Paving the path for active pressure management will require strong industry engagement

The deepwater rig transformation that began with managed pressure drilling (MPD) continues today as an even broader set of capabilities for active pressure management.

The deepwater rig transformation that began with managed pressure drilling (MPD) continues today as an even broader set of capabilities for active pressure management. This migration is described by a piece-by-piece shift from reactive pressure management to a proactive ensemble of capabilities that enhance well construction.

Driven by major advantages in safety, efficiency, and capabilities, the change is unrelenting. But how effectively it is implemented is another matter. The advance of active pressure management depends on the integration of emerging technologies across many traditional roles, including the operator, drilling contractor, service company, manufacturer, and shipbuilder. In this process, the industry stands at a unique crossroads. We can choose to manage the transformation or we make it up as we go.

Traditionally, MPD has been a discrete process used in response to specific challenges, such as drilling within narrow pore pressure-fracture gradient windows. But the closed-loop circulating system that enables MPD facilitates many applications for understanding and affecting wellbore pressure. Among them are well control, pressure management, riser gas handling, mud optimization, ROP enhancement, dynamic formation integrity testing, and cementing, to name just a few.

All of this constitutes the leading edge of the migration to active pressure management. This change is enabled by a growing universe of equipment and software that is improving the versatility and availability of closed-loop drilling (CLD) applications. For example, a recently developed modular riser technology is able to create a CLD-ready system that enables riser gas handing. The system can be configured for MPD with components provided by the service company, or using control and diversion technology. This component design also paves a path for introducing new component technologies as they are developed.

In this regard, it is a de facto standardization template for building CLD-capable rigs, and a first step toward full integration with the rig. The system provides drilling contractors with the technology to apply active pressure management, and service companies with a standard for connecting proprietary equipment and controls.

But this technology hardly constitutes a full industry response to implementing active pressure management. Industry standards and best practices are needed for many manufacturing and operational considerations. For example, data collected by CLD systems must be easily integrated with other rig monitoring and control technologies. The data must be efficiently collected and incorporated in well planning deliberations. In addition, CLD data and techniques must be readily available, and easily used and applied by the rig crew using industry best practices.

Collectively, these applications and tools constitute a rapidly developing expansion of closed-loop capabilities. They are attempting to achieve a level of integration with the rig and its operations that is efficiently implemented and seamlessly managed. In their scope and integration, they demonstrate the emergence of a new, holistic approach to understanding wellbore pressures that enhances well planning and execution.

Integrating this diverse technology is central to the migration from MPD to active pressure management. But it is no easy feat. The process can begin as early as the rig’s construction and runs right up to the driller’s chair. It involves rig systems and the marine riser, surface and downhole equipment, and control and data systems across a complex landscape of disciplines, interests, and design philosophies.

In addition, the migration to active pressure management requires the development of hybrid skills and cross-discipline training to enhance safety and reduce inefficiencies. Many of the pressure control and management operations performed using closed-loop systems are ultimately the core competency of the driller. As the necessary technologies are integrated into the rig system, pressure management and related operations will increasingly become a routine procedure handled by the rig crew. As with directional drilling, specialists will join the process when the application requires specific skills and technology.

This path follows the principles of efficiency and doing more with less. As closed-loop systems become a standard configuration of the rig’s circulating system, and the scope of active pressure management applications grows, the role of the rig crew will expand.

These changes are already under way, and we face a choice. As an industry, we can choose to manage the process or let it evolve ad hoc. Either way, the combined momentum of safety, efficiency, and capability will carry it forward. But only industry guidance will ensure that the potential of active pressure management is fully and efficiently realized.

This guidance requires collaborative efforts to developing standards and best practices. Rigs must be built, equipment and processes developed, and people trained. The full, cost-effective, and expedited implementation of active pressure management depends on it. Optimization is contingent on all the stakeholders - operators, drilling contractors, service companies, manufacturers, and shipbuilders - finding common ground. This can be achieved through a lengthy process of mix-and-match that increases costs, delays implementation, and falls short of potential, or we can take this unique opportunity to redesign a major rig system to best suit the goals of everyone.

Mark Mitchell

President - Oil and Gas

AFGlobal Corp.

This page reflects viewpoints on the political, economic, cultural, technological, and environmental issues that shape the future of the petroleum industry. Offshore Magazine invites you to share your thoughts. Email your Beyond the Horizon manuscript to David Paganie

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