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UK flag Well Operator for Hurricane Energy, United Kingdom

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Client: Hurricane Energy plc

Location: West of Shetland, UKCS

Scope: Well Operator, including well engineering and project management services


Petrofac and Hurricane Energy are collaborating in the delivery of a fast-track development of a frontier basin West of Shetland. The project has included a four well drilling campaign, for which Petrofac acted as Well Operator. This represents the first instance of an outsourced Well Operator delivering a drilling campaign in the UKCS, under new regulations set by the Offshore Safety Directive Regulator.

Petrofac took on responsibility for all exploration, appraisal and development well activities on Hurricane Energy’s licences – with drilling of the four well programme commencing at the Lancaster field on 6 July 2016. By working closely together, Petrofac and Hurricane Energy were able to complete the programme within a significantly shorter timeline than would be typical, and within budget.

We offered this service through our newly developed outsourced Service Operator Model, which combines the responsibilities of Installation Operator, Pipeline Operator and Well Operator, to support independent operators in the UKCS.

For Hurricane Energy, we supplemented their own capability under this model, through owning the well design and construction process, managing key risks and delivering technical innovation and value from the supply chain.

Petrofac’s collaboration with Hurricane Energy has been, and will continue to be, critical in developing the Lancaster field and the company’s broader Rona Ridge assets. The area has proven to include a number of substantial discoveries. Following the latest four well programme, Hurricane Energy announced independently assessed reserves and contingent resources of 2.6 billion barrels of oil equivalent across its West of Shetland assets. Bringing such a large resource base to production is proving to be a substantial development.

Compressed timelines

A compressed schedule added to the complexity of the project and required an unusual level of collaboration between parties.  This included:

  • Team building activities to develop a one team approach
  • Regular and frequent communications
  • Significant pre-planning

Through this approach we significantly reduced the typical timelines per well for the concept design, and detailed planning and sub-contracting phases. This included the following reductions:

  Typical timelines per well Timelines achieved wells 1-2 Timelines achieved wells 3-4
Concept design 4 months 1 month 1 month
Detailed planning and sub-contracting 6 months 3 months 1-2 months

Challenging conditions

Hurricane Energy specialises in fractured basement reservoirs, a reservoir type in production in a number of oil regions globally but not yet established as a producing horizon in the UKCS. Unlike sandstone reservoirs, which hold hydrocarbons in the pore spaces between the sand grains, fractured basement reservoirs are primarily composed of granite and the oil is found in the fractures and fault zones within it.

Drilling this reservoir posed some technical challenges which included:

  • The potential for significant drilling fluid losses in the highly fractured reservoir if using a conventional overbalanced fluid system
  • Logistical and engineering challenges from a combination of electrical submersible pumps (ESPs) in a drill stem test bottom hole assembly (BHA) from a floating rig
  • Generation of highly abrasive material and changeable drill string dynamics when drilling within the faulted granite basement formation, challenging the integrity of downhole tooling and the longevity of drill bits

Operating in the West of Shetland region also posed its own challenges, including:

  • Proximity to sites of environmental interest with significant marine life in the area
  • An exceptionally hard top hole formation, with many glacial deposited boulders to be drilled
  • Challenging metocean (wind, wave and climate) conditions, particularly given operations took place over winter

Collaborative solutions

Petrofac’s teams have worked closely with Hurricane Energy to mitigate many of the challenges faced.  Key to managing the project has been WellAtlas®, our well management software which is improving communication and fulfilment of critical assurance steps.

The software is enabling a collaborative approach to project delivery in the key areas of scheduling, risk management, multi-discipline collaborative action tracking, lessons learned, and access to management systems and well files. With the help of WellAtlas®, key assurance tasks and activities are retained despite the compressed schedule.

We supported Hurricane Energy to secure the services of a highly sophisticated drilling rig that, in normal circumstances, might not have been affordable or available for this type of drilling campaign. The stability, large storage and dual activity capability of this sixth generation semi-submersible rig meant that efficient drilling operations could be realised.

An incentivised approach to supply chain contracts also contributed toward a reduction of well costs by approximately 20%, compared to original budgets. The ambitious drilling programme was therefore delivered within the overall budget; despite adverse winter weather.

Other project specific solutions to date have included:

  • Working closely with the client’s nominated environmental consultancy to develop and roll out a management plan to communicate the environmental aspects of the wells
  • Instigating a density management plan to control drilling fluid density as close to the reservoir pressure as practicable
  • Developing and deploying various loss management strategies throughout the operations
  • Involving the rig contractor in all operational risk assessments
  • Examining existing inspection reports and developing a bespoke acceptance plan to address the requirements of these challenging wells
  • Working closely with the Regulator and accommodating multiple Authority inspections, which ensured parallel permit reviews were secured without long delays from submitting Well Operator applications for each well one after the other
  • Reviewing well records with the directional drilling contractor to create a programme to manage the bit life and BHA configuration to achieve each well’s objectives

Work has been completed on four wells in three fields; two Lancaster wells for appraisal and development, one Lincoln well and one Halifax well. The next task for Hurricane Energy is to progress with its early production system for the Lancaster field, a two well tie-back to an FPSO intended to collect data from the reservoir whilst developing the field and generating cash flow. This first phase of development will use two existing horizontal wells on the field. The company will also continue to explore and appraise its other assets.

With a well-established partnership in place for the next three years, we look forward to supporting the Hurricane Energy journey in a similar manner and across other disciplines and service offerings.

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