Sea change: securing the future of offshore energy with MPD

May 1, 2020
The offshore energy industry is beginning to broadly realize the economic and environmental benefits of managed pressure drilling.

Changes brought about by the coronavirus pandemic and the recent oil price collapse have highlighted the need for readily available solutions that further optimize cost and efficiency, while at the same time minimizing risk and liability in this volatile global business environment. The innovation culture that the energy industry has fostered has frequently produced and developed solutions appropriate for the times when they are needed most, and such is the case for managed pressure drilling (MPD) technology today.

The offshore energy industry is beginning to broadly realize the economic and environmental benefits of MPD, which leverages technology that closes the well in while simultaneously allowing for drill pipe rotation to enable quick precise annular pressure adjustments while drilling. Originally invented more than 50 years ago, MPD core technologies and solutions have been consistently deployed on and is now prevalent in land rigs. Offshore operators are also recently and more frequently requiring MPD-ready drilling rigs in their tenders, and current industry uptake is pointing to a not-too-distant future in which a majority of the drilling rigs offshore will be MPD-equipped. While MPD has proven essential for meeting the challenge of tight drilling windows between pore (or hole stability) pressure and fracture pressure, there is quickly emerging a more pervasive MPD future: as an effective and reliable performance-enhancing and risk-mitigating solution with significant implications for operators, drilling contractors and service companies.

For operating companies, the positive implications of requiring MPD technology on the drilling rigs they procure are focused on drilling risk mitigation and operational and cost certainty. Studies have repeatedly shown that a large portion of non-productive time (NPT) events such as kicks, losses, stuck pipe, and even sidetracks and lost wells in offshore drilling operations are due to pressure-related causes. The automation and digitalization advancements inherent in current MPD technologies provide conventional drilling rigs with better system monitoring and pressure control capabilities that keep the time and cost impact of these events to a minimum, helping ensure that the commercial and technical objectives for the wells are met. Used to its fullest potential, MPD can even be further leveraged to optimize the well architecture and perform technical feats only possible with MPD. These advances can provide further economic and strategic advantages for operators that choose to wield the technology for their benefit.

For drilling rig contractors, aside from the technological superiority and the increased rig marketability that comes with it, MPD solutions provide an increased level of safety and operational performance that enables better red-zone management and lesser personnel on board (POB). MPD algorithms and control systems used in conjunction with real-time remote support from subject matter experts augment the operational experience and knowledge of existing drilling personnel, helping address the skilled labor shortage of an industry that has seen its worst prolonged downturn in a generation. Once assimilated into an existing drilling rig system, an MPD investment immediately provides value through early kick detection and control. This drastically reduces the risk of loss of well control and helps safeguard the corporate reputations of the drilling contractor that has purchased the MPD system, as well as the operator that has utilized the same.

For technology service companies, the increased use and adoption of MPD technologies provides an opportunity to refine and optimize technical solutions and the commercial models in collaboration with partners. With an increase in volume of MPD use, the industry stands to achieve and benefit from the standardization of platforms, processes and procedures as well as provide opportunities for the training and development of technology specialists. From a data science and analytics perspective, this will provide a larger data set of operational experience that can be leveraged to develop better iterations of the technology, which in turn will help achieve economies of scale to sustain the organizations and systems that support it.

And for the energy industry, the implications of increased MPD adoption in the offshore space are a vast reservoir of untapped potential. Growth in the adoption of MPD has produced operational benefits that have flattened the curves of cost and risk and opened new areas and depths to offshore exploration and development. Among deepwater drilling rigs, there has been a marked increase in the use of MPD technologies and solutions, bringing the adoption rate from zero to ~15% today in the span of a decade since it was first used.

History is replete with countless examples of technology serving as the linchpin in the engine of growth that has continuously spurred the energy industry onwards and upwards. Today, MPD technology stands ready to accept that challenge.

Kevin Fisher, Vice President for Managed Pressure Drilling, Weatherford