Walking The Talk: Successful HPHT Drilling Is About Culture

Tim Haïdar

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In this interview, we speak with Laurie Scott, Drilling and Wells Superintendent at Wintershall Norge AS about his experiences drilling the company’s first HPHT well in April 2014, and his opinions on the formula for success.

TH Tim Haðdar, Editor In Chief, Oil & Gas IQ

LS Laurie Scott, Drilling and Wells Superintendent, Wintershall Norge AS

TH Hello and welcome, this is Tim Haðdar and we are speaking with Laurie Scott, Drilling and Wells Superintendent at Wintershall Norge AS, ahead of the HPHT Wells Summit 2014, which is going to be taking place in London, United Kingdom, on 20-22 October, 2014. Laurie, thank you so much for joining us today.

LS Thanks very much. It's a pleasure.

TH Laurie, first of all give us a bit of an insight into your HPHT operations and what stage you're at now.

LS We drilled our well last summer with the Transocean Arctic. It's a well called Mjùsa and that took about 90 days and that's been a reasonable success for us. And at the moment just now we’re building up to drill a second HPHT exploration well at the same rig called the Imsa. The earliest we're going to start that is the middle of December this year.

TH This is the first HPHT well that you've drilled. What do you think were the keys to making this work?

LS I think the biggest part of it was when we signed the rig contract we made sure that we chose a rig that we knew could do the job. We had a very open and clear dialogue with the rig contractor. There was some work that needed to be done to bring the rig up to spec and we had a very clear dialogue as who was responsible for what and the timescale to get it done. And we were able to do all that so that it wasn't a focus point when we actually started the operations, so we could concentrate on well construction instead of getting the rig ready and last minute things. That was a massive thing.

The other big thing was we worked very hard on the culture. We created an open and inclusive culture. Nothing's ever perfect, but we spent a lot of time with the onshore and offshore leadership to make sure that we all had the same ground rules when we worked together, all the good work that we did together.

TH Presumably you need to foster the right kind of environment for that to be happening. How did you go about doing that? What's your approach to that communication and man management?

LS It's a lot of different things. We're dealing with a big variety of people here and we're all different ages, we're all different experiences. We have to create an open environment where they all feel comfortable to talk about things that they might not be comfortable talking about, things maybe they don't fully understand; things that are difficult to talk about. We spent a lot of time making sure that we could have the difficult conversations as early as possible and get the hard things out on the table and then talk about them constructively and openly. We managed to do it quite easily and quite quickly together. We are constructive when we work together. It's not a, them-and-us, it's a group discussion.

TH There's a big difference between a top-down management system and a group of peers. A lot of people won't have been in that kind of environment before. They would have expected some kind of autocracy.

LS The key is that all the third-party contractors, they were the experts. They were subcontracted by us because they are the best at what they do and we were very clear when we constructed the contracts. There was a high focus on the technical side of it and we tried to repeat that all the time; that they're part of the plan we put together. They own their input into the plan. It's their recommendations that count. We’ll make the decisions on what we're actually going to do at the end, but we're very reliant on them giving us their expertise when we built it.

And hopefully when we do that together, because we do that quite early when we freeze the concepts for how we're going to do things, especially HPHT work, then we're in a situation that everybody has an ownership into the end product already.

And we worked hard on not changing people out; making sure they had the same coordinators onshore and hopefully the same people offshore. It means that we end up with people who when they deliver the wells they own what they're doing and they have a passion for their part in it.


TH How important do you think that ownership and empowerment is in what you do?

LS I think it's the key to it. I just know that if we start to dictate to people and don't explain to them why we're doing things, firstly there is no one way to do this; there're lots and lots of different ways to get from A to B and everybody has their own opinions. But you lose people if you don't agree up front on what the plan is.

Half way through the process you're going to lose them, because they won't agree with some of the decisions that have been made without them being part of the process. We try to be as flat as we can. There is someone at the top of the tree whose job it is to make the final decision, but when that decision gets made it's hopefully been made with input from everybody within the organisation.

And that's very important, as well, if things don't go according to plan, if you do need to make a change to the plan. Everybody talks about management of change in this business.

There have been a couple of times where we just had to stop and we get all the key players involved and we talk it through. We risk it, we document it. And we make sure everybody accepts the change that we're making and understands it and then we start again in a new direction. That's a very important part of the business.

TH And how do you make sure that those lessons that you're trying to teach stick?

LS Firstly we have to walk the talk. Whenever we have any conversations with the rig there're lots of people involved; there're lots of people listening. We have to make sure that our behaviour is the same; we keep to the same ground rules, if you like.

We make sure that it gets policed by the leadership on the rig, if you like, make sure that the way of working that we've agreed onshore; make sure that that gets offshore. And make sure it gets to everybody from the rig foreman in the control room, wherever it is on the rig. And we have to go and be visible out there. Either our supervisors on the rig or myself would go out there and we listen and make sure that everybody is doing their part to keep this openness and keep this culture alive.

TH Laurie, I guess an overriding theme of oil and gas, industry-wide, we're looking at the next five years before the industry, through retirements, will be losing a large chunk of its brain, to be honest with you.

LS There are a lot of good, older guys out there who really know this business inside out and we can make sure that they're in the field; they're not sitting behind a desk filling in paperwork. They have to do that as part of the job, but we try and get the focus to get them out. And make sure that they're visible and they're being leaders out where the job is being done, make sure that they ask the right questions and make sure they steer the younger guys, if you like, in the right direction. I think we work quite hard on that. We have to get that information and the culture out of these guys before they've had enough.

I think that maybe there're two ways you can do it. One is you make sure that you have these guys working out in the field, if you like, and sharing their knowledge on the rig, make sure that they pass on their good habits. And they can talk about the bad habits and the bad things, as well. But maybe another way is to get them round a table and I know some companies do this.

They have coaching sessions where they get people together for a day, 20 people in a field and they share good and bad things. But the first thing is to get them to communicate. If there're 20 people round a table and they're going to share experiences and talk about difficult things, they need to do it in a way where people feel comfortable to talk about things that have gone wrong and things that they've done well. It's not an easy way to do it, especially when people are working in Norway they're working two weeks on and four weeks off; it becomes harder to keep the knowledge and to transfer the knowledge.

TH If you could summarise, what you think that the best approach to HPHT drilling is?

LS I think the key is never get yourself in a corner you can't get out of. As you go down the road of constructing the well or abandoning the well you need to really have a good picture of where the next ten steps, if you like, are going to take you. You need to be sure that you can get to the end.

If you start something and you haven't thought it through properly you might not necessarily be able to finish it. And then you're putting people in a situation where the risk is increased and the time is increased and it's going to put a massive amount of pressure on the whole organisation.

TH Laurie, that's really good. Thanks so much for your time today. And we look forward to meeting you at the conference when it comes up in October.