Planning To Completion – How to Succeed On an HPHT Project

John Watters

In this exclusive interview, Tim Haðdar of Oil & Gas IQ speaks with John Watters, Regional Well Engineering Manager for Egypt, Australia & China at BG Group on his experience with successful high pressure high temperature (HPHT) well developments.

Oil & Gas IQ: Let's start with a little about BG Group and the particular success that you guys have seen over there with HPHT Projects. If there was anything that you could ascribe to the secret of your success what do you think that would be?

J Watters: We are starting to have quite a lot of success with our HPHT Projects. We, like a lot of operators, we stumbled at the beginning. We had a mixed bag of successes and some things which were not so successful. I guess the core thing is that we learnt from our mistakes, we built strong teams and we supported those teams through their time of difficulty and we progressed drilling our wells and our performance improved and it is getting better and better all the time.

What I would attribute our success now to is the ability to learn. The ability to have the right teams in the right places and also planning; beginning our planning for these projects early and having a robust process that we can do our planning with and we can also use to bring in the right resources at the right times.

Oil & Gas IQ: It's interesting that you bring up planning and you put such an emphasis on it. One of the questions that I would like to ask you is, in your opinion why do you think so many HPHT Projects do fail; is it lack of that planning or lack of awareness that HPHT techniques might be needed in a world that isn't conventional?

J Watters: That really depends on what you mean by the word fail. A lot of wells turn out to be much more expensive than were originally predicted. Projects become economically challenging and in those cases companies quite often lose their appetite for the potential rewards that HPHT developments can actually bring. How I would describe HPHT is the wells, once you start to drill them and produce them, do change very quickly.

The events that occur while you're drilling happen at a very high speed and quite often what happens is if you're not prepared for what's actually happening you don't have the time to plan contingencies and react as the well is drilling. In order to be successful you have to have your wells planned in detail beforehand and have the contingency plans in place as well. So when something does happen, when something unexpected happens you are able to make decisions fairly quickly and swap to alternative contingencies that you've already prepared.

If you're trying to prepare those contingencies on the fly you will get yourself into more trouble because the temperature and pressure effects that you're dealing with don't wait around for your decision-making capacity. In many ways, what you're effectively doing when you do the amount of detailed planning you're actually speeding up your decision-making capacity. When we are planning a well we will go through all the potential events three or four times. It's almost like training so that when the events do happen we know what's going to happen next, we have our contingencies and we can move on with our operations, fairly smoothly.

When you're doing HPHT you've got a hammer and anvil effect. The hammer is the pressure that you're dealing with all the time and you have to make your designs to deal with the pressure. The anvil coming at you all the time is temperature. What temperature does is it speeds up the chemical reactions you're dealing with. You're basically dealing with a thing called Arrhenius's Law which is a law of chemistry that says reactions speed up with temperature.

The higher and hotter your temperature the faster the chemical reactions you're dealing downhole with are occurring and the less time you actually have. The thing about HPHT is what you're always short of is time to react, that's why you need to do all the planning. It's almost like a sport; you have to have your players rehearsed, you have to know what you're going to do in any given scenario.

When people talk about planning they think maybe doing detailed things. A lot of what you're actually doing is rehearsing as well; making sure the people who are going to have to do them, know that they may have to do them. Know what they're going to do. Make sure they have the equipment. That's what you're talking about when you're talking about planning. You've got the main plan down the centre and unfortunately what happens sometimes is a lot of people just concentrate on the number one plan. Mother Nature hasn't read the programme. She doesn't know what's supposed to happen.

You have to have your contingencies and you have to think what can possibly happen in this position; what's the most likely thing that can happen, how can it get us into trouble and what do we need to have to get us back on our plan.

Oil & Gas IQ: Last year we spoke with a colleague of yours, Sigmund Asheim [?] about the importance of managed pressure drilling in the HPHT drilling process. How vital is managed pressure drilling?

J Watters: MPD it's one of those technologies that have changed the face of the industry. The closest analogy I would put to MDP is LWD and MWD, which was measurements while drilling, which when they first arrived in the 80s everybody was pretty sceptical about them. Wasn't sure what they were going to do. Couldn't really see the benefits. Didn't really see what it was doing. These days, they've just reached the stage where they are accepted as the norm; they're things that you do all the time.

I think managed pressure drilling is moving very quickly from an innovative new technology to something that has rapidly been accepted as the norm; the way you actually do things. The technology has become very important but it's also moving from being exceptional, I think, into commonplace. I would predict that in about three or four years time rigs will start to come out with managed pressure drilling systems already in place; the new sequence of at least heavy duty jack-ups, definitely will.

Oil & Gas IQ: You've talked about the whole planning situation. Let's get more towards the end of the process now and talk about the completions.

J Watters: They are the important part of it; they're the part that allows you to monetarise all of the development. The HPHT completions started off a few years ago as very simple things; they were basically cemented liners where you perforated the zones that you thought would give you the least trouble. Because of the pressure you actually get on even the hardest formations we're dealing with you do get a certain element of sand production and that's becoming more important these days because the volumes that are coming into the well of gas and [inaudible] are usually very significant and you have to be able to manage that and manage the sand production that comes with them at the same time.

I think the evolution of the completions, especially ones that have ability to control sand, have become much more developed and I think they're going to have to get even more developed to be able to handle the new reservoirs that are being explored and especially handle the temperatures and pressures that they are expected to behave under. The wells we have in these designs typically they have quite a big peak of production for the first eight to nine months and that's something we have to develop our systems to manage a bit better.

One of the other big challenges we have, we'd like to move towards more intelligent completions; we'd be able to move to zonal isolation. But all of that requires components that would work in very high temperatures for very long periods of time and that is one of the challenges that we are facing now. Whether or not we can build the components required. Whether or not we can find ways to give us the zonal isolations we need in later life.


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