Real time information reduces downtime on GOM rigs

A variety of technologies has been gath-ered to allow experts from Shell and Halliburton to monitor every well the operator drills in the Gulf of Mexico.

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Halliburton and Shell partner on center

William Furlow

A variety of technologies has been gath-ered to allow experts from Shell and Halliburton to monitor every well the operator drills in the Gulf of Mexico. The goal is to improve efficiency and reduce downtime on the rig.

What started as a small pilot program has developed into the Real Time Operations Center at One Shell Square in New Orleans. This facility is manned around the clock. As long as any well is being drilled for Shell somewhere in the Gulf, a team of experts at the center is monitoring all the data coming from the downhole, subsurface, and topside sensors.

Staffed by Shell's most experienced engineers, this collaborative complex acts as mission control center for Shell's offshore operations in the Gulf. Armed with real-time information from all on-going operations, each staff member at this center puts their 20-plus years of experience to work monitoring the well parameters. Watching various screens of data, the engineers are looking for variations between what was predicted to happen and what is actually going on.

Ronnie Sarrat, account manager with Halliburton, explained that the 3D DrillView technology used to plan many of these wells is now being applied to the actual drilling process in an effort to calibrate the earth model.


In 2001, Shell and Halliburton launch- ed a pilot program using real-time data from rigs in the Gulf of Mexico to optimize the drilling process. The idea was to identify variations between the ideal planned parameters and reality. By monitoring the progress of the well as it is drilled, the experts at the real-time center could flag variations in such things as the equivalent circulating density, drilling margins, rig site and operations team interventions, and logging results.

Based on this data, the team could advise the crew on the rig, making small adjustments in the drilling operations or changing the direction and target of the well. The pilot was designed to monitor four wells at one time.

Sarrat said it was so successful that the program was quickly expanded. The success was measured in terms of rig-time saved. By identifying potential problems early on and adjusting the drilling program to accommodate them, there was a valuable time savings.

The new real-time center is capable of monitoring up to nine wells at one time and is staffed by Halliburton and Shell engineers, as well as representatives from other vendors involved in the drilling process. Using this expanded center, Shell monitors all the exploration wells it drills in the Gulf of Mexico.

The data available is extensive, Sarrat said. The center basically has access to any information that is being collected on the rig. Using video conferencing technology, it is possible for the team in the center to interact directly with the rig crew. An instant messaging feature allows for one-on-one communication, while keeping a log of the conversation for reference.

Sarrat said this not only speeds up the evaluation process when data comes in, but also gives the rig crew valuable experience working with the most talented mud logging engineers Halliburton has to offer.

All the data received in the center is recorded for future reference. Anomalies encountered during the drilling of a well are documented along with the procedures the company followed in dealing with the abnormality. This information is all incorporated into the field's earth model, Sarrat said, so that future wells drilled in the same area will benefit from not only a more accurate model of the subsurface landscape, but the best practices followed at specific points in the well.

Shell focused its real-time efforts on exploration wells in the Gulf of Mexico after determining this is where the company would see the greatest benefits. Typically, drilling such a well begins with the development of an earth model. This is based on seismic data as well as offset information from nearby wells drilled into the same formation. Such models give the drillers a clear idea of the subsurface structure and allow them to plot the depth and angle of their wells.

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Armed with real-time information from all on-going operations, staff members at the RTOC puts their 20-plus years of experience to work monitoring the well parameters.

The problem is, as good as the seismic and offset data is, it is only a model. In the case of exploration drilling, this data has limited points of reference from the field. What the real-time center does is compare this planning model to what is encountered once drilling begins.

A wide range of sophisticated sensors provide data, including pressure while drilling, measurement while drilling, logging while drilling, downhole temperature, and the composition of returns.

This data is incorporated into the model and adjustments are made accordingly. The updates may affect the trajectory of the well being drilled and the target depth. Such adjustments are useful on individual wells, but also feed into the earth model of the entire field so future wells can be designed with more accurate information up front.

In addition to improving the well delivery team's understanding of the field, this center monitors the drilling parameters and recommends adjustments to rate of penetration, mud weight, etc., in real-time. These adjustments are all recorded and incorporated into the formation model so future wells will take the decisions into consideration in the design phase.

Far from second-guessing the rig crew, the staff at the real-time center works collaboratively with the crew on the well site making recommendations and discussing options when variations between prediction and reality occur. The foremen on the rigs are even brought through the center and educated on how all the equipment works so they become a partner in the process.

For some time, the volume of data available on wells outpaced the driller's ability to process and apply it, Sarrat explained. Real-time downhole data was in a way likened to drinking from the fire hose. With the additional staff and experience brought on by the RTOC, this data can be reviewed and incorporated into the decision-making process.

The center is staffed by Halliburton's monitoring specialists, optimization specialists, RTOC managers, and support staff.

From the Shell side, the center is staffed by the drilling superintendent, senior drilling engineer, Drilling the Limit engineer, and a junior petrophysist. This staff not only monitors the well's progress looking for variations, but also actively seeks ways to improve the well's performance.

If any of the operations vary outside the parameters established in the well plan, then the staff at the center communicates with the rig personnel and makes a recommendation. At the same time, if the data shows the well might be able to progress more quickly and still not venture outside its parameters, the RTOC staff advises the crew of this.

Because adjustments are being made rapidly based on immediate data, it is possible to improve drilling progress on these wells without risking a failure. Potential problems can be identified early and avoided.

While this program monitors the drilling activity, Sarrat said, once the well enters its completion phase, the center moves on to the next project. Halliburton is actively looking at expanding these operations to assist with the completion of wells, but this is not yet offered.

While the center has the staff and capability to monitor nine wells simultaneously, it generally operates at less than capacity. Because of the global connectivity of the center, Sarrat said it would be possible to expand the monitoring program outside the US to frontier deepwater wells in other regions.

Funding and staffing

For Shell, the bottom line in funding and staffing the RTOC is to create a collaborative and enabling environment that allows the operations teams, engineering teams, and subsurface teams the ability to make better decisions during the planning and execution phase of the well construction process. Capturing, documenting, sharing, and implementing best practices improve efficiencies in the well execution process.

The technology involved is impressive, Mike Humphries, drilling superintendent with Shell Exploration & Production Co. (Sepco), said. But at the end of the day, it is the savings through greater efficiency that the company focuses on.

Work processes are critical to increased efficiency, Humphries said. The RTOC captures learnings from each well it monitors. Each time there is an intervention by the center, this is documented and recorded so it can be reviewed. He said this constant evaluation process ensures that the best practices for each well are constantly improved. Not only do these best practices help in the drilling of future wells in the same formation, but many transfer to other projects in the region.

In addition to the Shell and Halliburton staff at the center, the operations have access to Shell's Pore Pressure center of excellence. With an average of 20 years industry experience, these optimization specialists are able to make informed decisions on real-time data coming in from the rig.

Having the staff to monitor these wells around the clock in real time is itself a useful tool. Humphries said it raises the awareness of the rig crew because the actual drilling data is constantly being compared to the well plan and the model adjusted as required based on the new information obtained.

Connectivity and communication are the keys to the RTOC. Leendert-Jan Ursem, Na Kika lead drilling engineer for Sepco, said the conference rooms feature a touch screen remote control that is wired into the matrix of data. This means any of dozens of data screens associated with the wells being monitored can be pulled up for review on the conference room screens. Access to tight-hole wells is restricted to the monitoring room, which is controlled by key card.

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