturn I’ve witnessed since entering the oil and gas industry in late 2005, I admit I was at first skeptical.

The logic of it is simple enough – when business goes down, companies are more eager to seek new ways to improve efficiency and drive down costs. Still – won’t companies be hanging on to their budgets for dear life, afraid to spend money on anything that might be labeled risky? Won’t the fear of failure be heightened in a climate of uncertainty and highly volatile commodity prices?

To a degree, yes, companies did cut spending. Yet a slew of exciting technological milestones and world-firsts – all announced within the past couple of months – are also proving me wrong:

Statoil has applied riserless mud recovery technology in the Gulf of Mexico deepwater – a first in the region. This dual-gradient technology not only reduces discharges to the sea, it also allows operators to push the shallow casing string deeper. By minimizing the number of casing strings, total well costs were minimized as well.

• The world’s first rotary steerable liner-while-drilling system was successfully tested on Statoil’s Brage platform. Having a liner attached directly to the drillstring means operators don’t need to pull the drillstring before running the casing or liner. Having rotary steerable capabilities on top of that helps with drilling through trouble zones, such as low-pressure zones or unstable shale/coal layers.

Chevron completed the world’s first deepwater scale squeeze treatment offshore Angola to help maximize production. The tool of choice was a system described as “a USB port for wellheads” that had been used for chemical injection operations. The manufacturer was able to extend the system for deepwater use up to 600 m (1,968 ft), and plans are under way to extend it even further to 1,500 m (4,921 ft).

Shell used the open-water wireline technique at a water depth of 815 m (2,673 ft) to replace a failed subsurface-controlled subsurface safety valve in the Gulf of Mexico, setting a subsea well intervention record for producing wells. Open-water wireline had previously been used only in shallower waters. Peter Sharpe, Shell executive vice president – wells, remarked, “This achievement is much more than a short-term record-breaking success. It is a game changer.”

Shell says it will now turn its focus to deploying deepwater coiled-tubing without the need for a drilling rig or large multi-service vessel and workover riser – all to reduce well maintenance costs and improve deepwater reservoir recovery.

• A record was set in the Gulf of Mexico with the cementation of the world’s longest solid expandable tubular liner. The 2,114-m (6,935-ft) pre-expansion length, 7 5/8-in. liner was set and cemented with a shoe depth below 6,000 m (20,000 ft). To isolate the deep wellbore section, which had bottomhole static temperatures of 187°C (368°F), a custom cement slurry system had to be made that would remain fluid for more than 15 hours downhole while the liner expanded.

As we enter 2010, it looks like the industry has already set the stage for more milestones to be achieved over the next couple of years. BG Group is drilling a complex HPHT exploration well on its Mandarin prospect in Norway (page 20), and Pride International just started an MPD well from one of its floating rigs that is expected to take nine months to drill (page 36).

While the recession wasn’t good for pretty much anything else, at least it’s again proven to be good for technology.

More details can be found in Drilling & Completion Tech Digest starting on page 14. E-mail Linda Hsieh at linda.hsieh@iadc.org.

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