Perspectives: Not doing what’s always been done, but what’s better

Posted on 12 November 2009

Graham Mensa-Wilmot, Chevron MAXDRILL project team leader

By Linda Hsieh, assistant managing editor

“I don’t mind failing so long as I can find out why and be certain that I’m not going to repeat that failure again. It has to teach me something that I’ll carry forward,” said Chevron MAXDRILL team leader Graham Mensa-Wilmot.

“I don’t mind failing so long as I can find out why and be certain that I’m not going to repeat that failure again. It has to teach me something that I’ll carry forward,” said Chevron MAXDRILL team leader Graham Mensa-Wilmot.

As a young man growing up in Ghana in the ’70s, Chevron’s Graham Mensa-Wilmot remembers PetroCanada putting up an offshore drilling rig near the coast where he lived. From the second floor of his high school’s library, he could always spot the rig and see the gas flares shooting up high into the sky. “I remember thinking, whoever’s doing that, that’s what I want to do when I grow up,” he recalled.

Driven by an inquisitive streak that was always prodding him to find out the unknown, Mr Mensa-Wilmot tried to discover everything he could about the flares. “I kept asking if there were people working there, and how someone could just put up a flare and go home. I kept asking lots of questions,” he said. “That’s how I got introduced to the oil and gas industry.”

After high school, he won a scholarship from the Romanian government and attended the University of Petroleum & Gas in the city of Ploiesti. Early in his first year, one professor compared a drilling engineer to a doctor whose patient he can’t see, can’t touch and can’t feel because it’s miles away and can’t talk – but it will let you know when it’s feeling bad. “That concept really impressed me about drilling engineering,” he said. He eventually completed both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the school.

After graduation, he went to work for Ghana National Petroleum Company as a drilling engineer and was put to work on the same rig he used to watch from his school library. Following this experience, he enrolled and did graduate research work at Texas A&M University. In 1988, Mr Mensa-Wilmot joined a Houston-based drilling services company called SlimDrill. For a couple of years, he worked as a directional driller on rigs operating in the Austin chalk.

“It was there that I got fascinated with drilling optimization and performance drilling,” said Mr Mensa-Wilmot. “I was never lucky, always drawing jobs around or during Christmas,” he recalled. “If we finished the job early, we got to go home, but we never finished on time. I got frustrated and started thinking, how can we do things better? How can we reduce our flat times so we can go home?”

His inquisitive streak kept kicking in, and he found himself fighting the routine of doing things in certain ways just because “that’s how it’s always been done.” He was always asking, “Why do it that way? How can we make it better?”

As part of his efforts, Mr Mensa-Wilmot began looking into drilling applications and drill bit technologies, especially those related to PDC bits. Around the same time, researchers in different companies started extending their activities to include the impact of vibrations on bit and drilling performance. Mr Mensa-Wilmot decided that he wanted to be part of this effort by putting his drilling background to use. To him, the old saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” does not hold water. Rather, it should be: “If it ain’t broke, make it better, and if it is broke, fix it.”

“I started my career in the field, so I always want to not just do new things but do new things that would improve work in the field,” he said.

Mr Mensa-Wilmot has worked at major drill bit companies in positions of increasing responsibility. He has accrued more than 22 patents, primarily related to drilling applications, technologies and PDC bits. He has also authored over 30 technical papers on the same subjects.

He joined Chevron’s performance improvement team two years ago and is the current leader of the MAXDRILL Team, which focuses on performance drilling.

He believes that amid the recent drilling boom, the industry lost its understanding of applications and what performance drilling required, putting a halt on important progress in terms of reducing overall drilling costs. “We have more tools and means of analyzing applications today than (15 to 20 years ago)… but we’re not capitalizing on those tools,” he said. “You need to understand the application, the drive mechanism, the BHA and make sure you are developing an appropriate solution based on the challenges of the project.”

Mr Mensa-Wilmot hopes that, over the next few years, the MAXDRILL team’s work will help the industry to understand what “performance drilling” actually is.  “Everybody talks about it and everyone has a different definition… I’m not saying my idea is right, but I want to initiate a debate, where we begin to question what we have always done. I want people to think about it and begin to find ways to improve, based on what they’re trying to achieve. We cannot improve by always doing it in the same way, we have to challenge ourselves and also expect more.”

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