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Thigpen: Transocean working on shear ram that can shear anything in the wellbore

By Linda Hsieh, Editor & Publisher

Transocean is working with a company called Kinetic Pressure Control to develop and deploy a shear ram based on military-grade ballistics that will shear anything that is put across the wellbore. More than a blowout preventer, Jeremy Thigpen, Transocean President and CEO, called this tool “a blowout stopper” and said it is a top priority within the organization. “Talk about your ultimate insurance policy,” Mr Thigpen said at the 2019 Offshore Technology Conference on 7 May. The technology, called aShear, has been tested on surface at smaller diameters and works in conjunction with Transocean’s proprietary subsea pump system.

Technologies like aShear are among multiple innovations that Transocean is pursuing to make offshore projects more competitive with shales, which are simpler and lower risk and generate cash more quickly. However, the volumes of reserves that can be found offshore are exponentially larger, and significant progress has been made to increase offshore projects’ viability over the past few years. Mr Thigpen pointed to average breakevens for offshore projects, which is now down to $43, compared with $64 about three years ago. The number of offshore FIDs have also increased over the same period, up to an expected 119 this year compared with 44 in 2016.

Transocean is working on a technology aShear, based on military-grade ballistics, that can shear anything in a wellbore, said Jeremy Thigpen, Transocean President and CEO, at the 2019 OTC on 7 May.

Another innovation in development at Transocean is Enhanced Kick Detection, on which the company is collaborating with Norway-based Enhanced Drilling for pilot deployments. “It’s a combination of hardware and software, and it’s a bit of an offshoot of managed pressure drilling,” Mr Thigpen said. “What we really like about it is that it’s less invasive than what you see in managed pressure drilling technology today – meaning you can rig it up and down pretty quickly and cost effectively. It doesn’t really get in the way of your drilling and completion operations.” The focus of the technology, as the name implies, is to recognize an influx into the wellbore earlier so action can be taken to prevent the incident from escalating.

“It’s also designed to be lower cost,” Mr Thigpen explained. “It’s something that you can install and actually run full time on your rig, whereas today managed pressure drilling is very much used intermittently. So it’s not MPD, but we think it gives us similar capabilities.”

Automated Drilling Control (ADC) is yet another innovation that Transocean is working on, in collaboration with Equinor. It pulls together various technologies available on the market today, including National Oilwell Varco’s Intelliserv wired drill pipe, which transmits downhole data to surface at up to 57,000 bits/sec. “We’ve got multiple software packages on the surface to interpret that data, turn it into something that we can use,” he said. A control system is also being layered in to manipulate the drilling equipment package.

“Basically what you can do is take real-time downhole data, shoot it to the surface and instantly and automatically impact pump pressure, weight on bit and torque,” Mr Thigpen added, noting that the system has already been operating for a year on one of Transocean’s rigs in Norway. Using this system, Equinor has seen safety improvements due to early kick detection, as well as performance improvements in drilling efficiency. Looking at offset well data, “in some sections of these wells, they’re drilling 30% faster than they have historically,” he said, adding that Transocean is recouping its investment in the ADC systems through performance bonuses.

Other innovative technologies that Mr Thigpen mentioned include:

  • A 20k drillship package, which Transocean is working to deliver to Chevron. The contract for rig design and construction management, as well as a five-year drilling contract, was announced in December 2018. “Not only is it a 20,000-psi well control system, but you’re looking at 3 million lbs of load and a 10,000-psi mud system. It’s got all the bells and whistles. This is the best rig in the world, and it’s going to give our customers the opportunity to access reserves they never thought possible in the past.” Beyond Chevron, several operators have also approached Transocean to explore similar opportunities, Mr Thigpen said.
  • A hybrid power package, where a battery reserve works directly on each thruster. The package has been installed on the Transocean Spitsbergen, working for Equinor in Norway. “It helps us to better manage our power more efficiently and more reliably,” he said. Key benefits are reduced engine loads, reduced fuel consumption and reduced carbon footprint.
  • Halo Guard, a solution to keep equipment from harming personnel by using a combination of sensors and cameras. Personnel are equipped with vests that have sensors, which activate when an individual gets into designated yellow zones. If an individual moves into a red zone, the equipment actually shuts down automatically. “We think this could be an absolute game changer on our rigs,” Mr Thigpen said, noting that a pilot program for this technology is under way.
  • Remote monitoring prognostics, which is important for removing people from the rig. “Many of our customers have told us that, for each role you can eliminate from the rig, it saves them $1 million a year, because each role is really four people. Think about logistics, catering and insurance, and it can really add up for our customers.” Having subject matter experts in onshore centers will allow companies to provide more consistent and reliable information and service to multiple rigs in a much more cost-efficient way, he said. “I think we’re just scratching the surface at this point in time, but there are some really good opportunities to drive performance improvements and continue to reduce cost.”
  • Data and health prognostics that help drilling contractors to predict equipment failures. “If you can plan your maintenance and take care of these issues before something actually breaks down, obviously you’ve increased your up time, you save yourself a lot of cost and time and heartbreak. If we continue to make advancements in this particular area, we think we’re going to continue to drive improvements and reliability.”

About the author

Linda Hsieh is a graduate of the journalism program at the University of Texas at Austin, where she also completed the Business Foundations program at the U.T. McCombs School of Business and minored in Asian Studies. She has been writing for Drilling Contractor since 2005.


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