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Noble Drilling looks to ‘traveling MPD package’ to prepare multiple rigs for MPD

By Kelli Ainsworth Robinson, Associate Editor

Operators are increasingly looking to their drilling contractors to supply the bulk or entirety of a drilling rig’s managed pressure drilling (MPD) package. However, outfitting a rig – much less a whole fleet – with such equipment can be cost prohibitive, especially in the current dayrate environment, Jason Custer, Mechanical Engineer at Noble Drilling, said at the 2018 SPE/IADC Managed Pressure Drilling and Underbalanced Operations Conference in New Orleans, La., on 17 April. Other challenges Noble is addressing include training the rig crew to operate and maintain MPD equipment, as well as managing additional third-party personnel on the rig.

To make its fleet ready for MPD operations in an efficient and cost-effective way, Noble Drilling partnered with an equipment manufacturer to develop an integrated MPD system that can easily be moved from rig to rig as needed. The company is also working with vendors to integrate the drilling and MPD controls. “The future outlook for MPD operations entails front-end collaboration between the operator and contractor, strategically planned hardware integration, advanced control system integration and an in-depth training program,” Mr Custer said. “With these tools, Noble is able to increase MPD operational efficiency and safety while reducing costs significantly.” The company’s strategy centers around process integration, hardware integration and mobility, an integrated control system, and training.

Process integration, Mr Custer said, starts in the planning phase. Since Noble will own and operate the MPD package, it’s essential for the contractor to be involved in the front end of the well planning process. “Because the drilling contractor is becoming the subject matter expert for our equipment and because we operate and maintain it, we need to have a say in the (well planning) conversation so we can use our MPD package to the fullest extent of its capabilities.”

Additionally, process integration involves leveraging advances in rig automation – including automated mud mixing – to reduce manual operations and the potential for human error. “Fluid and pressure control is where you really get to see the benefits of the MPD package integrated into everything else,” he said. If Coriolis meters are installed on the mud pumps, as well as the MPD manifold, kicks can be detected when they are much smaller and circulated out, he noted.

To optimize hardware integration and mobility, Noble plans to outfit several of its rigs with the piping, cabling and control system hardware necessary for MPD. If one of these rigs is contracted for a job where MPD is required, the “traveling MPD package” will be sent to and installed on the rig. “We can deploy (the package) to make any of those rigs MPD ready within a matter of hours or days,” Mr Custer said.

Prior to the installation of piping and cabling, Noble will perform a 3D scan of the rig. The contractor will then design and prefabricate all of the piping and cabling and install it on the rig. The installed piping will then be compared with the 3D model to “verify that the installation was flawless,” he said. This pre-planning is expected to allow a bolt-on installation in the field, with very little welding on high-pressure piping required at the rig site. To date, Noble has already performed several 3D scans on multiple rig classes.

For the MPD package itself, Noble has worked with an equipment manufacturer to redesign the surface manifold package. The distribution manifold, junk catcher manifold, choke manifold and Coriolis manifold have all been combined into one 30-ft ISO container unit. The unit consists of dual flow lines, dual chokes, dual Coriolis meters and dual junk catchers

The control system for the MPD package will be integrated with the drilling control system. “The backbone to a fully integrated MPD package, and where I think we’re really standing out, is the ability to integrate the drilling control system with the MPD control system,” Mr Custer said. The control system utilizes an OPC UA server, which allows the drilling and MPD control systems to communicate control and measurement signals back and forth. Depending on operator preference, the hydraulic model can be a separate plug-in to the OPC UA server, or can be provided by the drilling control system. “We designed it this way so the operator has the ability to choose any hydraulic model, and we can accommodate it.”

There’s no benefit to building these integrated hardware packages and control systems if crews are not trained to use them, so Noble has developed a three-stage training program to prepare crews. “At Noble, we’re developing a multi-stage training program that will provide a well-rounded education on what MPD is, the technology we’re using and how to drill in a normal MPD operation, as well as how to handle the unexpected,” he said. The first stage will consist of textbook training. In the second stage, crews will undergo advanced simulator training. During the third stage, rig crews will train at the MPD equipment manufacturer’s facilities, where they will learn to assemble and disassemble the equipment. “That way we can hand over ownership to the rig crews, and they have faith in owning and operating the equipment.”

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