Directional/complex wells

A New Way of Managing Drilling Required Bridging Old Divides

When Hess, Halliburton, and Nabors sat down to create a single plan to stream on the driller’s display, they needed to work out a lot of differences, including the definition of the word "activity."

Drilling Operations in North Dakota, July 2012
Source: Hess Corp.

Drilling a well by the book has its downsides.

A major downside of these plans in a PDF book format is they “do not include all the information needed to drill a well.”

For those doing the work, they have the added downside of “not being formatted to match the real-time work flow.”

And the plans are a one-way form of communication. “The prespud meeting might be the first time the driller is exposed to that well program,” said Matt Isbell, senior drilling engineering adviser for Hess who presented an alternative to that system at the 2021 IADC/SPE International Drilling Conference and Exhibition (SPE 204050).

The paper coauthored by Hess, Nabors, and Halliburton described a process to replace the book with instructions and information delivered on a screen as needed while drilling. The goal was to provide a common view of the plan and the information needed to build a well for the driller and other parties working on the rig or remotely.

The new digital system streamlined a process that included 20 separate documents using various templates plus multiple file-sharing sites and emails.

“As the pace and complexity increases, how do we better manage this as a single system,” Isbell said. His response to the rhetorical question “Why not just email files back and forth?” was “We believe we have reached the point where we cannot just send information back and forth in time to efficiently drill the well.”

In addition to offering a step-by-step version of the plan, this resource offers a range of instructions and resources—from the well geometry and potential hazards to best practices and instructions on automated procedures.

It replaces the book, which was never a good problem-solving tool.

“If you wanted to find out anything afterward, you had to troll though a 100-page document,” said Moray Laing, director of digital value well construction engineering for Halliburton. The paper coauthor remembers those books when he was working offshore many years ago.

Halliburton helped address the technical challenge with a system it has been working on for 3 years, which is also being used by Aker, BP, and Maersk, who are working on a system for remote operating centers to manage offshore operations.

Other companies, such as Schlumberger and drilling advisors Corva, are working on new ways to deliver drilling instructions which incorporate the drilling plan in the displays.

What was different, and difficult, about the Hess-led effort was the collaboration to create a unified plan for the display.

“The goal was a system pulling it all together, integrating a series of steps,” Laing said.

He was referring to what he described as a complex well-construction plan based on Hess’ design that would be executed by Nabors.

The digital well plan required Hess and Nabors to agree on how the work should be done and how that should be communicated to those building the plan.

When the partners began meeting to figure out how to do that, however, they discovered some very basic differences, such as differing definitions of the word “activity.”

About an hour and half into a meeting between Nabors and Halliburton, Laing said they realized that activity meant different things to them.

“In our minds, it was a planned task. In their minds, it was a very specific subelement of a procedure” within the large job, he said.

Each of the partners also had its own set of codes for logging each job done while drilling, which all differed from the system developed by the International Association of Drilling Contractors.

After realizing and resolving the differences, Laing said it was relatively easy to proceed.

Division of Labor

The fact that those differences existed reflected the longstanding division of labor on drilling projects. A simplified view of the division follows.

As the operator, Hess deals with the big picture, picking the location and defining the drilling objectives and the design for a horizontal well in the Bakken.

Halliburton was hired in this case to create the detailed plan based on Hess’ specifications for what Laing described as a quite challenging well design.

Nabors needed to take all that input and execute the plan.

Reality is more complex. There are no passive observers while the well is drilled. Operating companies place a representative on the rig to monitor the work and advise the driller, as do others when it comes to their part in projects where plans and well paths change while drilling.

Hess’ new approach builds in drilling methods developed by its drilling-improvement program. It uses automated systems for tasks such as directional drilling to find and lock in techniques that improve performance based on measures of safety, well quality, and operational performance.

When drillers learned about the new system, they asked for and received drilling simulator time to become accustomed to using it before the start of drilling.

The process is still managed by the driller, but the system allows others to see what is happening, and the displays are adjusted as the well being drilled diverges from the plan.

Actions by drillers are tracked “to compare actual vs. planned activities,” the authors said. Any changes will be evaluated as they consider changes in subsequent plans.

“Actual time durations were tracked to the second. The previous system used manual entry and approximated durations to the nearest half an hour,” the authors said.

At the time the paper was delivered, the process had been used to drill 10 wells. The paper includes a chart that shows how a rig move managed by a similar method reduced the time required by 33% to about 60 hours.

Consistency is valuable because “in a shale play, the task is to reduce the variation in well delivery. What we are doing today is linking well design and planning and execution to improve value,” Isbell said.