Drilling on a global scale

Weatherford’s Snorre Lutnes examines managed pressure drilling applications across key regions.

MPD deployment. Images from Weatherford.

Once reserved as a last resort for wells defined as undrillable, managed pressure drilling (MPD) is swiftly moving from niche to mainstream use. MPD has demonstrated a strong track record over the past decade, mitigating well control risks while enhancing drilling efficiency and reducing costs. As a result, operators worldwide are recognizing its broad economic and technological value, especially in the high-cost and risky deepwater sector.

Increasingly, adoption of MPD has shifted from the installation of fixed structures to full riser integration, with MPD equipment being retrofitted onto existing rigs or designed into new builds. Making MPD a standard, integrated part of the rig enables operators to preemptively drill challenging deepwater wells safely and cost effectively. For example, operations in Brazil have called on MPD-capable rigs to drill exploratory and appraisal pre-salt wells.

A recent global survey conducted by Welling & Co. on the outlook for MPD sampled the perspectives of nearly 150 national and independent operating companies, as well as drilling contractors, of varying size and scale. The study revealed that 79% of respondents associate MPD as having a high value offering due to its proven ability to eliminate lost circulation, increase wellbore stability, manage losses and control gas influxes. In regions where MPD adoption is more extensive due to inherent geological complexities, the value attributed to MPD rose to nearly 90%.

In another global study of 467 wells applying MPD technology from 2004 through 2015, Weatherford documented a steady increase in the number of global MPD wells and a shift in the type of operations in which the technology was used. Within the 467-well sample, 305 wells were in North America, providing a healthy framework from which to develop of a trend analysis for this region. This analysis helped define MPD application from 2004-2015 into three core categories—required, reactive and proactive. A description detailing each of the core categories can be found below.

  1. Required: Wells/fields determined during planning to be undrillable without the use of MPD technologies.
  2. Reactive: Wells/fields experiencing unplanned events and deferring to MPD as a solution.
  3. Proactive: Wells/fields where MPD is a standard service used to preemptively drill challenging wells and provide cost predictability.

Global growth


Starting with North America, the study showed that MPD was used primarily for undrillable wells from 2004-2007, a category that stabilized at 20% from 2008-2015. The proactive category experienced continuous growth over the 12-year period and quickly overcame the required category as the main MPD driver, accounting for 70% of all study wells during 2012-2015. Meanwhile, the reactive category decreased gradually from 26% to 10%, yet another indication of the growing rate of MPD adopters.

These core adoption classification categories can also be used to understand the application of MPD across other regions as well. For example, Asia Pacific (APAC) is a major adopter of MPD techniques, due to a widespread need to practice the pressurized mudcap drilling (PMCD) variant of MPD in their predominately offshore operations. Operators in APAC primarily turn to this particular MPD variant as a way to enhance safety and drillability when drilling through total loss zones. For this reason, most MPD wells in this region fall into the required and/or proactive categories.

In the Europe and Caspian Sea (EUCAS) region, many MPD wells are in high pressure/high temperature (HPHT) environments with narrow drilling windows. The primary driver for adoption in this region, which began in 2009 and picked up steam in 2011, was to improve operational safety in these challenging environments. MPD reduces downhole uncertainty and provides the driller with more precise wellbore pressure management to control influxes before they approach a well control level. Further to this point, in 2009-2015 EUCAS experienced a trend of MPD wells that can classified in the proactive category.

Looking at Middle East and North Africa (MENA), another region with a large number of HPHT wells, the study depicts a similar initial trend as North America, with most wells falling into the required category. Sixty-eight percent of the recorded MENA MPD wells were drilled from 2013-2015.

Moving West to Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and beyond, many exploration and production companies are turning to MPD to overcome the geologic complexities inherent in the popular “Golden Triangle,” a deepwater frontier consisting of Brazil’s Santos Basin, the US Gulf of Mexico, and West Africa. In particular, recorded data for the SSA region dates from 2008, and shows more variety, with HPHT and PMCD wells on land and offshore. With HPHT wells becoming increasingly common as industry drills deeper and more complex reservoirs, it makes sense that the data would align accordingly to show that most of the SSA wells in the study were drilled in the past few years and fall into the proactive category.

Despite the industry’s adverse economic climate, both studies demonstrate that operators and drilling contractors globally are continually seeking technologies that improve safety and operational efficiency, poising MPD to expand beyond deepwater and pre-salt frontiers and become a standard drilling practice in a variety of fields worldwide.

Snorre Lutnes
is regional engineering manager for Secure Drilling Services at Weatherford. In this role, he oversees the company’s MPD services and engineers in Sub-Saharan Africa. He holds a Master of Science in petroleum technology, and has worked in the North Sea, the Gulf of Guinea, and the east Mediterranean before moving to his current office in Cape Town, South Africa.

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