By Richard Lightbody, Maersk Training
The ’60s, as a decade, was a world-changer in many ways, not least in technology. The computer mouse, RAM, the handheld calculator, bar-code scanning and then the halogen lamp, the audio cassette, acrylic paint and permanent-pressed trousers all made their debuts in the ’60s. Somewhere in the middle of all this inventiveness came managed pressure drilling (MPD). While many other discoveries and innovations have faded, MPD has quietly been waiting for its moment in the spotlight.
Now, more than 40 years later, MPD is in the spotlight when it comes to drilling in deepwater or for HPHT wells. With the help of 21st-century technology – advanced well-specific simulation – MPD’s virtues are being revisited and re-evaluated, and, according to Kim Laursen, the Chief Drilling Instructor at Maersk Training, we haven’t yet seen its full potential.
Using its Svendborg center in Denmark, Maersk Training has been cooperating with MPD pioneer Weatherford in the process of introducing crews to the equipment. Using the DrillSim 6000 full-dome simulator at the MOSAIC complex, the crew from the Maersk Resilient jackup rehearsed the precise HPHT operation they will conduct for ConocoPhillips in the North Sea.
“Weatherford’s simulator ‘piggy-backed’ onto our simulator, so it was a situation that was almost true to life. The choke operator sat next to the driller. They looked at the same screens and used the same gear they would on the rig in real life,” Mr Laursen said.
“It’s a win, win, win situation. There is the benefit to Weatherford in that their choke operators are learning something about their simulator and how to set up the chokes, so the training was good for them as well,” Mr Laursen added.
The well owner’s decision to use MPD was not an automatic one. MPD doesn’t come cheap, and often it doesn’t readily fit onto some rigs, particularly some of the older jackups. Typically it is done purely on an as-needed basis. The decision to employ it is well-specific and, in a situation where the economics are borderline, it could be the do or don’t line as to proceed or not.
The process is only as good as those using it, and it is important to get the message across that this is additional equipment, not supplementary.
To date, crews destined for MPD-equipped rigs have had classroom introductions followed by an introduction to the system in the simulator. These have been added to team-based courses. The classroom sessions are done at the good grace of the crew since they are tagged onto the end of an already full day. Anna Leslie, a Project Engineer from Weatherford, took them through the equipment specifications, and the following day they put it to the test in the doghouse.
Is it difficult for a young woman to stand up in front of a hardened rig crew and “sell them” a different work process? Not so, she said. “If you are on a rig, there are times when you need them to listen to you. If you don’t know what you are talking about, they go ‘mmm’ and you’ve lost them. You’ve got to have the answers.”
Mr Laursen believes that to gain full advantage MPD, a five-day technical course should be required, as it is with well control or drilling technology.
“We would start on the Monday and then gradually build up the heat, but this has to be done in cooperation with the client, like BP or ConocoPhillips, because they have guidelines on how they want to run the MPD. It is not up to Weatherford or the drilling contractor or us as trainers. After all, it’s their well,” Mr Laursen said.
Although MPD has been around for quite a while, for many of the crews it is new – and a break from routine. Mr Laursen sees their acceptance in the training arena as generally warm.
“Just because we’ve got MPD doesn’t mean that you can sit back and relax since somebody else will make the decisions. That’s why the driller has the same screen information, but it is important as it doesn’t take the responsibility away from him. What he does have is some extra tools that will allow him to notice any influx, before he would have with a conventional head.
“I think what everyone realizes is that MPD is the key to opening doors to old fields, new difficult deepwater wells or situations we could not have dreamt of a few years back.”