Drilling/Production

With dayrates, upstream profits, and wages all up, the atmosphere at the March 1997 SPE/IADC conference in Amsterdam was all bonhomie and optimism. Business was good for drilling contractors and petroleum engineers during 1996, and the foreseeable future secured by enduringly strong oil prices for the first time in many of the attendees' careers.

Apr 1st, 1997
4dp
NPD regulations mandate removing rig personnel at least 1.5 meters from the well center.


Contractors and operators

With dayrates, upstream profits, and wages all up, the atmosphere at the March 1997 SPE/IADC conference in Amsterdam was all bonhomie and optimism. Business was good for drilling contractors and petroleum engineers during 1996, and the foreseeable future secured by enduringly strong oil prices for the first time in many of the attendees' careers.

So it seemed something of a sour note when one operator-employed speaker ended his talk by advising drilling contractors to think not of the immediate gratification of high dayrates and long-term contracts, but of long-term operator-contractor relationships.

Drilling contractors and engineers in the audience, whose careers and companies have only recently emerged from 15 years on emergency life-support systems while operators dictated shamefully low dayrates and take-it-or-leave-it contract terms, might have been forgiven skepticism. However, to their credit and perhaps another sign of their general good mood, most received the unsolicited counsel in polite silence.

The presenter's remarks were instructive, though, as a betrayal of a commonly held operator misconception about the forces at work in the current rig market. Rig supply, the speaker explained, will soon once again outstrip demand. And, he seemed to imply, those who show restraint now will be rewarded when the scales once again tip in operators' favor.

Such an argument might seem reasonable had operators shown anything like such a sense of fair play at any time over the past 15 years. But it would serve operators well to understand that such admonitions are wasted on an audience like the one in Amsterdam. Most will be in their post-career days well before rig supply overtakes demand and all remember their many friends and colleagues forced from their chosen field in mid-career as the industry whittled itself to just half what it was the last time the market changed form a sellers' to buyers' one.

Even were the implied quid pro quo not a laughable proposition (operators choose contractors solely for price - not past behaviors), a case for a reversal of fortunes any time soon is a shaky one at best. Oil and gas prices are strong and worldwide demand for hydrocarbons is outstripping the industry's ability to meet it because not enough rigs exist to reach known new reserves.

It is unseemly for a group that has never given quarter when it had the upper hand to expect any when they are at a disadvantage. Operators, the largest of which saw that failing upstream bottom lines were supplemented by downstream profits during crude price downturns, created today's environment of scarce rigs and personnel. It is time for them to endure it quietly without portraying contractors as opportunists.

Automating rigs

Already iron roughnecks and automated pipe handlers have removed rig floor personnel from harm's way on some high-tech drilling rigs, such as NAM's Pro-Star 2000 and others. But efforts to automate existing rigs have been thwarted by high costs and the daunting task of redesigning existing structures to accommodate such features as a driller's cabin or logic control systems.

Various efforts to remotely mechanized existing rigs have been tried and mostly abandoned since the 1960s because they necessitated basic rig alterations. But in 1995, the Norwegian government's oil and gas regulatory body, NPD, passed legislation banishing any rig personnel from within 1.5 meters of the well center. Though enforcement will be tempered by a transition period, it would appear remote control of the drill string and tubular installations is inevitable, at least in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea.

But as remote operation becomes the law, Holger Kinzel and Jorg Lorenz of Weatherford Oil Tools are suggesting another approach. In their jointly authored paper on rig mechanization, presented at the SPE/IADC, they wrote that the key to automation would not come from revolutionary changes to rig equipment, but through the adaptation of current proven technology.

Among their suggestions: remote control solenoids to automate power tongs and an automated carrier to move them around the rig floor; mechanized thread doper based on an existing current pump-activated, hand held lubricator; more precise pipe handling units to stab more sensitive specialty threads; and a casing "buffer" where casing can be stored between the pipe rack and the rig floor to speed casing runs.

Eliminating pipe dope

Through the years, tanker ship loads worth of pipe dope have been left at the bottom of drilling wells. It is troubling for the well, the environment, and most certainly for the crew. It can harden in the arctic, cause galling when not properly matched to the thread surface, and cause excessively high stresses in drill pipe connections.

Now Nippon Steel and Nihon Parkerizing have completed a joint study to develop a thread that does not require pipe dope. In their study presented at the March SPE/IADC meeting they successfully attained proper P-110 and L-80 connections with a coating containing solid lubricant that was sufficiently sturdy to stand up to field use while demonstrating all practical performance properties.

The dopeless connection required higher makeup torque, though the residual stresses were considerably lower than those of the conventional connections. Their conclusions: the combination of premium connection with high torque resistance is the way to go dopeless.

Seabed water separation

Eight oil companies have joined forces to develop a seabed water separation system that could save the offshore oil industry hundreds of millions of dollars. According to a BP Exploration press release, project members BP, Mobil, Statoil, Texaco, Agip, Elf, and Amerada Hess hope to see a demonstration model by 1999.

The proposed system will be placed on the seabed beside the production wells where it will separate the water and pump it back into the formation via injection wells. It will be used in fields where water cut exceeds 50% seriously hampering the efficiency of riser systems and topsides processing equipment. Particularly in the North Sea, where high water-oil ratios are common, seabed separation will reduce demands on flowline transport capacity, simplify deepwater development, and simplify environmental compliance.

Copyright 1997 Oil & Gas Journal. All Rights Reserved.

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