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Preemptive, tailored planning key to well control risk management

By Linda Hsieh, managing editor

Early, preemptive and specific risk planning is important to prevent well control incidents, Andy Cuthbert, Boots & Coots, said at the 2014 IADC HSE&T Asia Pacific Conference in Singapore on 2 April.
Early, preemptive and specific risk planning is important to prevent well control incidents, Andy Cuthbert, Boots & Coots, said at the 2014 IADC HSE&T Asia Pacific Conference in Singapore on 2 April.

“Prevention is better than cure” is an ancient saying, but it still applies as well today as it ever did, especially when it comes to well control. “It’s in everyone’s interest that we prevent well control by controlling the risk, rather than having to deal with the consequences,” Andy Cuthbert, Senior Project Manager for Halliburton’s Boots & Coots business, said. In a presentation at the 2014 IADC HSE&T Asia Pacific Conference in Singapore on 2 April, he underlined the importance of taking on early and preemptive risk planning, integrating emergency response teams and learning from each experience.

First, an integrated approach, including all stakeholders and their knowledge, should always be employed as early in the project as possible. This will help to reduce the unpredictability of the project. “I remember back in the day when safety was just an add-on,” Mr Cuthbert recalled. “Nine times out of 10, you complete the job and you do it successfully. On that rare occasion when something went wrong, you may then go back and do some sort of post-analysis… Nowadays of course safety is so ingrained into what we do… It’s a mindset now. I doubt anybody in this room would disagree that having a well thought-out emergency response plan, which includes a well control contingency plan and risk assessment, is vital to what we do today.”

Essentially, there are three main tenets that should be considered as part of any well control risk management, Mr Cuthbert said:

  1. Understanding that probability and impact (consequence) of identified, potential or anticipated risk will carry uncertainty. “There are risks that we can prevent, and there are those that you just don’t know anything about. We just don’t know what we don’t know,” he said.
  2. Design and planning execution before an incident occurs. “Obviously, the longer we’ve been exposed to this industry, the more likely we are to have a greater understanding of how this can be implemented.”
  3. Containment (source control and collection). “If a worst-case scenario does happen, we have to have a means in place to contain the situation.”

Although risk can be defined in many ways, Mr Cuthbert said he defines it as uncertainty. And when it comes to well control, it’s important to prioritize the myriad uncertainties that will be present in any project. A risk matrix – with impact of occurrence on the x-axis and probability of occurrence on the y-axis – can be a useful tool to pinpoint the uncertainties that really matter. “It’s very important not to spend time and effort on those risks that don’t have any impact on the project,” he said.

In risk assessment meetings, sometimes people will try to address every possible risk, but that’s neither possible nor efficient. “They’ll say, ‘Weather – that’s a risk.’ But get them to speak in sentences. Why is weather a risk? Could be that spring is coming and you have the spring thaw and your ice roads will disappear. You have to then start planning for vessels to take equipment out.” Something like this should actually be seen as an opportunity, he added. “Once you go into analysis, you get further details and you can see that risk has both threat on one hand and opportunity on the other hand.”

Further, Mr Cuthbert stressed that the risk assessment has to be specific to the project or the well at hand. “It really does not pay to take an old emergency response plan that you developed five or six years ago and try to superimpose it on a new well or new field,” he said. If you do that, “at best it’s generic, and at worst it has absolutely no relevance at all to your new well.”

Well contingency planning should address the main parameters influencing the risks related to blowouts. These include the well’s surface location, depth of intersection, ranging techniques to be used, and the hydraulic communication as a means to intercept a well. “This is all particular to one well. There’s no use trying to use any of this on subsequent wells. It just doesn’t fit,” he said.

This preemptive approach, where teams are integrated during the planning phase, also will help to streamline contingency procedures, reducing the time between the escalation of the event to the deployment of various response teams. In this preemptive scenario, he said, “the task force is mobilized much earlier. The rig itself starts to get the well under control because they’ve been prepped.”

Finally, lessons learned from each experience should be incorporated to each new risk assessment project so that they are continually evolving for the better. “Are we taking an old emergency response plan, dusting it off and ticking the boxes as far as the regulations are concerned? Or are we incrementally improving our emergency response plans every time we use one in a new situation?”

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