Zuhair Al-Hussain, Saudi Aramco
General manager, drilling & workover operations
DC: Can you tell us about some of Saudi Aramco’s upcoming drilling projects?
Al-Hussain: We’ve started the Khurais project, which calls for 1.2 million bbls/day and ranks as one of the world’s biggest projects. Progress is ongoing, and an integrated services contract has been awarded to Halliburton. Another significant project is the Manifa project, which targets 900,000 bbls/day. It’s in a tough environment, and the wells will be very challenging. About 50% of them will be horizontal and range from 21,000-27,000 ft MD, about 7,000 ft TVD, both onshore and offshore. Start of the project is planned for next year.
DC: Does Saudi Aramco plan to stay in the rig business?
Al-Hussain: Yes. We will stay at 7-8 rigs. We have one jackup, and we’re building another that will be capable of drilling for gas. On land we have small rigs for simple mechanical repairs of oil wells, and we have 1,500-hp rigs for horizontal drilling. We’re converting completely to AC-powered rigs, with most of the rig floor being automated. There is tremendous improvement for safety and efficiency.
DC: What are some technologies on the up-take at Saudi Aramco?
Al-Hussain: Some of the technologies on the market aren’t totally suitable to our operations, so we’re always working with the suppliers to modify the technologies to meet our requirements. One example is expandable tubulars, which we’re using when we re-enter old wells and drill laterals. The technology isn’t 100% successful yet. When we have problems, we go to the manufacturers so they can upgrade and manipulate from different standpoints. Whereas others expand, for example, 1,000 ft, we go for 4,000 ft or 5,000 ft. When we have failures, we go back to 3,000 ft. The technology is not there yet, but we’re pushing them.
DC: Do you have many HPHT applications?
Al-Hussain: Yes, all of our gas wells are HPHT. Today we have 28 rigs drilling gas wells; soon we will be 35 rigs, on just land. Next year we will focus more on the development of gas wells offshore. We have had an exploration success on the offshore, so next year we’ll start developing that field.
DC: What is your experience with rotary steerables?
Al-Hussain: On directional drilling, the rotary steerable system is almost becoming the norm, yet we still don’t have a high success rate.
DC: What kind of failures are you seeing?
Al-Hussain: Failures with motors or losing direction. Some of that is due to the lack of experience and expertise. The whole industry is faced with a lack of experienced workforce. It’s limiting the implementation of new technologies.
Saudi Aramco has been ramping up very quickly in the last two years, and we have brought in a lot of new workforce from all nationalities, in both Saudi Aramco and as contractors. Contractors are facing difficulty in finding manpower and experience.
This means we have to focus more on safety. We recently met with all of our drilling contractors and discussed bringing in IADC to evaluate their competency programs and try to have them all accredited by IADC. The response was positive. My objective is to bring the level of experience and competency to a much higher level. If we can establish a minimum level of expertise or competency, it will be beneficial for not just contractors but the whole industry.
We’re also working on requiring all contractors to have an IADC passport. This would raise both awareness and the level of knowledge. The IADC Northern Arabian Peninsula Chapter is working on this.
I’m really glad to see the IADC HSE Middle East Conference in Bahrain. We have a lot of young people in our operations, and they need to become more aware about HSE.
DC: Any other plans for the future?
Al-Hussain: We’ll start seismic surveying on the Red Sea soon. That will open another frontier. It will involve deepwater drilling in about 1,000-2,000 m, so we’ll need semis or drillships and we’re gearing up for that. We’re seeing a lot of challenge, and we like the challenge.