New terms: Defining technical expertise or just a bandwagon?

Oct. 1, 2003
"Field development." "Flow assurance." "Well intervention." "Integrated project team." Turn the pages of any trade magazine or E&P journal and you will find these terms sprinkled liberally.

"Field development." "Flow assurance." "Well intervention." "Integrated project team." Turn the pages of any trade magazine or E&P journal and you will find these terms sprinkled liberally. But ask yourself, do these new terms define technical expertise, or is this just trendy jargon used by oil service companies to market themselves? Consider the terms "field development" and "flow assurance." Numerous service companies say they perform these functions efficiently. They tell clients that early involvement of the service company is the best way to ensure a successful project. Every day, operators face the daunting task of cutting through the hype and jargon to select the best service provider for their particular needs.

For decades operators have been developing fields, constructing wells, and performing workovers. Every project has had some form of "management," and production has always flowed. So what has changed? As a civil engineering student, I asked my professor, "What is new?" My point was that the Romans did a great job designing and constructing the Coliseum and the Pantheon. These were complex structures that still stand today. His reply still sticks in my mind: "It is economics." Engineers still perform the same basic functions they always have, but they do it more cost effectively. Experience and advances in technology allow engineers to complete jobs faster and replicate them numerous times.

I am sure that in early days there were only civil and non-civil engineering, but as projects became more complex and the work more specialized, those fields were augmented with architecture, geotechnical, construction management, and so on. The prime motivation in coining these terms for work similar to what had been done for ages was to define specialist roles, thus providing economic solutions. These terms focus an engineer's training and skills, align various specialists, and overcome the challenges facing industries, including of course, offshore E&P. The advancement of the offshore industry constantly redefines the customary work processes, jobs, and responsibilities of specialized engineers. The move into deepwater and ultra-deepwater pushes us to redefine ourselves using newly coined terms.

In doing so, it is critical that we ask: Are we simply repackaging ourselves, or are we using these terms to truly differentiate one specialist from another. Better definitions of each engineer's role can help managers develop a project team. For this to be helpful, everyone must have a clear understanding of these new titles. This will allow managers to distinguish their merits.

Historically, when an oil company made a discovery, a vertical well would be drilled and then handed over to the production department for completing, producing, and maintaining. By contrast, today that same oil company might drill a well that is very deep, in particularly challenging geology, or in deepwater. From the outset, the operator has myriad choices in well construction and facilities layout. They also have more data to apply in reservoir interpretation. Integrating the reservoir model with these design parameters at an earlier stage is one popular facet of field development. To fulfill the potential of field development, the reservoir engineer, driller, facilities engineer, fabricator, and installation contractor all need to support the field development exercise throughout the life cycle of the field. But, if they work in seclusion, in the true sense of the word, they are not performing field development. A field development group is formed when representatives of each discipline actively participate in a team, ensuring proper input before decisions are made.

The same broad applications are used for the term "flow assurance." Used properly, flow assurance involves a multidisciplinary group of individuals working to ensure the well will flow economically at desired rates. In deepwater, flow assurance is a critical issue. Early studies have improved field economics. As a result, the term has become a permanent fixture in our industry, being tossed around and applied to a variety of activities.

In a similar sense, "workover" as applied to deepwater and subsea wells is now referred to as "well intervention." This term has been subjected to an evolving definition. Well intervention currently implies the use of remote vehicles, rigless technology, and smart completions to reduce the cost of re-entering wells. This savings has a positive impact on field economics. For well intervention to work, it requires a team with members who understand reservoirs, well completion, subsea technology, and surface facilities. Similarly, members of an integrated project team must be well versed in various aspects of a project, including reservoir, well construction, facilities, and operations.

It is tempting to apply these trendy terms to a variety of activities that represent only part of the equation. The successful companies comprehend and define these terms, and package their services to cater to bottom-line value. Remember, as the industry takes on new challenges, new terms will be coined. A few will have a tendency to jump on the bandwagon, applying these terms to whatever product or service line they have. Our aim is not to lose ourselves in these terms, but to define them properly and apply them consistently. We must package our intellect and services to ensure they add to the bottom line and benefit the industry.

Sandeep Khurana, P.E.
J.P. Kenny Inc.

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