Applying lessons from golf to well control training: Practice must be strategic and reinforce the right habits
By Bill Murchison Jr, Murchison Drilling Schools
Before rejoining the oil and gas industry, I spent twenty years as a professional golfer. I watched a lot of amateurs go to the golf range and hit a lot of balls, but most of them did not improve very much. They did not seem to get much benefit from the time, money and effort that they were spending. It prompted me to write and publish a booklet called “Make Your Practice Productive.” In that booklet, I detailed a number of different principles to help people benefit more from their practice sessions. Here is a quick overview of a few of the principles.
First, people need to practice the right things. Practice does not make perfect; practice makes habit. If people practice the wrong techniques, they simply ingrain wrong techniques into their game. Golfers need to get expert advice from knowledgeable professionals and work on the specific areas that will help them improve.
Second, golfers need to approach each practice shot in a similar way to a shot on the course. Many golfers just hit balls on the range in a rapid-fire fashion and are not deliberate with each shot. The pre-shot routine is important, and it must be used for each shot in a practice session, just like it will be used on the course.
Third, golfers need to practice strategically. Dr David Pelz, who worked as a scientist with NASA, conducted in-depth research on golf, and in particular, what helps golfers score better. He found that 43% of a person’s ability to score was putting. Driving the ball amounts to 25% of a person’s ability. Wedges contributed about 11%. On the other hand, long irons contributed only about 2% to the scoring mix. This research shows that we need to spend much more time on putting rather than hitting three irons. We need to spend time on the specific areas of the game that would help us score better.
Fourth, golfers need to incorporate specific drills to help them work on those specific changes that need to be made. Dr Pelz gave many specific putting drills to help golfers improve various parts of their putting.
Fifth, we do not hit a hundred eight irons in a row on the course. Professionals work on drills and specific things on the range, but to truly sharpen up for tournaments, they play. Playing practice rounds helps prepare for the tournament rounds. Playing competitive rounds before a major tournament helps professionals sharpen their games for the major. They are practicing in the same way they are going to play.
Applications to well control
In our well control training, we can apply some of these same principles. First, at many of the well control schools, participants are put in a large room with many simulators, and they just play around on the simulators. They have no specific guidance or supervision. They do not learn and establish good habits; they simply ingrain old – usually bad – habits. I encourage training companies to put an instructor with each group and help students practice good habits on the simulator. When they encounter a real well control situation, they will have developed good habits that will serve them well when under pressure.
Second, well control training should be taken seriously. We need to treat each time on the simulator as if it was a real situation out on the rig. Personally, I like the team approach to well control. Drillers, toolpushers and companymen must all work together. They have to learn to communicate and coordinate bringing the pumps up or down. Individual simulator assessments are the standard today, but in real well control situations, we work together as teams.
Also, when in cased hole before drilling out, companies should schedule choke drills so that the crew gets actual experience on the choke that they will be using when they take a kick. Just like in golf, we must practice in the same way we want to play.
Third, we must practice strategically. There are certain aspects of the well control operation that are more critical than others. The most critical areas are: bringing the pumps up to slow rate, bringing down the pumps, handling gas when it enters the choke, and when the mud that follows the gas hits the choke. Practicing these specific areas over and over will contribute quickly to a person’s ability to handle a kick.
Fourth, well control trainers should use drills to help people develop those critical skills. Most simulators have the ability to take snap shots. The simulation can be loaded multiple times so that the person can practice that specific area. Using drills for specific areas will speed up and improve the training.
Finally, just as a golfer puts it all together by playing practice rounds, we must do more than practice drills. We must put it all together. I am opposed to merely practicing and then testing on specific skills. I believe that people must understand and be able to supervise the whole well control operation. With our ability to speed up simulator exercises at non-critical times, we can have trainees go through an entire well control operation, which includes the pre-drill instructions, the taking of a kick and closing in of the well, circulating out the kick and circulating kill mud all the way around.