By Joanne Liou, associated editor
Dual-gradient technology continues to gain attention as an important solution to deepwater drilling and extraction of resources from depleted reservoirs. Chevron is months away from deploying its dual-gradient system in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico, where the environment is largely characterized by increasing pore pressures and increasing fracture gradients, Ken Smith, manager of the dual gradient drilling (DGD) project implementation at Chevron, explained. “We’re really driven by the environment we’re drilling, the rocks that we have to drill. We’re motivated to change the physics behind our drilling,” he said at the 2013 IADC DGD Workshop on 9 May in Houston.
Nonproductive time is a major challenge, averaging up to 30% in the deepwater GOM, Mr Smith noted, adding that one-third of Chevron’s well costs go toward fighting NPT. “It’s getting worse as we routinely drill 30,000-ft wells, and we have leases in up to 20,000 ft of water.” This type of drilling environment is changing the playing field, and DGD will help overcome the challenges, he said. From a well design standpoint, DGD takes water depth out of the equation.
Chevron’s DGD system uses seabed pumping with positive displacement to open up tight pressure margins. “It improves the detection and reaction of the downhole challenges,” Mr Smith explained. “It restores the riser margin and remains overbalanced at all times.” With a restored riser margin, fewer casing strings are needed to reach TD.
In DGD, the fluid in the riser is replaced with seawater-dense fluid, setting up a pressure profile that is aligned with nature’s pressures. “We’re not fighting (natural pressures) as much as we do in conventional drilling,” Mr Smith said. “We enhance operational performance with the MPD capabilities of our system being closed and pressurizeable, which leads to improved well integrity and ultimately well productivity.”
While Chevron’s DGD is an example of seabed pumping, other methods of DGD also were discussed at the workshop, including Dag Ove Molde, specialist drilling technology for Statoil. The IADC DGD Subcommittee recently classified dual gradient systems into two main categories, pre-BOP and post-BOP. Mud-line pumping is one method under pre-BOP, while seabed pumping, dilution and controlled mud level fall under post-BOP.
Mud-line pumping is a riserless concept that has been deployed in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Norwegian sector, Mr Molde said. The system may consist of an interface on the seafloor, a subsea pump, a control system and a return conduit. Subsea pumps return the drilling fluid to the rig through a small-bore riser, which allows the mud to be used in the top sections of the well.
When mud inside the riser is diluted, injecting a lower-density fluid into the drilling annulus reduces the hydrostatic head of the circulating fluid. The mixing process results in the required density to achieve a constant bottomhole pressure, Mr Molde explained. Dilution is applicable from intermediate to deepwater operations.
Controlled mud level systems also use two fluids to control the wellbore pressure gradient. “The main usage is to control equivalent circulation density limitations,” Mr Molde said. The system can be placed at different levels in the riser to achieve variable control over the wellbore pressure based on fluid density and placement. Controlled mud level systems are applicable to intermediate water depth.
Dag Ove Molde, Statoil, discussed the different types of dual-gradient systems that have been classified under the categories of pre-BOP and post-BOP.