A number of drilling records were broken and 17 wells were drilled during the three years West Alpha worked for a consortium of five operators. Photo: Seadrill
Benchmark for efficient drilling
The fastest exploration well in Norway, fastest geological sidetrack, fastest subsea development well and a world-record exploration well sidetrack. The BG lead West Alpha Consortium could be the benchmark to watch for troubled drillers. Recipe for success: working closely together and pursuing "safe efficiency".
Embarking on a 17-well exploration, appraisal and development campaign offshore Norway in 2009-2012, there was no lack of challenges for the five-operator rig consortium established by Rig Management Norway, and for rig contractor Seadrill: a varied drilling programme, including high pressure, high temperature, environmentally sensitive areas, harsh weather and high-angle sidetracks in problematic shales. And yet a number of drilling records were set, with improvements of up to 40 per cent. On top of that, 1 000 days free of lost-time incidents (LTI) were achieved.
"It was very much about communicating and working well together within a consortium model where the members had more control than was the case in most other consortiums at the time,” says Mark Cockram, BG's chief subsea well engineer. “At the start of the consortium, each operator wanted their own contracts, their own people on the rig and their own procedures. I felt this would be very inefficient and disruptive to the offshore team. BG took the first step by offering up our people, contracts and processes in an open-book manner, and worked on commercial modelling to show how much could potentially be saved."
He adds that the contractor/operator relationship, particularly around the rig, was a key to the success. "Our industry is very cyclical and I have seen over the years how battles over rig rates have led to a mentality of trying to make up for periods of hardship by squeezing even harder back, when one or the other got the upper hand. We recognised that we needed to improve. In this consortium, the common theme was collaboration, overcoming the stereotypes and truly working together at a personal level.”
TRUST AND SAFE EFFICIENCY
"I remember, though, it took some time to realise that we, as operator, actually wanted to work with the rig contractor by giving the rig time for maintenance, support training and development, paying for enhancements to the rig which would benefit performance, etc, and I'm certain there were examples of lack of trust on both sides,” adds Cockram. “But once trust was established, the rest was easy."
A notable negative perception by the rig crew prior to working for five different operators was of a complete shift at every rig transfer: different operator and operating philosophy, safety values, service companies and so forth.
Such concerns were addressed and interfaces were simplified over the entire programme. Consortium operators and rig-based personnel met in workshops and regular meetings to highlight concerns, to discuss the schedule and not least to put in place a strategy for delivering "safe efficiency".
"This term became a theme for the entire campaign and one that the team would often refer back to," Cockram recalls. He explains that the term came about during an early multi-operator/contractor consortium workshop on how to address the varied work scope. The term was a suggestion from one of the offshore drilling supervisors. "It captured the intent that we would plan every activity around safety and efficiency, rather than being goal driven. There had been a history on the rig of 'stopwatch engineering', where activities were purely planned and benchmarked on a minute-by-minute basis."
“In this consortium, the common theme was collaboration, overcoming the stereotypes and truly working together at a personal level.”
The first challenge to address was that of supplier continuity. "As lead operator, BG suggested synergies could be achieved and value gained by joint tendering. After lengthy discussions, we agreed that the entire three-year programme would benefit from some fundamental building blocks put in place before rig intake," says Cockram and lists these as follows.
BRIDGING OPERATORS AND RIG SLOTS
A strong operator/contractor relationship was a key success factor, not least because one side of the relationship consisted of five consecutive operators. This could easily lead to a singular focus by the drilling contractor on the on-going operation to the detriment of efficient planning of the next. To address the issue, BG and Seadrill assigned one of the rig toolpushers to the operator's onshore planning team, in part to provide rig information to the current operator. Shortly before moving the rig to the next slot and operator, the toolpusher attended the handover meeting and then moved to the next operator's organisation.
"The same person would be key to a learning process from one well and operator to the next," Cockram explains. “Both operator and contractor gained a lot of value from this role. For the contractor, it gave rig crew members an insight into the well planning, while the operator gained valuable insights into the challenges and opportunities with this particular rig and an ability to establish networks with the rig ahead of the next well.”.
He adds that senior management on both sides played a very important role. Pre-drill senior management meetings with the CEOs of the rig contractor and service companies set shared goals for safe and efficient operations. These goals were then communicated throughout the programme from all service companies to members of their teams, Cockram says.
To further ensure learning and improvement, a rig contractor "optimiser", usually a driller or assistant driller, was embedded in the operator team on the rig, to monitor and improve operational planning and performance. A "master action register" was developed to capture the key lessons learned and on-going issues with the rig.
MEETINGS WITHOUT HIERARCHY
Asked how the new thinking manifested itself in daily work, Cockram said a communications protocol was developed which led the operator's senior onshore staff to discussing operational issues with the rig contractor and service company crews as part of an integrated team. "No hierarchy, no client superiority, equally applied when things went well and during operational difficulties," Cockram recalls. “And we were never focusing on performance alone. Morning calls and meetings revolved around the steps required to operate safely and efficiently. Metres per hour or days ahead of curves were never discussed in these meetings. And we quickly turned failures into challenges which the team solved together.”
Key elements in learning from the three-year campaign were transferred into a BG UK operation, where improved safety and operational performance was recognised within weeks. And the same principles are now being successfully employed in other BG operations. Optimisers and "onshore toolpushers" are also being worked into many of the rig contractor's global operations. The selected consortium management company runs other rig consortiums in Norway, which are also implementing lessons learnt from this operation.
When asked about the speed of the fastest exploration well in Norway, Cockram says it took 9.8 days from spud to 2 470 metres. “Let me add that rig uptime for the whole campaign was 98 per cent. And it must not be forgotten that considerable cost was saved – USD 50-60 million for BG alone."
The West Alpha Consortium: BG Group (lead operator), Centrica, Suncor, Nexen and Noreco.
Rig contractor: Seadrill
Consortium management company: Rig Management Norway
Rig: West Alpha (third generation)
All-inclusive rig operating rates: around USD 1 million per day
Fastest exploration well in Norway: 9.8 days from spud to 2 470 metres
Fastest geological sidetrack in Norway: 2 044 metres in 3.4 days and one run
Fastest subsea development well in Norway: 4 186 metres in 24 days
World-record exploration well sidetrack: 2 813 metres long