The HPHT Success Story - High Profits In Hard Times?

Tim Haïdar

The development of high-pressure, high-temperate (HPHT) wells has come as an almost inevitable consequence of the widening of the oil industry's net in a bid to find new reserves as conventional reserves dwindle.

From Saudi Arabia to the North Sea, companies are dealing with the challenges presented by the extreme depths and temperatures present with HPHT wells, with some countries even offering incentives to stray into these more risky environments as energy demand rises.

Indeed, Petronas named such incentives as a catalyst for development work in the North Malay Basin, which brings with it costs of RM15 billion (£3 billion).

Globally, 87 percent of industry players are involved in HPHT assets in some capacity, according to figures compiled by Oil & Gas IQ, and some 60 percent of these are looking to put in place a HPHT programme within the next two years.

Global Development of HPHT

Its stands to reason that members of the oil and gas industry must be experiencing success with HPHT wells for so many companies to be willing to invest.

Just 9.7 percent of the companies which participated in the research stated they had no interacting with HPHT wells at all, but challenges remain.

A common theme was companies expressing concern about having the talent needed for HPHT development, a problem will is likely to escalate as the current workforce ages.

The understandable other key concerns were dealing with the extremes in temperature and pressure and anecdotal evidence from Aker Solutions suggests building capabilities in this area is emerging as a key trend in the Middle East.

Speaking to Arabian Oil and Gas, the company's managing director in Dubai, Rob Shank, noted the company noted more players are looking to make capital upgrades after holding off on major investments in recent years, and are preparing for tapping reserves in harsher environments.

"They're being upgraded to drill for deeper and higher pressure wells. They're also being upgraded to do more horizontal and deviated wells (or horizontal drilling).

"We're seeing that in Kuwait and we’re starting to see that in Saudi," he explained.

HPHT Successes

GDF Suez is arguably one of the industry leaders when it comes to the drilling of HPHT wells, having achieved records and best in class accolades for its North Sea projects.

September 2010 saw the completion of the L5-12 exploration well in the Sierra prospect in the Dutch North Sea, which tested positively from the Lower Slochteren reservoir at 1.2 million cubic meters of gas per day.

Drilled to a total depth of 5,450m, the well encountered static reservoir pressure of 1023 bar and reservoir temperature of 183 degrees C, believed to be the highest ever recorded in the Netherlands.

Its first ever HPHT well, Tesla, was awarded the best in class accolade by Rushmore, after being completed in record time with zero lost time incidents.

With a of 307 ft per day drilling rate, the project was finished 44 days ahead of scale and with just 4.1 per cent of time being lost through non-production time, the well was brought in £12 million under budget.

Max Proctor, UK drilling manager for GDF Suez E&P, said: "The success of this drilling programme was based on top class planning, an experienced and professional team and an unparalleled support structure from procurement and quality assurance/quality control through to logistics.

"An excellent working relationship was established with Ensco both onshore and offshore and their approach to safety, an understanding of HPHT well conditions, plus an eagerness to ensure that operations ran smoothly, contributed to the successful outcome."

GDF also recently signed a contract worth approximately £1.7 million with Plexus Holdings for the delivery of a HPHT wellhead system for use with its Faraday and Jacqui wells in the North Sea as it continues to expand its capabilities in the more challenging environments.

Plexus CEO Ben van Bilderbeek said the signing of the contract was"evidence of the trend by operating companies to tighten safety standards and manage costs," describing the rental of well heads as the company's "main cash flow driver".