May 2019

Executive viewpoint

Why would you drill without MPD?
Anthony Spinler / Weatherford

Excitement fills the air, as offshore drilling shows signs of increasing operator tenders. One of the most interesting changes, not fully understood by many, is the increased demand for managed pressure drilling (MPD). Originally starting 50 years ago on land, the technology appeared with the invention of the rotating control device (RCD) for use in air drilling.

Today, numerous offshore operators are requiring MPD-ready rigs in their deepwater drilling tenders, paving the way to a potential future where every floating drilling rig is equipped with MPD equipment. This is a significant change to a technology, whose connection to offshore began approximately in 2003. While MPD has proven itself to be essential in drilling wells with small windows between pore pressure and fracture gradiant, this change by operators signifies a broader future for MPD as a performance-enhancing tool. It has significant implications for most all operators, drilling contractors, and OFS’s.

First off, why MPD. What is the value of this drilling technology/method that creates such interest by operators? At its most basic form, MPD is a control system that dynamically changes the bottomhole pressure via surface back-pressure; that, along with annular friction pressure and mud weight, improves the robustness of the primary well control barrier.

First, this provides early kick response, improving influx detection, measured in gallons, then enables it to be controlled and subsequently circulated out at higher flowrates and less time than conventional methods. Drilling with the optimum lower mud weight at every point in the formation results in improved well construction, which includes greater borehole stability, better hole cleaning, less ballooning, reduced risk of losses or influx, improved tripping, and setting and cementing casing deeper. Globally, some operators have seen significant savings on AFEs and even increased final production rates. In SPE paper 188335, and a presentation by Shell at the recent IADC/SPE MPD & UBD Operations Conference, the authors documented that they eliminated two casing strings on some wells and reduced drilling days.

Reduced risk of many drilling hazards and subsurface uncertainties ultimately avoids complex recovery operations, resulting in less NPT for the overall drilling operation. More important than all of this is the safety aspect of routing annular flow within a closed system, keeping hydrocarbons and hazardous gas away from the rig floor and personnel. In the words of a major IOC senior executive, “witness one gas riser event, and there should be no doubt that this [MPD] should be on every rig.”

The operators who have maximized the use of MPD certainly know the full financial and safety benefits. Unfortunately, the negative aspect of requiring MPD-ready rigs has forced drilling contractors to purchase expensive MPD equipment. And since market rig rates haven’t increased, the contractors are not seeing an ROI, while operators experience considerable benefit at little to no cost. The unfamiliarity of MPD, the rapid change in tender requirements, and the still-difficult rig market conditions have prevented drilling contractors from fully marketing the value that MPD brings to the operator.

New risks. As the paper previously mentioned explains, well planning with MPD before rig selection is an essential part of applying the technology fully. That involves MPD engineers, who understand the formation conditions, equipment configurations, and drilling hazard mitigation. What has impressed me about MPD engineers is that they have the technical ability to work directly with reservoir and drilling engineers to ensure both superior well construction and drilling optimization. Operators and drilling contractors have assumed that MPD-ready means MPD engineering. There have been numerous examples and surprises to all parties, when they discovered that was not the case. Offshore drilling contractors are typically only being trained for basic operation and maintenance of MPD equipment.

Offshore drilling contractors also have only been exposed to MPD for a few years, and virtually none have been doing any of the MPD engineering. The average MPD engineer may have eight to nine years of experience, with more senior ones having 20 years of continually planning and executing MPD jobs. Weatherford, the largest MPD service provider, performed over 7,600 MPD jobs on land and offshore since 2014; this averages to ~760 jobs, with any number of wells per MPD engineer/wellsite supervisor. To be fair to everyone involved, how could any new employee be trained with the knowledge from hundreds of MPD jobs and years of experience immediately after the installation of an MPD system on a rig; classroom and simulation training would never accomplish this in just a couple of weeks.

The future belongs to those who can collaborate, market and deliver the value that MPD brings to operators. The required outcomes include lower costs, safer operations, less risk of well control events, and higher production. MPD can provide these significant safety and performance benefits on many wells. An experienced drilling contractor said to me, the real question is, “why would you not drill with MPD?” Drilling rigs with MPD systems are finding that with the ready access, more wells are being drilled with MPD than would have been before. How fast adoption and utilization of MPD grows offshore is something that we are all about to find out. WO

About the Authors
Anthony Spinler
Anthony Spinler has 28 years of leadership in large global operations and technology products, including military construction, NASA, biotechnology, subsea/drilling equipment and MPD. A United States Naval Academy graduate and 23-year captain in the U.S. Navy Reserve, Mr. Spinler is responsible for Weatherford’s MPD product line portfolio. He is a licensed PE.
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