Integrated solutions in a complex world

Efforts to reduce E&P costs focus on enhancing drilling efficiency, wellbore positioning, wellbore assurance

By Linda Hsieh, managing editor

J.F. Poupeau
J.F. Poupeau, president of Schlumberger Drilling Group

J.F. Poupeau is president of the Schlumberger Drilling Group, formed in late 2010 to include the DD/MWD/LWD services of Schlumberger,  PathFinder, Smith Bits, Geoservices, @balance Managed Pressure and Underbalanced Drilling Services, Smith Services, SERVCO Fishing and Intervention Services and DRILCO.

As president of the Schlumberger Drilling Group, what do you see as some of the most critical challenges confronting today’s drilling operations?

Just over a year ago we put together the Schlumberger Drilling Group to focus on our customers’ main business, which is finding and developing hydrocarbons. Our value proposition is lowering the finding and development costs per barrel, and we’re doing that through three focus areas. First is improvement in drilling efficiency, which is reducing flat time and improving footage per day. Second is the positioning of the wellbore, well placement and the description of the reservoir; this is really a story about increasing reservoir contact. The third leg is wellbore assurance, which is all about delivering a wellbore into which you can run and install a completion on the first try. It’s about the integrity of the wellbore and guaranteed access to the reservoir.

Everything that we do in the group is targeting these three areas.

So those three areas are where you see the critical challenges for drilling operations today?

They are our customers’ challenges, and those are the areas where we can contribute to the improvement.

More specifically, how will you go about, for example, improving drilling efficiency or reducing flat time?

In late 2007, we launched an initiative called Excellence in Execution. It is aimed at strengthening our management approach and the implementation of processes, standards and systems. It focuses on enabling more effective and efficient execution in the field and improving service quality. In the long term, this focus on performance will be necessary to extract the remaining hydrocarbons.

It seems you have extensive efforts to help operators lower costs, yet service companies often find it challenging to persuade their customers to take up new technologies. How can you help push the adoption and integration of new technologies?

We try to achieve this through closer collaboration with our customers, focusing on the earlier adoption of newer technologies. This isn’t necessarily funding projects but more about enabling field trials and having the appetite for the adoption of new, innovative approaches. Rather than a new widget or technology, it may be a workflow or process.

Additionally, more and more operators are focusing on the total drilling system cost. While they would like to have the lowest-cost technology to lower their finding and development cost, it also has to be reliable. Hopefully, technology that’s reliable will be the technology that’s chosen over simply the cheapest one.

How are you pushing for enhancements in reliability?

The PowerDrive Archer high build-rate rotary steerable system was designed to operate in the high-dogleg environments of North American unconventionals. The BHA was designed not as separate pieces but as an integrated solution.

With the creation of the Drilling Group, we take an integrated approach to do pre-job modeling that leverages the combined expertise of all our resources to optimize the configuration of the BHA.

This also allows us to develop drilling systems. Earlier this year we commercialized the PowerDrive Archer rotary steerable system. Its development was enabled by working closely with Smith Bits to design bits for the rotary steerable system and other elements of the bottomhole assembly that have to be customized. It was designed for the unconventionals in North America, to be able to operate in very high-dogleg environments. This was enabled by the ability to develop drilling systems that are not discrete technologies; it’s more of an entire bottomhole assembly.

As we continue to look at future innovations, there is also a focus on improving the engineering focus on the operation through the creation of PTEC, petrotechnical engineering centers. In the Drilling Group we have a large work force of reservoir engineers, drilling engineers, geomechanical engineers and fluids engineers who are now in these PTECs working together, physically co-located to look at industry challenges. Together they’re working on integrating and putting together the best solutions.
In the past, these solutions would have been done independently. By being together in these centers, our technical work forces are putting together these programs in an integrated fashion.

How many of these centers do you have and how many more will there be?

About 10 were put together this past year, in locations such as Brazil and Saudi Arabia. We’ll end up with a total of nearly 20 located in our geomarkets.

What are the challenges on the deepwater and HPHT front?

The challenges in deepwater go back to reliability. In the deepwater world, you have to have reliable service delivery. This requires employees who are competent and reliable technology. This has always been a focus for us, and now in the post-Macondo world, we have a more concerted effort, especially on competency management.
How are you ensuring that competency when so many employees are young and have little experience?

Training. In the drilling space, we provide training through four centers – in North America, Europe, Russia and the Middle East. We provided about 180,000 training days in 2010 – this isn’t necessarily training associated with deepwater but training in general. The number of students that we have in training at any one day of the year is north of 500. We have a tremendous focus on training; a service company is all about its people.

Where do you see opportunities for our industry to learn from other industries?

Automation and training for sure. The environments where we put our technologies are extremely hostile. The defense and aerospace industries operate in sort of the same hostile environments in terms of specifications for the technologies. We do work with and draw from these industries and apply the technologies, but a lot of people don’t have a good understanding of the harshness of the environments in which we operate in terms of the subsurface. Drilling a well to a total depth of 30,000 ft in extremely high pressures and temperatures is quite challenging in terms of the makeup of the technology.

You cite automation as one area where we can learn from other industries. Do you think we’re behind other industries in applying automation? If so, how can we catch up?
We are behind, and it will just take time. All players in our industry need to continue to invest, and our customers need to have the appetite to be early adopters in the applications of these automation technologies. We will get there.

A PathFinder engineer inspects the Spear shale-optimized steel-body PDC drill bit. In 2007, Schlumberger launched Excellence in Execution, an initiative aimed at strengthening their management approach to enable more effective and efficient drilling in the field. Image courtesy of PathFinder, a Schlumberger company

Do you think operators have to be the ones to drive that automation effort?

No, the service industry has to drive it. That’s not only the service companies such as Schlumberger but also our partners, the drilling contractors.

Schlumberger has done some cutting-edge work in the development of automation for drilling. In your view, what value does automation bring to today’s drilling operations?

I think automation will be geared toward the improvement of drilling efficiency and increasing footage per day. It’s still early days, but we have been applying automation to internal operations on our Integrated Project Management projects. We have large projects in Mexico where we’re applying these techniques and seeing fantastic improvements in rates of penetration. We’re also applying it in our operations in Iraq.

Secondly, although it’s not our primary objective, automation will allow us to gradually de-man the well site. That’s a very long-term objective, but due to talent shortages and the workforce age profile, the need is more urgent.

Do you have a vision of a rig without humans?

No. Just like we won’t get on a plane without a pilot. There’s always going to be a human at the well site. A lot of our customers are focusing on the so-called “factory drilling,” a highly efficient environment, but there will always be humans involved.

Automation is a very broad subject, and we have a lot to learn from industries. For example, look at the automobile industry and the levels of automation they have in their factories. We’re going to have to do a lot of that as our customers push us more and more toward the so-called factory drilling. To go there as an industry, we need out-of-the-box thinking. Look at the drilling machine concept: It’s not necessarily a rig going from well to well. You could have drilling machines doing different tasks in parallel.
Once again, it’s early days, but this whole aspect of the future of drilling is quite exciting.

Is factory drilling the way forward for unconventionals?

Factory drilling is sort of a buzz word now. Certainly it will have a large role to play, but not in all unconventionals. Automation is not a one-size-fits-all answer, and it doesn’t apply to everything today.

But we are introducing science into the drilling world. Ultimately, what I’ve described is all about the introduction of science, and automation is part of that science. We have an industry that has been around for over 100 years and gradually introducing science. There will be these types of disruptive technologies  that will be adopted over time, the way rotary steerables were adopted. Automation will have its day.

PowerDrive Archer and PTEC are marks of Schlumberger.

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