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Technology in focus: making sense of well information

Last edited: 29 May 2013

A new technology called BP Well Advisor is helping drilling teams around the world to monitor oil and gas wells with unprecedented clarity, using dashboard-style consoles, to enhance operational safety and efficiency

When companies such as BP drill oil and gas wells, digital technologies make it possible to collect millions of data points relating to pressures, depths, direction and many other variables. But until recently, technologies had not developed that could turn those raw data feeds into information that could be used in real time in the continuing effort to enhance safety and efficiency.

However, BP is now building the capability for its staff and contractors to integrate and analyse these multiple data points to inform operational decisions in real time. This is being achieved by a series of dashboard-style consoles known as BP Well Advisor, using technology developed in part by the Norwegian-based company, Kongsberg.

Already deployed at more than 20 offshore operations worldwide, BP Well Advisor consists of a series of consoles – or computer interfaces – that show what is happening in wells with a new level of clarity. Data points gathered in real time are analysed through sophisticated algorithms, turned into easily-understood graphics and displayed on a web-based computer system.

Fereidoun Abbassian, vice president of wells and production technology, says: “The system integrates this real-time data with other predictive tools and processes. And combined with the teams’ expertise, this helps them to  make timely and well-informed decisions as they work to deliver safe and reliable wells.”

BP Well Advisor forms part of a suite of monitoring tools that are used on rigs and platforms by BP and its contractors as well as in facilities known as Collaborative Real-Time Environments (CoREs), where onshore-based specialists  and offshore teams work together using digital technologies.

Stuck casing

One of the challenges being addressed by BP Well Advisor is the problem of stuck casing, which is among the more challenging operational issues encountered when drilling a well. Casing is a large-diameter pipe that is installed in the wellbore – separating the flow of oil from the surrounding rock formation.

After the hole is drilled, a ‘string’ made up of 12-metre (40-foot) lengths of casing is lowered, or ‘run’ into the wellbore, sometimes over distances of 4,500 metres (15,000 feet) or more, and not always in a straight line.

Abbassian says that, in some instances, the casing can get stuck against the well wall due to a phenomenon known as differential sticking. “It is like getting your boot stuck in mud,” he says. “Once you get it stuck, it is very difficult to pull it free. Occasionally, we have to cut the pipe or surrender that section of the well.”

A stuck casing is not just an inconvenience. When it happens, it can cause long delays in well construction, which can add up to tens of millions of dollars to the cost of a well.

“One of our team members, Colin Mason, had analysed many of the stuck casing events over the previous decade. It was a laborious task,” he says. “But in every case, he could explain the root cause based on the data available prior to the event. There was sufficient data that would have indicated an event was coming – but the data was not available in a manner that could inform a real-time decision.”

Abbassian says the key question the team examined was how that data could be brought to the forefront during well construction to prevent such incidents from happening again.

The challenge of using this data in real time to provide an early warning indicator for stuck casing events led to the creation of BP Well Advisor, which is now one of BP’s Technology Flagship programmes that is helping BP deliver safe and reliable wells.

“That is how BP Well Advisor was born,” Abbassian says. “And now we have extended this approach to other operations.”

Safety applications of the project

The BP Well Advisor technology also plays a part in safety and risk management, particularly in connection with the blowout preventer (BOP), a large fixture consisting of valves, rams and other devices that sits on the seafloor in deep water ready to prevent the flow of hydrocarbons from the wellbore during drilling operations.

“BOP health monitoring is a top priority,” Abbassian says. “We developed a programme that simplified the complex diagnostic data on some of the components within the BOP into a simple set of traffic lights, which show whether a given safety function is available or not.” He says one of the goals of the technology is to improve communication between offshore and onshore operations personnel and BOP specialists. This communication can facilitate decision making in response to BOP issues.

“It is like driving your car and getting a warning that something is wrong with your airbag,” he says. “It is comforting to know that… in case you need it.”
"It is like driving your car and getting a warning that something is wrong with your airbag. It is comforting to know that… in case you need it."
- Fereidoun Abbassian

Other uses and the future

BP is developing a series of consoles covering many aspects of the well construction operation. For example, the latest addition to the system has been designed to monitor cementing operations.

The cement console aims to integrate the well site data with hydraulic models to monitor the quality of cement placement – also an important safety consideration because it isolates the well from the surrounding formation.

“And we won’t stop here,” says Abbassian. “In the future, we are looking at putting sensors behind the casing that will monitor the condition of cement, both during placement and over the life of the well. This new data stream will feed into future consoles.”

While the technology continues to evolve, BP plans to have its current consoles available for continued deployment to priority offshore operations. “This is a journey. By the time we finish embedding BP Well Advisor into our operations, it will have substantially improved the way we work,” he adds.

BP Well Advisor at work

BP Well Advisor is now making a difference across several of BP’s operations as it is deployed around the upstream business. By early 2014, the casing running console had been used for over 160 casing runs in Azerbaijan, the US Gulf of Mexico, the UK North Sea and Trinidad without any of the casings becoming stuck.

In Azerbaijan, Doug McCrae, CoRE coordinator for BP’s Global Wells Organisation, has seen 100 casing runs without any incidents of stuck casings.

McCrae noted: “In Azerbaijan alone, in the four years prior to the deployment of the BP Well Advisor console – from 2008 to 2011 - there were four major stuck casing events, totalling 288 days of non-productive time,” McCrae says. “In the past two years, there have been none.”
"In Azerbaijan alone, in the four years prior to the deployment of the BP Well Advisor console – from 2008 to 2011 – there were four major stuck casing events, totalling 288 days of non-productive time."
- Doug McCrae
Mark Honey, BP’s drilling technology manager, explains one of the instances where BP Well Advisor helped avoid a stuck casing issue.  “They were running a string of casing into the hole and they noticed that there was a deviation from expected trend. The great thing was that the onshore guys could see this, too.”

Honey says when the console showed a problem, the onshore and offshore teams took mitigating action, based on a shared awareness of the situation.

He recalls that the reason for the deviation was that the casing string was too ‘stiff,’ a condition related to the type and position of the centralisers (metal strips that attach to the exterior of the casing).

“The assembly was creating unexpectedly high frictional drag as the casing was being run, and the console was warning that it was likely to get stuck, so they recovered the string, re-positioned the centralisers and re-ran the string successfully to its total depth,” he says. “They didn’t carry on to the point where they could have got stuck – the console helped them to make a change to improve their situation.”

A recent incident in Trinidad was another good example of how the technology has helped drillers, Honey recalls. “They were running a casing string and my colleague, Colin Mason, was monitoring from Sunbury in the UK. He noticed a differential sticking trend that was increasing as they were going deeper and deeper into the hole,” he says. Mason called the drilling engineer in Trinidad and highlighted the issue.

“The drilling engineer contacted the rig and they made an adjustment that allowed them to get the casing to the bottom. It was very successful,” he says. “Either of these events could have led to a stuck casing, potentially resulting in big delays and millions in additional costs.”

Honey says each console displays the required information in a simple and clear manner for that particular operation. A colour-coded hexagon on the screen helps to show the driller how the operation is progressing.

“In the green, all indicators are fine, move into the yellow and that is an indication something might not be right,” he says. “Red means you need to do something immediately, otherwise there is an imminent risk of getting stuck.” The team has also provided some operational decision-making recommendations or ‘response protocols’.

“These documents include suggestions, such as ‘if you see this issue, try these responses.’ It is never an exact science and requires the drilling team’s know-how to determine the appropriate response to a particular event. You are dealing with pressures, temperatures and formations that are always different, so something that works in the North Sea might not necessarily work in the Gulf of Mexico,” he says. 

“But, with the help of the console, we can now begin to evaluate what responses work best in which conditions and build a greater knowledge base for future generations of drillers.”

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