Contingency planning, multiple services counter complexity and greater loss potential
Cudd Pressure Control
Red Adair-Cudd Well Control
- A contingency chart developed for operators shows all of the services needed for well control planning and emergencies.
Only a few years ago, well control was defined as firefighting. It wasn't always easy, but it was a fairly simple business. As the energy industry has become more complex, so have the problems associated with well control.
Wells are deeper, pressures are higher, products are toxic, water depths are greater, alternatives are more numerous and complicated and the consequences more devastating. The potential loss of life, the loss of natural resources, the expenditure of tremendous sums of money, and the litigation that often follows are all possibilities that operators would just as soon not have to experience.
Today, however, many operators are finding that they can reduce the impact of a blowout or well control problem with an effective contingency plan designed to facilitate blowout intervention and minimize danger to life and the environment. A good contingency plan identifies the basic requirements of a well control scenario. It is region and site specific, identifies equipment and services, and it is brief. A huge plan with endless flow charts and irrelevant information that gathers dust is worse than no plan at all.
Operationally, a crisis management team responding to a serious well control situation must deal with five key areas:
- Corporate response- both internal and external, including government regulatory agencies and the news media.
- Safety - the safety of all equipment and people involved.
- Environmental- spill containment, regulatory reporting and clean up.
- Drilling and workover operations - well control and relief well drilling operations.
- Ongoing non-crisis activity - reallocation of company personnel and equipment.
Based on these factors, the operator should develop a contingency plan that outlines what to do and who will do it in the event of a problem. This allows the operator to create the plan in a calm atmosphere with as much forethought and engineering background as possible. By listing the chronological steps that must be applied to a potential well control problem, the operator is less likely to make erroneous decisions and can reduce response time in an emergency situation. Although specific elements may vary from organization to organization, all contingency plans should contain the following basic elements:
- Well control event management: The first step is identification of a response organization that will assist the operator in an emergency. This portion of the planning process also calls for the assignment of special roles and responsibilities for team members and provides the criteria for activating the contingency plan and the call-out procedure. It also includes training drills to evaluate its effectiveness and to increase the team's familiarity with their role in a crisis situation.
- Risk assessment: Next, the operator should gauge the probability of a well control event, estimate the area that might be impacted if well control is lost, evaluate the consequences of losing well control, and create a risk mitigation plan. The risk mitigation plan provides criteria that allows the operator to determine whether well control should be regained or whether abandonment should ensue and relief well operations begun in an emergency situation.
- Contractors, equipment, and services: Knowing what you'll need and how you'll get it is essential in a well control situation. Availability of firefighting, pollution and spill containment equipment, fabrication of parts for well control applications, and transportation of equipment and contractors to the site should be evaluated and documented in the plan. This portion of the plan should also include establishing proper communications procedures for well control intervention.
- Well control procedures and technical data: A broad base of reference material for intervention and relief well fighting should be part of the plan, including conventional well control procedures, relief well strategy, and blowout intervention techniques.
- Administrative considerations: The administrative requirements in a crisis situation are extremely important. Before an incident happens, an event control center should be designated and vendor and contractor prequalifications and contracts should be in place. Other details should include well control insurance policy information, legal procedures and documentation, recordkeeping and auditing requirements.
For operators, knowing when to react is just as important as knowing how to react. All too often, waiting too long to call for help creates serious problems. In general, it is better to have help and not need it than to need help and not have it. Fire fighting expertise is only one requirement of a well control situation. Only about one surface blowout in a hundred catches fire. More often, well control involves surface intervention, subsurface intervention, or relief well operations.
Surface intervention usually involves capping and fluid dynamics, while subsurface intervention can involve engineering analysis, snubbing, coil tubing and fluid dynamics. In recent years, relief wells have also become a viable option. These wells are more than just another directional well. They require a knowledge of geology, drilling, directional drilling, completions, logging, and blowout management.
Engineering has become increasingly important in the well control business.
Many years ago, intervention was applied without any consideration for the well bore or the formation. For example, blowout preventors were removed or cut off of wellheads at the time of intervention, generating open hole flow potential that was very damaging to the formation. With the implementation of highly skilled technical engineers, those problems don't need to occur.
Unfortunately, an actual emergency is the only true test of an effective contingency plan. Since emergencies do not happen every day, the plan must be reconsidered on a regular basis to be sure that recent developments in technology are incorporated.
Kuwait changed the well control industry forever and more changes will undoubtedly occur in the future. With more experts and fewer rigs, combined with competitive pricing, the well control companies of today must be highly qualified, competitive and diversified to survive.
This emphasis on contingency planning is just one indication of the dramatic changes that have occurred. In the past, well control companies would not work together. Today, it's a team effort of many experts working together to solve a problem. As the business has become more complicated, many companies are forming strategic alliances to insure that they have the expertise available that their clients need. Many well control companies are now part of larger organizations that offer complementary services, such as offshore construction and support services, engineering, well plugging and abandonment, diving, snubbing services, coil tubing, nitrogen services, lift boats, and many other services related to well control.
As the energy industry continues to evolve, so will well control. But in a leaner, more competitive industry, the leaders will be those who are prepared, organized, and in control of the situation.
Bob Cudd is the founder and president of Cudd Pressure Control, located in Woodward, Okla. He first worked in the oil field as a roughneck in 1949, and now has more than 35 years of experience in well control. He has performed a wide range of services, including blowout prevention, valve drilling, fire fighting, freezing, stripping and hot tapping.
Eddie Goodman is general manager of Red Adair-Cudd Well Control. He entered the oilfield service business in 1976, working for Otis Engineering. In 1980, he joined Cudd Pressure control as regional snubbing manager and engineer, and in 1982 moved to Cudd's Well Control Division.
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