Competently managing the complex challenges at the start of a drilling campaign can dictate the success of the whole project. Unlike completions, this critical stage has rarely been acknowledged as a distinct specialism with a single-source solution, until now. Subsea and Offshore Services spoke to George Morrison, managing director of Aquaterra Energy, to find out more about its ‘Well Start’ offering…
An integrated approach to the completions phase of the drilling campaign is relatively normal. Why then, does the initiation stage continue to be handled in a disjointed manner by the industry?
I’ve worked in the oil and gas industry for nearly 25 years and I believe there’s a very fragmented market of companies offering narrow, specialist services with no comprehensive experience of the broader picture. For example, there’s little interconnectivity between those that supply conductors and businesses that carry out riser monitoring analysis. So there are gaps in the understanding and links to bring together a cohesive and deep knowledge of this critical phase. There’s also little incentive for those individual companies to find solutions outwith their own scope of work.
It’s then very much up to the operators to try and put those pieces of the puzzle together into something that works for them. Well Start is different to normal engineering. It allows a single vendor to take a much broader responsibility and act on behalf of the client, not as a product or service specific specialist, but as an expert in all the requirements of early stage well construction.
What does Well Start involve?
In many ways, our Well Start specialism applies the same principles as the completions phase, where many businesses already offer integrated packages. It’s the other ‘bookend’ in the drilling process.
The focus of Well Start is on achieving technical and economic benefits for North Sea operators with the most complex interactions between the platform, the drilling rig, the environment and the wellhead. It’s about tighter control and management of the interfacesand the environment in which operations exist to guarantee well success in subsequent phases. Aquaterra delivers innovative, robust and reliable engineering solutions to challenging drilling rig or platform related issues. We provide and operate the complete range of ancillary equipment required. This can range from complete riser systems, permanent well equipment such as centralisers and cement top-up systems, to offshore services such as cold cutting and tensioner units. We can also provide riser analysis and FEED, complementary surface to mud-line equipment rentals and hardware supply, as well as sub-supplier management and guidance.
By embedding an initiation expert in the drilling team from an early stage, operators can be assured they are using the right services and products in the most cost-efficient and technically beneficial way.
What benefits can this broad and combined service bring to operators in the North Sea?
Our overall objective is to drive down the amount of equipment required and associated costs by doing smart, joined-up engineering rather than looking at each component or process in isolation. An engineer from Aquaterra can take care of all third-party interfaces across a client’s project and tackle supply and equipment requirements, for all the operations taking place before the installation of a blowout preventer. Riser analysis and planning of pre-operations would all be performed in-house and the benefits would flow through to equipment selection resulting in reduced client-engineering demand.
It can also mitigate risk and cut down on costly logistics, capex/opex, and halve the number of offshore crew involved by reducing the number of required vendors and replacing them with a single, multi-skilled crew, and therefore, helicopter and accommodation needs.
The initial stage of well construction focuses more on structural and handling issues rather than drilling engineering. Its therefore important that our team of experts get a clear understanding of what services and equipment are required and the engineering needed to find an optimised solution to address all the challenges encountered in setting out the first phase of a well. We basically support hard-pressed drilling engineers unused to dealing with these particular complex interfaces by taking responsibility for delivering best-in-class solutions to their challenges.
Our collective expertise in direct service provision and project management of complex interfaces will help get the well spudded, the conductor run and the whole system rigged up, ready to start drilling with well control in place.
What Well Start activity has been carried out by Aquaterra Energy in the North Sea so far and what difference has it made?
Two major operators recently adopted the Well Start approach on drilling developments in the Norwegian North Sea and the Central North Sea. Aquaterra provided an integrated package of specific services and equipment to overcome the very unique challenges on those fields. Its cost and risk-reducing benefits ranged from the resolution of riser issues and rectifying potentially costly wellhead specifications, to managing the entire conductor tendering process, supplying the required centralisers, and addressing well proximity challenges.
Our support featured a raft of other services, including the elimination of many interface issues. In effect, the combination of our direct service provision, in areas such as riser analysis, coupled with our project management support, meant we were able to help the operator secure the most economic, but perhaps more importantly, the best technical solutions. These benefits will be felt for years to come on both developments.
These projects truly show the value of introducing a hub of initiation knowledge to the team rather than pulling together a piecemeal solution from multiple vendors.
What impact do you think this new approach will have on the supply chain itself? Do you think it can make it more streamlined, more competitive?
From a client’s perspective, it should result in a simplified supply chain. It will allow the operator to get multiple services from one location, instead of having numerous vendors on the rig, supplying lots of different services, which though interrelated, aren’t supplied by the same people. It will enable a much broader package where options can be reviewed and the best choices selected from the outset.
I think there will be real efficiency gains to be had in terms of actually having ownership in one place. This will not only minimise the number of people on board the rig and the safety, transportation and accommodation costs involved in that, it can also ensure a smarter, overall supply chain. Ultimately, it will create a much greater level of responsibility for delivering success in that early stage of operations.
The oil and gas industry has undergone a radical overhaul since the downturn to cut costs and streamline services. How can Well Start fit into this ‘new reality’?
The need to build and maintain momentum for a stronger and more sustainable oil and gas sector is greater now than in previous downturns. We believe the industry is looking beyond stringent, short-term cuts and is investing in durable, technical and economic gains, which Well Start definitely delivers.
Involving a ‘one-stop-shop’ approach can harmonise the deployment of products and services while improving efficiency and reducing project management costs, risk, lead-times and capex/opex.
Our established track record, product portfolio and the success of our Well Start initiatives so far have shown that there are very few ‘new’ challenges in this area. Working in partnership allows the North Sea oil and gas industry as a whole to confidently learn from past experiences and share novel insight and ingenuity to optimise operations, cut costs and de-risk future well developments.