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Early planning, customer alignment among key ingredients to successful rig reactivations during pandemic

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Drilling contractors are also launching new initiatives to engage and train rig crews that work around COVID-related restrictions, quarantine requirements

By Stephen Whitfield, Associate Editor

A panel session at the IADC HSE&T Asia Pacific Conference on 19 May focused on five factors that contractors should consider to ensure their rig reactivations are successful. Pictured, clockwise from top left, are Sagar Raut, Seadrill; Chidpon Jantarawaranyoo, Shelf Drilling (moderator); Russ Brown, Transocean; Sarit Rattanachan, PTTEP; and Jason Bailey, Borr Drilling.

As drilling contractors start to reactivate stacked rigs amid a burgeoning market recovery, they’re encountering new and additional risks and challenges that require much more careful management and balancing of resources than before. Importantly, while many countries have begun to loosen restrictions that affect travel to and from rig sites, most have not returned to a full pre-COVID environment. Speaking at a session during the 2021 IADC Drilling HSE&T Asia Pacific Conference on 19 May, a panel of industry representatives discussed five factors that drilling contractors should take into account to ensure a successful rig reactivation.

First, they must establish the actions they need to take and the timeline in which they must operate, said Jason Bailey, Manager – Rig Transition Manager at Borr Drilling. At Borr, this step is divided into four stages. The first stage, which takes place six months prior to reactivation, involves determining the equipment that will need to be procured, identifying the lead times for that equipment and reviewing client- and country-specific requirements for starting up the rig. 

The second stage begins once the reactivation timeline is established. It involves placing orders for equipment, recruiting rig personnel and implementing a training schedule for the personnel. Project plans are also confirmed during this stage. Borr will meet with OEMs and other third-party vendors to define work scopes and manpower requirements. 

Three months prior to reactivation is when the third stage begins. Borr will activate rig safety systems, implement its management systems on the rig and recertify its well control, drilling, hull and machinery equipment. Once the crews arrive on the rig, they assist the OEMs in solving any remaining issues with regards to the startup.

This stage has been the most difficult to execute since the onset of COVID-19, Mr Bailey said, primarily because it involves transporting personnel between countries. Contingency planning has been critical here. In some instances, Borr has conducted virtual commissioning with some of its third-party vendors in the Asia Pacific region. It has also prioritized building relationships with local vendors in order to limit the need for bringing in personnel from other countries. 

“It’s about managing things in the best way we can manage them,” Mr Bailey said. “The important things are strengthening the relationships with the local businesses in your region, getting clarifications on protocol covering restrictions for COVID, building multiple plans based on those clarifications and then communicating any challenges you face up the chain.” 

The final stage happens after the rig has been delivered to the operations team and the drilling and well control equipment have been recertified. Here, the focus is on providing technical support to the operator and completing the delivery of outstanding spare parts.

Aligning goals

Another factor that drilling contractors must consider during rig reactivation is customer alignment. In fact, transparency between the operator and contractor is paramount to getting a reactivated rig started up on time, said Sarit Rattanachan, Manager of Drilling Operations, Myanmar, at PTTEP. He advocated for sustaining regular communication between the two parties in the months leading up to reactivation.

“Before we start doing anything in the shipyard, we need to come and sit together and see what costs the customer has to pay and what costs the contractor has to pay,” Mr Rattanachan said. “And who’s going to take on any additional costs? It’s better to have the details ironed out in an agreement all at once, before you start the job.”

He advised contractors not to assume that one operator will accept a course of action just because it was previously accepted by another operator. “Keep talking to one another,” he urged. 

Customer alignment typically involves the contractor and operator looking at maintenance records, delineating job responsibilities and costs related to third-party installations, and establishing the scope of system integration testing. Additional requirements necessitated by the pandemic include working together to establish an emergency response plan in case COVID-19 cases are confirmed while the rig is at the fabrication yard, while it is being transported to the rig site prior to reactivation, or after the rig has been delivered. Mr Rattanachan said PTTEP also discusses with its contractors COVID-19 related costs for things like PCR tests, quarantine hotels and vaccinations. 

Understanding expectations

Engaging the rig crew and familiarizing them with the reactivated rig are two additional factors key to a successful startup, according to Russ Brown, Asia and Australia HSE manager at Transocean. Mr Brown described these processes as the points at which the drilling contractor can lay out its performance expectations for the reactivated rig. Transocean has typically held two-day engagement workshops where supervisors outline to junior crew members the core processes they will run on the rig, such as the control of work process or safety management processes. The goal, Mr Brown said, is to “thrash out any areas that may have been forgotten or a little bit rusty” amongst the crew members so that, by startup, everyone has a clear understanding of their exact responsibilities on the rig. 

Because of the pandemic, however, Transocean has not been holding these two-day workshops, instead opting to hold smaller and shorter meetings among the regional managing director, rig management teams and key rig personnel. This means the company is relying more heavily on the experience of its senior leadership to maintain expectations for its rig crews, Mr Brown said. 

“Within the region here, we’ve been very fortunate over the last 18 months or so since COVID has been on the scene, because any new startup activity that we’ve embarked upon has been with active rigs. The leadership team, the rig management and the rig supervisors have all been onboard, so we’ve had the luxury of having people on the rigs who have been through those workshops before. They understand the process, and they’re already a big part of the culture that exists on each rig,” Mr Brown said. 

Transocean recently launched a couple of new initiatives to ensure that protocol is being followed on its rigs. One of them, Leading Indicators, involves the senior management on the rig measuring compliance with specific HSE policy requirements every day.

The other initiative, “Hold the Zero” conversations, involves senior management talking with rig crews about lessons learned from minor incidents that Transocean has seen across its fleet. The initiative is an extension of the company’s “Hold the Zero” campaign, which it launched in 2015 to generate greater buy-in from its crews in improving safety performance on the rig. 

“It’s about having those coaching conversations with the crews on key topics where we’ve seen incidents over the last 12 to 18 months, typically around minor fires, crane operations, manual handling, the big floor activities where we’ve had injuries fleetwide,” Mr Brown said. “We’ve got very specific coaching tools, and our frontline leaders will engage with their teams and have very structured conversations around these key topics. We’ll measure their understanding and acknowledgement of the crew and, more importantly, see if they’re actually applying what they know at the worksite.” 

Using quarantine periods to conduct remote training

Finally, training is a key component to the last part of a successful reactivation, the transition into operations, said Sagar Raut, HSSEQ Manager – Middle East and Asia at Seadrill. Pre-COVID, Seadrill utilized onshore seminars in which its own personnel and personnel from operators and service companies would familiarize themselves with the rig and with each other. Additionally, once the rig started up, compliance coaches and support personnel would travel to the rig site to ensure understanding of Seadrill’s procedures; coaching would be provided to crew members as necessary. However, because these activities have had to be curtailed due to the pandemic, Seadrill has moved to a more decentralized approach. 

For example, the use of remote training mechanisms has been accelerated during this time, Mr Raut said. In Malaysia, where incoming crew members were required to quarantine for 14 days prior to boarding a rig, the company utilized that quarantine period to conduct the bulk of its training through an online learning management system. Mandatory training lessons gave crew members overviews of performance expectations on the rig.

Additionally, instead of sending support personnel from site to site, Seadrill developed a system where returning crew members and department heads would serve as mentors for junior crew members.

The company now uses virtual training sessions, typically performed during the quarantine period prior to boarding the rig, in which the mentors receive a checklist of processes to be followed onsite, as well as a 100-day plan for coaching rig crews to make sure that they are properly following those processes. 

“We are all humans, and we have to accept that we will deviate from our expectations,” Mr Raut said. “The job of the coach is to pull that train back on track and make sure that people are on the plan. You have to set expectations. You want to be aligned so that you can deliver. We debrief at the end of the training sessions and at the end of the 100-day plan so that we can learn what has worked for us and what we can do better. That’s the only way we can improve our processes.” DC

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