Well control has come a long way since the days of oil gushers, primitive drilling

Posted on 02 November 2009

From the President

It might seem hard to believe now, but once upon a time, well blowouts were seen as a cause for celebration. In fact, oil gushers used to be a symbol of newfound wealth – a sign that someone had hit the jackpot.

Dr Lee HuntDr Lee Hunt

But not anymore. This industry knows that gushers are dangerous and can quickly become disasters. They kill, they destroy and they waste valuable reservoir resources. Recall the famous Spindletop blowout in 1901. It took nine days and lost a half-million barrels of oil before a shut-off valve could be attached to the casing to stop the flow.

Fortunately, we’ve learned over the years how to understand what’s really going on downhole. By monitoring kicks and lost circulation, we can detect the early warning signs that alert us to pending disasters. More recently, sophisticated data transmission and analysis technologies are helping us to manipulate reservoir pressure regimes, providing precise control so we can stay within extremely narrow drilling windows. Just as importantly, we’ve prioritized planning and prevention procedures that put safety as our number one goal.

Blowouts are now a rare occurrence. Rig workers can go their whole careers and never witness a blowout. Look at the Gulf of Mexico Outer Continental Shelf, for example, where the Minerals Management Service (MMS) recorded only 39 blowouts from 1992 through 2006, resulting in one fatality and two injuries. Compare that with 87 blowouts during the previous 20 years, with 25 fatalities and 61 injuries. That is truly a great achievement for the industry.

To get to where we are, however, numerous brave people have risked or even sacrificed their lives to put out well fires and save the lives of others – ultimately helping the entire industry to improve its well control capabilities.

Click below for an exclusive interview with IADC President Dr. Lee Hunt
previewing his keynote presentation “Why Well Control?”

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Modern drilling technology continues to evolve. Today’s blowout preventers can withstand pressures up to 15,000 psi – with cutting-edge 20,000-psi models unveiled at this year’s Offshore Technology Conference (OTC). Compared with the rudimentary well control equipment of the past, today’s technologies can handle the high pressures, high temperatures and harsh conditions of extreme wells and enable achievements in extended-reach, multilaterals and multi-stage fracturing. BOPs can be placed more than 12,000 ft under the sea, control wells that are 30,000 ft deep – and all remotely operated from the toolpusher’s panel on the surface.

In recent years, environmental protection has come into greater focus. The industry knows that blowouts have the potential to pollute, and we’ve worked incredibly hard to implement higher and higher standards in areas like spill prevention, waste management and carbon emissions. Yet, the general public continues to have misconceptions about how we drill.

To address that, IADC recently formed the Environmental Policy Advisory Panel (EPAP) to help our industry raise its environmental profile. Through promotional and educational efforts, we want to help the public recognize our commitment to environmental protection.

EPAP is also working to develop a benchmark template for annual offshore contractor reporting of air emissions, loss of containment and waste control. As the first step, a survey will be developed and distributed to ascertain current methods used for data collection and reporting. IADC urges its drilling contractor members to actively participate in this important survey.

WELLCAP, COMMITTEE EFFORTS
IADC established the IADC Well Control Committee in 1993 and launched the WellCAP program in 1995. By focusing on training rather than testing, WellCAP has become the industry’s most widely recognized form of well control training accreditation. It is accepted by regulatory agencies around the world, including the MMS. It has also been adopted as the internal well control training standard for international oil companies like Chevron and Oxy, national oil companies such as Petrobras and PEMEX, and international drilling contractors like Transocean and Diamond Offshore.

As of mid-July 2009, 103 training providers were accredited under WellCAP. More than 221,000 WellCAP certificates have been issued to date, with courses being provided at 454 locations in 52 countries and conducted in 14 languages.

In the last few years, IADC has gone a step further and developed WellCAP Plus as an advanced level of well control instruction focusing on critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.

The Well Control Committee was also responsible for drafting the Deepwater Well Control Guidelines, published in 1998. That effort was so timely and so beneficial for the entire industry that OTC awarded IADC and the Offshore Operators Committee (OOC) a special citation in 2004.

 Moe Plaisance (left), Diamond Offshore, and Jim Metcalf (right),
Newfield Exploration, accept a special citation on
behalf of IADC and OOC from OTC chairman Rod Allen in
recognition of the Deepwater Well Control Guidelines.

IADC also has a history of organizing well control roundtables. In 1990, we took a step forward with a full-fledged Well Control Conference in Esbjerg, Denmark. Since then, we have held 30 such conferences, covering nearly every drilling market – Europe, North and South America, the Middle East and Asia.

Next year is IADC’s 70th anniversary. We will continue to expand our operations worldwide, as we did with the opening of an office in Asia Pacific earlier this year. We will continue to improve our accreditation programs to offer the highest standards for the next generation of workers and for the wells of tomorrow.

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