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An Overview of Offshore Drilling

Research · May 2016

DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.1.4830.5520


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Krishna Chaturvedi
Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Petroleum Technology


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Mr. Vamsi Krishna

Dept. of Petroleum Engineering and Earth Sciences,
UPES, Dehradun.

Priya Sihag (R870210003)
We consume more than 80 million barrels of the stuff every day [source: CIA]. To meet our ravenous
demand for fossil fuels, petroleum companies constantly comb the planet for new reserves. Since
oceans cover nearly three-quarters of Earth's surface, a great deal of those reserves wind up

Reaching these undersea drilling sites poses quite a challenge. After all, drilling on land is an undertaking
on its own. How do you drill in lightless oce-an depths and transport all that liquid, gas and solid
petroleum back to the surface? -How do you keep from polluting the ocean? And how do you do all of
this, with tons of special equipment, in the middle of rough seas?

To surmount these obstacles, petroleum companies have invested billions into the development of
offshore drilling and offshore oil platforms. The first of these platforms was constructed in 1897 at the
end of a wharf in California. In the years to follow, oil prospectors pushed out into the ocean, first on
piers and then on artificial islands. In 1928, a Texan oilman unveiled the first mobile oil platform for
drilling in wetlands. The structure was little more than a barge with a drilling outfit mounted on top, but
it set the example for decades of advancements to come.

In the years that followed, petroleum companies moved even farther into the ocean. In 1947, a
consortium of oil companies built the first platform that you couldn't see from land in the Gulf of
Mexico. Even the North Sea, which endures nearly constant inclement weather, is currently home to
many offshore drilling sites.

Today's oil rigs are truly gigantic structures. Some are basically floating cities, employing and housing
hundreds of people. Other massive production facilities sit atop undersea towers that descend as far as
4,000 feet (1,219 meters) into the depths -- taller than the world's most ambitious skyscrapers. In an
effort to sustain their fossil fuel dependency, humans have built some of the largest floating structures
on Earth.

Drilling Ahead-
In a broad sense, operators drill two basic types of wells-exploratory (to find new oil or gas deposits) and
development (to prepare the discovery for production). Water depths range from 20 to 400 feet for
jack-up rigs to up to 12,000 feet for semisubmersibles and drillships.

Before drilling an exploratory well, an operator will conduct geologic surveys of an area to determine
the potential for oil or gas deposits and to identify specific targets. The operator then hires a drilling
contractor like Diamond Offshore to drill exploratory ("wildcat") wells offshore. The oil company
chooses the location and supervises the operation, which may take as little as 15 days or as long as 12
months, of round-the-clock, seven-days-per-week operation to drill a single well depending on the
complexity of the project.
Offshore rigs are designed for efficiency in living and working, with emphasis on keeping the rig steady
in gulf or ocean waters.

Offshore wells are drilled in much the same way as their onshore counterparts-with several allowances
for the offshore environment. A conduit made from lengths of steel pipe permits drilling fluids to move
between the rig-at the water's surface-and the sea floor. This conduit is called a "riser." The riser is fitted
with ball-and-slip joints that permit the long string of riser pipe to move up and down and bend slightly
with the wave-induced movement of the rig.

The well is drilled using a length of slender steel pipes and other tools that, connected, comprise a "drill
string." At the bottom of the string of pipes is a hole-boring device called a "drill bit." Heavy sections of
pipe, called "drill collars," add weight and stability to the drill bit. Each ordinary pipe in the string is
about 30 feet long and weighs about 600 pounds; drill collars can weigh 4,000 Pounds or more per 30-
foot length.
As drilling proceeds, and the well gets deeper, the drilling crew adds new sections of drill pipe to the
ever-lengthening drill string. Hydraulic devices keep constant tension on the drill string to prevent the
motion of the rig and riser from being transmitted to the drill bit.

The drill string is lowered through the riser to the sea floor, passing through a system of safety valves
called a "blowout preventer". This is a stack of multiple safety valves is designed to contain any natural
pressures that the drillers might encounter beneath the Earth's surface. Its purpose is to prevent a
possible "blowout"-an uncontrolled eruption of oil, gas or wellbore fluids due to excessive natural

To ensure accurate drilling, engineers connect the drill site to the platform with a subsea drilling
template. While the design may vary depending on the exact ocean floor conditions, the drilling
template basically resembles a large metal box with holes in it to mark the site of each production well.

Since production wells often have to sink miles into the Earth's crust, the drill itself consists mostly of
multiple 30-foot (9.1-meter) drill pipes screwed together, called a drill string. They're much like tent
poles in this respect. A turntable on the platform rotates the drill string and, at the other end, a drill bit
grinds through the Earth. The drill bit generally consists of either a rotating bit embedded with industrial
diamonds or a trio of rotating, interlocking bits with steel teeth. In the weeks or months it takes to reach
the oil deposit, the bit may dull and require replacement. Between the platform and the ocean floor, all
of this equipment descends through a flexible tube called a marine riser.

As the boring hole descends deeper into the ground, operators send a constant flow of drilling mud
down to the drill bit, which then flows back up to the platform. This thick, viscous fluid consists of clay,
water, barite and a mixture of special chemicals. The drilling mud lubricates the drill bit, seals the wall of
the well and controls pressure inside the well. Also, as the drill bit shreds rock, the resulting fragments
become suspended in the mud and leave the well in the rising, return flow. On the surface, a circulation
system filters the mud before sending it back down the well.

The drilling mud acts as the first line of defense against high, subterranean pressures, but there's still a
high risk of a blowout of fluid from the well. To handle these events, petroleum companies install a
blowout prevention system (BOP) on the seafloor. If pressurized oil and gas gush up the well, the BOP
will seal the well with hydraulic valves and rams. It will then reroute the surging well fluids into specially
designed containment systems.
The drilling process itself occurs in phases. The initial surface hole, with a diameter of about 18 inches
(46 centimeters) descends from several hundred to several thousand feet. At this point, engineers
remove the drill string and send down hollow segments of metal pipe called casing. Once cemented into
place, this conductor pipe barrier lines the hole and prevents leaks and caving. For the next phase, a 12-
inch (30-centimeter) drill bit digs the well even deeper. Then, the drill string is again removed so surface
casing can be installed. Finally, an 8-inch (20-centimeter) bit bores the rest of the way to the petroleum
deposit. This final stretch is called the bottom hole, and is lined with intermediate casing. Throughout
this process, a device called a packer travels down the well, expanding against the walls to ensure
everything is sealed.

Problems with cementing fluids in Offshore Industry-

1. Long thickening times

2. Slow compressive strength development
3. Unpredictable gel strength development
4. Temperature prediction


1. Provide Structural Support
– Resistance to buckling and casing wear
– Foundation for deeper strings of casing
2. Obtain a Competent Hydraulic Seal
– No fluid migration behind casing
– Seal off shallow gas/water flow zones
3. Short WOC
– Despite cold temperature


Federal regulators give drillers a free hand in this crucial safety step -- another example of lax regulation
regarding events leading up to the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.

Federal regulators don't regulate what type of cement is used, leaving it up to oil and gas companies.
The drillers are urged to simply follow guidelines of the American Petroleum Institute, an industry trade

Far more stringent federal and state standards and controls exist on cement work for roads, bridges and

While the chain of failures on Deepwater Horizon is under investigation, rig owner Transocean has
singled out cement work as one likely fundamental cause of the blowout.

Even before Transocean pointed to cementing, independent experts suspected it partly because faulty
cement work -- either badly mixed or poorly placed against well walls -- is so prevalent at offshore wells.

An AP review of federal accident and incident reports on offshore wells shows that the cementing
process has been implicated at least 34 times since 1978. Many of the reports, available from the U.S.
Minerals Management Service that regulates offshore wells, identify the cause simply as "poor cement

Deepwater wells pose special challenges: severe pressures and temperatures, as well as the need for
specialized equipment and lots of cement. The wellhead of the Deepwater Horizon operation sat on the
ocean floor, nearly a mile from the surface. The drill hole itself went another 13,000 feet into rock.

All cement begins as slurry with cement flakes and water. Contractors then add ingredients to make the
cement set at the right time and to keep out gas and oil.

There are three major U.S. cementing companies: Halliburton, Schlumberger and BJ Services. Cementing
is typically performed by such rig contractors as part of a broad range of drilling services that they

Halliburton, which had the Deepwater Horizon job, mixes in nitrogen to make its slurry more elastic. The
nitrogen also helps create lightweight cement that resembles a gray foamy mousse and bonds better to
the casing.
But the recipe also depends on the job, because cement must respond to varying pressures and
temperatures. Cement contractors work closely with oil and gas companies on the formulas for
individual wells. The oil and gas companies have the final say on what is used.

Once the consistency of the mix is decided on, it is pumped deep into the well, where it first sinks to the
bottom and then oozes upward to fill the narrow spaces between the steel casing pipe and rock walls.
When the cement sets, the casing and cement are supposed to form an impenetrable wall to keep gas
or oil from pushing into the hole anywhere but the bottom, where its flow up the pipe can be controlled.
But if gas bubbles invade the setting cement, they can form a channel for pressurized gas and oil to
surge uncontrollably up the well, usually around the casing. The cement must be strong enough to
withstand up to 5,000 pounds of pressure per square inch, to keep the well walls from collapsing.
Cement is often squeezed in later to try to fill gaps, but the success rate of this remedial work is low.
And if cement was part of the cause of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, it also could be part of the

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