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Maximizing Capital Efficiency by Expanding the Limiter Redesign Process

to Flat Time Operations
M.A.Valenta, M.W.Walker, P.E.Pastusek, J.R.Bailey, W.C.Elks, S.B.Lewis, and N.D.Mitchell, ExxonMobil
Development Company

Copyright 2014, Society of Petroleum Engineers

This paper was prepared for presentation at the SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition held in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 27–29 October 2014.

This paper was selected for presentation by an SPE program committee following review of information contained in an abstract submitted by the author(s). Contents
of the paper have not been reviewed by the Society of Petroleum Engineers and are subject to correction by the author(s). The material does not necessarily reflect
any position of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, its officers, or members. Electronic reproduction, distribution, or storage of any part of this paper without the written
consent of the Society of Petroleum Engineers is prohibited. Permission to reproduce in print is restricted to an abstract of not more than 300 words; illustrations may
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The operator’s drilling efficiency program has been expanded to a Limiter Redesign Process that seeks to
optimize all rig time, including flat time. As drilling efficiency gains have been achieved, flat time now
accounts for roughly 80% of the total rig time and approximately 70% of the total cost of drilling and
completions operations; leaving 20% of rig time for drilling. This fact led to the generation of a
comprehensive Flat Time Reduction (FTR) program.
The Fast Drill Process has become a well-known workflow to identify hole-making limiters and
mitigate them through “relentless redesign to the economic limit of performance”. Efforts to increase
drilling efficiency continue, and this process has yielded a continuous increase in the overall footage per
day and a reduction in flat time within individual hole sections.
To address operations that do not include drilling of rock, the operator has launched a similar effort and
workflow process which focuses on “flat time” portions of the well construction process. This has become
a key focal point in the organizations approach to maximize capital efficiency. The Flat Time Reduction
process provides an environment in which operations are optimized while further enhancing a workplace
where “Nobody Gets Hurt.”
This process is yielding significant savings globally and has been accomplished through planning,
“real-time” recognition and response, collaboration with service providers, and a focus on Non-Productive
Time (NPT) reduction while continuously improving safety performance. Field applications of limiter
redesign are discussed in this paper. The purpose of this paper is to present the current status and specific
approaches being used to reduce flat time and share the workflow process.

Evolution of the Fast Drill Process

In 2004, the operator started a pilot program to determine if drilling performance could be improved by
analyzing and reacting to trends in Mechanical Specific Energy (MSE)1, 2, 3 by rig site personnel on a real
time basis. MSE is a performance measurement parameter that approximates the bit’s drilling efficiency
and is a function of the weight-on-bit (WOB), surface torque, bit rotation per revolution (RPM) and the
rate of penetration (ROP) for a given hole size. When the bit is drilling efficiently, MSE will be steady
and will approximate the rock’s confined compressive strength. When dysfunction occurs, MSE increases
2 SPE-170751-MS

Figure 1—Limiter Redesign Process

dramatically and typically becomes very erratic. The results of the pilot program confirmed that
significant ROP performance gains could be obtained simply by monitoring MSE trends and adjusting the
drilling parameters (WOB & RPM) at the rig site to minimize MSE. This process was deployed by the
operator in 2005 and is known in the industry as the Fast Drill Process (FDP)4.
The operator implemented and refined this workflow to improve drill rate performance throughout the
operator’s worldwide drilling operations5, 6. This workflow follows a plan-do-analyze-improve cycle to
identify and overcome limiters in the drilling operation as outlined in Fig. 1. The Key elements of the
Limiter Redesign Process™ are:
● Identify the current limiter
● Plan to extend the limiter
● Identify risks with change
● Plan to mitigate risks
● Run trial and take data
● Adjust trial based on real time events
● Capture learnings
● Repeat the cycle to the economic limit
MSE surveillance plays an important role in the process as it helps identify drilling dysfunctions. Most
of the early limiters were related to bit design and drilling mechanics issues such as: vibrations,
bottom-hole balling, and bit balling. Worldwide drilling performance increased by approximately 43% in
footage per day in the first two years. However, by 2007 performance gains had started to plateau, as
shown in Fig. 2. Maximum downhole motor differential rating, improving hole quality, and maximum
available bit weight became limiters.
Continued performance improvement needed to address limiters that were not just a function of
adjusting WOB and RPM. An internal study revealed that major non-productive time (NPT) events were
usually preceded by near misses such as pack-offs, tight hole, and/or cavings. In addition, this study
showed that the flattening trend was associated with non-bit limiters, primarily borehole quality and
self-induced hole cleaning ROP limits in high angle soft rock formations7-11. Identification of these
non-bit limiters, near misses, and their root causes lead to the expansion of the Fast Drill Process to
include Borehole Management limiters. Internally the Limiter Redesign Process was renamed Fast Drill
SPE-170751-MS 3

Figure 2—Evolution of Fast Drill to FDBM

Borehole Management (FDBM). The new expanded objective was to improve borehole quality and
address near misses in both the upfront drilling design process and in real time drilling operations.
The FDBM initiative was the continued evolution of the Fast Drill Process. Research and field trials
confirmed that poor borehole quality12-18 (enlargement, borehole patterns, hole out of round, ledges, etc.)
contributed significantly to drilling dysfunction and inadequate hole cleaning. A major factor was
wellbore instability induced hole enlargement19. To mitigate this required adopting a “maximum mud
weight philosophy” with a focus on finding and fixing the limiters/risks that come with the new mud
weight approach20.
The FDBM initiative also required a “rethinking” of operational procedures related to connection
practices and the definition of effective hole cleaning while drilling. Changing the connection practices
occurred fairly quickly. Many of these changes (reducing rotary speed prior to coming off-bottom,
minimal-to-no backreaming, minimal circulation, reduced Torque & Drag data gathering frequency, etc.)
were initiated by drill teams in field trials that challenged the normal accepted practice.
Changing the hole cleaning philosophy from: “a clean hole is the #1 priority” to, “drill at ROPs that
create a maximum sustainable cuttings bed height”, was more of an organizational challenge. The
philosophy behind “maximum sustainable ROP” is to drill at the fastest ROP that still provides for a stable
cuttings bed height (i.e. no pack-offs) and where the drilling ECD does not exceed the fracture gradient.
To achieve the maximum sustainable ROP requires a quality borehole with minimal oversize. This was
especially important in high angle soft rock formations where wellbore instability routinely limits the
drilling performance.
Adoption of the new connection practices, new hole cleaning philosophy, maximum mud weight and
mitigating vibrations broke the flattening footage per day trend. Over the next four years footage per day
increased another 40⫹%.
By 2011, seven years since the initial FDP trial process, the footage per day performance had improved
90% worldwide, Fig. 2. By this time “drilling” typically accounted for approximately 20% of the total rig
time. The remaining ~80% was used for performing “flat time operations” (i.e. testing BOPs, logging,
running casing, running riser, completing, etc.). Rethinking of all the tasks that are required of a drill rig
led the operator to focus on Flat Time.
To address this, a “Flat Time Reduction” initiative was rolled out in 2011 to focus on non-drilling
events. The Limiter Redesign Process was well established in the organization, contractors and service
personnel, and its success made it a prime methodology to help reduce flat time operations. The original
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Figure 3—Limiter Redesign Process Umbrella

Figure 4 —Drilling Cost savings from the Limiter Redesign Process

Fast Drill Process continues to expand and evolve, and now Flat Time Reduction and Fast Drill Borehole
Management share the same “relentless redesign” workflow and reside together under the Limiter
Redesign Process umbrella, Fig. 3.
When focusing on Fast Drill, the question asked is “What limits us from increasing footage per day?”
When focusing on Flat Time the question is “What limits decreasing the overall days per well?” Within
Flat Time Reduction, focus areas include but are not limited to: critical analysis of current procedures,
examining critical path operations, rig capability analysis, performing field trials of new technologies,
performance stewardship, and recognition and rewards programs.
Since flat time operations do not produce footage drilled, the global metric for measuring the effect of
the process needed to change. The common metric for all rig operations is reduction in drilling cost. The
cost savings trends which have been realized since the start of the Fast Drill Process is shown in Fig. 4.
The next section of this paper will discuss the organization that achieved these results.
Limiter Redesign Process Network
In 2005, a network of “Champions” from the global drill teams was established to promote sharing of Fast
Drill initiatives across the organization. Since the focus has expanded to include all rig operations, the
Champions now focus on all limiters (Fast Drill, Borehole Management and Flat Time) and are supported
by senior technical professionals and subject matter experts. Each Champion is responsible for staying
abreast of global initiatives, driving change within the teams, mentor on the workflow and share initiatives
with the other Champions. They are a conduit of knowledge relaying information from the network to
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Figure 5—Days vs. Depth Chart

their drill team and from their drill team to the network. While there are designated individuals assigned
to the Limiter Redesign Process Network, everyone on a drill team is encouraged to share their ideas and
question the base assumption of the drill well design. Proactively, the senior technical professionals and
subject matter experts are involved in the network to facilitate cross collaboration, provide training, and
promote the Limiter Redesign workflow.
The strength of the network is built on the participation of individuals on drill teams and the
information shared. There are several tools/avenues used to promote a culture of open knowledge sharing,
to transfer knowledge across the organization and to serve as a platform to spread knowledge more
efficiently. Some of the tools include a central database of Flat Time Reduction initiatives, a quarterly
Drilling Limiter Redesign Process Newsletter, monthly global teleconferences and an annual Limiter
Redesign Conference. The Limiter Redesign Process is engrained in the organization and has become the
way work is performed, both while drilling and in flat time operations. The Limiter Redesign Process
Network is supported by all levels of management through the proven ability to help 1) maximize the
value of every dollar spent, 2) to assist in identifying the value of the risk versus the benefit and 3) to
promote safety and efficiency. This is done by promoting new technology and eliminating risk exposure
to rig personnel by “Engineering out the Hurt.”
Definition of Flat Time Reduction
To fully appreciate the opportunity for improvement in flat time operations, it is important to understand
the operator’s definition of Flat Time. Flat time can best be described on a Days vs. Depth curve as all
Drilling stewarded time outside the Fast Drill Metric. In Fig. 5, the Flat Time is represented by the red
lines where there is a plateau in progress (depth). The Fast Drill Metric starts after a successful integrity
test and ends upon reaching section TD as depicted by the blue lines in Fig. 5. Although there may be
plateau times or periods where no progress (depth) was made within the Fast Drill time, these are not
considered part of the Flat Time metric. Any plateau time which occurs between an integrity test and
section TD is considered part of the Fast Drill metric. The operator has chosen to define the metrics as
described above because the plateau times within the Fast Drill Metric are directly related to drilling
performance and doing so simplifies the data extraction from the daily drilling reports, reducing the
chance for error.
When analyzing the data, the objective is to reduce the overall days per well. Categorization of Fast
Drill vs. Flat Time is a convenient way to help sort out priorities, but the objective is not to reach a
specified flat time percentage; reduce rig time and let the percentages fall where they may. It is important
to note that Flat Time should not be confused with NPT; there are essential flat time operations which
6 SPE-170751-MS

Figure 6 —Global Activity Time Breakdown - 2013

must be performed in the well construction process. The goal of Flat Time Reduction is to minimize the
time spent during flat time portions of the well construction process.
The Flat Time Reduction motto is to “Plan Smart, Work Safely”. The objective is to plan and engineer
work smarter, allowing work to be conducted in a safe and more efficient manner. With a focus on
“Engineering out the Hurt”, Drill Teams are empowered to simplify rig operations and implement new
tools or processes which will remove or reduce human intervention. History has shown that safer
operations are often faster. A thoroughly planned operation can eliminate risk, simplify the design and will
not only result in efficiency gains but will likely improve safety. For example, eliminating a casing string
will simplify the well design, require less time to run the string of casing and eliminate all human
intervention required to run that string of casing. Working at a quick pace is not the objective of Flat Time
Reduction; core safety values will not be compromised for speed. Simply performing a single operation
(i.e. making a connection) as quickly as possible will yield small incremental savings and may negatively
impact safety. Instead, the operator has looked for ways to work smarter and more efficiently. A positive
by-product of this initiative has been improved safety awareness as well as performance.
Opportunities for Improvement
Time based data obtained from daily drilling reports are used to identify the greatest opportunities for
improvement and to benchmark against similar operations. Fig. 6 shows a global break down of several
of the major phases required in the well construction process. Note that in 2013 only 23% of the total time
is spent within the Fast Drill Metric. The other 77% of the rig time is spent in flat time. Of the 77% flat
time, 6% is spent performing BOP/Riser and Wellhead operations, 6% is spent on abandonments and slot
reclamation, 11% is spent on mobilizing and demobilizing the rig, 15% of the total time is spent on
completions operations and an additional 17% of the total time is spent running casing and cementing. By
analyzing operations at various levels of granularity, teams are able to identify the areas for improvement.
The objective is to minimize the overall days per well regardless if that time is associated with Fast Drill
or Flat Time. Both reside under the Limiter Redesign Process and contribute to the time reduction of the
overall days per well. Four methods have been developed to date to work on these issues; see Fig. 7.
Four Methods to Maximize Capital Efficiency
The Limiter Redesign Process has produced significant savings globally through four basic methods:
planning, “real-time” recognition and response, collaboration with service providers, and a focus on NPT
reduction, all while continuously improving safety performance and reducing the environmental footprint.
SPE-170751-MS 7

Each Fast Drill or Flat Time Reduction initiative

performed or proposed by a Drill Team fits within
these four methods. Often times a single initiative
may overlap into more than one method which will
be explained below.
The first and perhaps most significant method is
Planning, which has generated a significant portion
of the total savings associated with the Limiter
Redesign Process. Planning is essential and ensures Figure 7—Methods to Maximize Capital Efficiency
delivery of well requirements. Going beyond nor-
mal well planning, the focus has been expanded to
ensure that all operations are evaluated and evolving technologies are fully understood and used where and
when most appropriate. Identification and implementation of new equipment or process limitations are
best identified in the Planning stage. It is most cost effective to implement a change (i.e. auger size
upgrade, completion design, BHA design optimization, etc.) prior to the commencement of the drilling
program. For example, if it is identified that the planned ROP will be limited due to the auger capacity,
then increase the auger size offline, prior to drilling. This would be better than having to shut down the
operation and absorb down time to replace the auger after the program has commenced. During the
planning process and the evaluation of new and emerging technologies, a thorough analysis and risk
assessment is performed on all proposed changes. Cross functional work groups are often involved to
assist in setting expectations and performance agreements.

“Real-Time” Recognition and Response

A second method to maximize capital efficiency is Real Time Recognition and Response, which involves
limiter recognition, surveillance and limiter mitigation in daily operations. Items identified real time may
not have been identified during the planning stage due to a lack of knowledge/awareness or the inability
to recognize the limiter. During drilling, or the Fast Drill portion of the well construction process, Drill
Teams use the tools and knowledge provided in Limiter Redesign training to perform real time analysis
to recognize the ROP limiter (i.e. vibrations, stick-slip, whirl, etc.) and respond to mitigate the limiter.
During the Flat Time portions of the well construction process, various surveillance tools such as a
micro-phase analysis are used to identify Flat Time limiters. The analysis of micro-phases has allowed
Drill Teams to implement new technology which has improved safety and efficiency of the operation
through the reduction or elimination of human intervention. In addition, the operator promotes the use of
the “Idea Card” system. All members of the Drill Team including rig personnel, contractors and service
providers are encouraged to submit ideas which promote safety and efficiency on an “Idea Card.” The
system is similar to the safety card program which encourages personnel to identify hazardous, unsafe or
safe conditions and the action taken to resolve or compliment the observation.

Service Provider Engagement

The third method to maximize capital efficiency is to ensure service providers are actively engaged
through all phases of the well construction process from planning through execution and post well
follow-up. The service providers are encouraged to attend the same Limiter Redesign training that the drill
team members receive. The goal is to ensure they are aligned with the objectives and to make them active
participants in the process. Vendors are also engaged by sharing short and long term technical challenges
through quarterly reviews of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) on product quality, performance,
employee competency, and service delivery.
8 SPE-170751-MS

Figure 8 —Riser Handling Tool

Focus on NPT Reduction

Non-Productive Time (NPT) reduction is the fourth method used to maximize capital efficiency.
Recognizing the need to measure equipment, service quality and Operations Integrity led to a reorgani-
zation of the operator’s quality group which now focuses on three core objectives: year-on-year
improvement of drilling equipment & service quality, driving quality performance/improvement respon-
sibility into service providers, and improving quality performance through global practices and steward-
ship. It is important to track not only failures that produce NPT events, but also ‘near misses’ that could
have produced NPT. Similar to the safety pyramid, there are more near misses than actual events. These
can be mined to produce significant improvements in product performance and service delivery.
The remainder of this paper will cover a few case studies of Fast Drill and Flat Time Reduction
initiatives executed by drill teams in various areas of the world. It may be noted in the examples below
that most of the process and tools described are not unique to one drill team or service company. The key
is to determine what operations can be designed out, done offline, and/or done more efficiently, and then
focus on successful implementation.
Case Studies
Riser Handling Tool (Planning)
The plan for an offshore Australia multi-well development program required numerous subsea Blow-Out
Preventer (BOP) moves to accommodate the base operations as well as provide operational flexibility and
batch operations. To transition from one well to the next at a common subsea drill center, the BOP is
commonly left deployed subsea in order to minimize the work required to land and latch the riser and BOP
stack on the next well. The conventional method requires the use of large equipment (i.e. spider/gimbal)
and the removal of the diverter at surface. A safer and less complex process was desired.
The riser handling tool, shown in Fig. 8 is a component provided by the contractor. The tool was
originally designed for use in the event of an emergency disconnect but a proposal was made to extend
the use of the component’s design. The Drill Team performed an initial evaluation to utilize the tool for
SPE-170751-MS 9

subsea BOP moves which would promote a safer

and more efficient operation. A detailed engineering
analysis was performed to gain alignment with the
contractor and found that the tensile rating of the
Riser Hang-off Assist Tool exceeded the combined
weight of the riser and BOP stack.
The conventional method of BOP hopping re-
quires the handling of heavy equipment, personnel
working at heights in the moon pool, and handling
of the diverter. It also requires the installation of the
spider/gimbal at the rig floor to support the riser/
BOP load. The diverter would then be pulled from
the diverter housing, followed by the rig up of the
riser handling equipment and picking up the riser
landing joint. The next step would be to stroke the
inner barrel and lock the slip joint. Subsea, the BOP Figure 9 —Man riding in the moon pool

stack would now be ready to be unlatched, trans-

ported, landed and latched on to the next wellhead using the riser tensioner system. On surface, the
diverter would be re-installed, seal integrity would be verified and the riser handling equipment would be
rigged down. As evident in Fig. 9 and in the description of the operational sequence above, the
conventional method of performing a subsea BOP move involves large equipment, heavy loads and safety
The implementation of an alternative method utilizing the riser handling tool reduced flat time and
significantly reduced risk to personnel and operational complexity. The tool allows the BOP weight to be
partially transferred to the Top Drive System (TDS) for BOP subsea moves by latching into the outer
barrel without needing to remove the diverter and rig up the landing string. This eliminates man-riding to
lock the slip joint, rigging up riser handling equipment (spider gimbal, landing joint, etc.) and pulling the
diverter. The new procedure is performed as follows. The tool is picked up from its position in the derrick
and run in hole on 6 5/8⬙ Drill Pipe (DP) down into the outer slip joint. The tool engages dogs into the
outer slip joint transferring weight (~350kips) from the marine riser tensioners to the riser handling tool
and TDS to allow for optimal functionality of the Active Heave Drawworks (AHD). After unlatching the
BOP stack, the riser handling tool lifts the outer barrel of the telescopic slip joint, closing the slip joint
and in doing so lifts the BOP stack. Similarly the tool can lower the BOP on the next wellhead utilizing
the AHD, prior to disconnecting the tool and racking it back in the derrick.
The drill team identified the concept, implemented and used it successfully on 8 subsea BOP moves
saving approximately 17 hours in rig time per move. This success has led other drill teams to evaluate the
tool for their use.

Completions Optimization (“Real-Time” Recognition and Response)

Eight new gas development wells were completed between 2012 and 2013 offshore Malaysia in the South
China Sea in a water depth of 65m. Based on a sand strength analysis and the requirement to mitigate fines
migration, the primary reservoir targets required sand control, specifically frac pack technology. To ensure
effective sand placement and maximize reservoir exposure in long frac pack intervals (up to 60m) and in
high angle wells (up to 70 degrees), the frac packs were designed using alternative path screen technology.
Collaboration between multifunctional groups enabled the optimization of the completions strategy for
2 wells. Prior to completion, an open hole production log was performed which led to the re-evaluation
of the completion design. Based on the open hole log interpretation, the original design which required
a stacked frac pack was re-evaluated and optimized to eliminate a zone and required a single zone
10 SPE-170751-MS

Figure 10 —Stacked Frac Pack vs. Single Zone Frac Pack

frac-pack as shown in Fig. 10. The evaluation of the open hole log yielded relatively poorer reservoir
quality in one of the two zones for two of the development wells which did not support the additional
completion costs of a stacked frac-pack. Furthermore, pressure surveys from an offset development well
indicated the potential for balanced depletion of both zones through other offset wells in the development.
By recognizing these facts, the team was able to respond to and simplify the completion design. The
elimination of the second zone allowed for a reduction in manual intervention required to run the
additional completion equipment which improved the safety of the execution and reduced the possibility
for non-productive time by simplifying the completion design. The completion optimization based on
actual results provided capital efficiency savings, maintained initial well deliverability targets and reduced
the development schedule with no impact on reserves capture,. Had the stacked frac pack been installed
as originally planned on the two wells, the flow from the lower zone would have been limited by the
completion system. The key highlight of this optimization was the recognition of the improvement
opportunity and the joint effort between the different functions that enabled the capital savings.

Abandonment of Long Intervals in a Deepwater Well with a Sacrificial Tubing String (Planning)
A deepwater Gulf of Mexico (GOM) well was drilled in 2012 with a planned original hole for appraisal
and then a sidetrack updip for future production. The original hole was drilled with a build and hold
directional profile to a maximum inclination of 52 degrees. Intermediate casing was set at approximately
14, 550 ft. measured depth (MD) and an open hole section of 7, 000 ft. was drilled to a total depth of 21,
550 ft. MD as shown in Fig. 11. The original hole penetrated six hydrocarbon intervals that were not in
pressure communication. The objectives of the original hole abandonment were to safely isolate all
hydrocarbon zones and enable an open hole sidetrack to an updip location.
There are numerous regulations that address abandonment guidelines to ensure proper isolation of
hydrocarbon zones, protection of fresh water areas, and pressure isolation of the wellbore21. Common
practice to install an open hole barrier is to pump a cement plug of sufficient volume to provide isolation
above and below any zones of interest. The plug is balanced by pumping appropriate volumes of spacer
ahead and behind to achieve the equivalent hydrostatic pressure inside and outside of the pipe. Cement
SPE-170751-MS 11

plugs can be verified by tagging the plug with the

work string or pressure testing the plug if it is
brought back above the casing shoe.
Open hole plug lengths are typically limited to
300 ft. – 750 ft. to provide sufficient time for the
work string to be removed from the plug prior to the
cement setting22-24. If intervals longer than 750 ft.
require isolation, multiple smaller plugs are set
which increases the rig time to perform the opera-
tion. For this well, the open hole section would
require up to 11 cement plugs to fully abandon all
intervals. The estimated time associated with the
plug back phase including setting multiple open
hole plugs was 6 days. Therefore, the team elected
to consider other options to efficiently and effec-
tively abandon this hole section.
The proposed solution involved running a 5, 500
ft. long sacrificial cement stinger below a downhole Figure 11—Abandonment schematic for long interval with sacrificial
release sub24. This stinger was run to the bottom of tubing string
the well and cement was pumped across a 5, 700 ft.
interval to isolate all required zones as shown in Fig. 12. The cement was displaced using a dart which
latches into the downhole release sub and forms a pressure seal. This seal allows pressuring up the work
string to 2, 500 psi to release the cement stinger at the release sub. The release of the cement stinger allows
the operator to either circulate cement from around the work string and set additional cement plugs, or pull
the workstring out of the well.
This design replaced multiple cement plug setting operations with one cementing operation and
resulted in several days of rig time savings. Given the criticality of this operation, all of the relevant
aspects of the cement job were considered and engineered to ensure proper isolation.
Use of sacrificial tubing strings can significantly reduce Flat Time associated with abandoning long
open hole intervals and with proper design and planning can meet applicable industry and regulatory
Fast Drill Process Extensions
In parallel with the launch of the Flat Time Reduction effort, technical upgrades to the ongoing Fast Drill
Borehole Management process were underway. Key elements of this drilling efficiency program included
vibration modeling and optimization of the bottom hole assembly (BHA) configuration25-28, bit redesign
and depth of cut control elements29-32, use of larger diameter drill pipe33, and field trials of an active
damping top-drive torque control system34. In addition, a real-time drilling parameter optimization system
was developed to continuously monitor the Mechanical Specific Energy (MSE) while drilling35, 36.
A deepwater Gulf of Mexico (GOM) well was drilled in 2009 in which a hard, abrasive formation was
encountered. Significant rig time was taken (10 days) to drill 400⫹ ft. of this unexpected formation.
Planning for subsequent wells included a dedicated limiter redesign effort to field test new technology. As
seen in Fig. 13, after adjusting time for unrelated activities such as BOP testing, the overall drilling rate
increased from 1.7 ft./hr. on the first well to 13.8 ft./hr. on the most recent well through this formation.
The techniques to achieve this improvement are discussed below.
BHA Design Optimization (Planning)
An ongoing effort within the company to assess the lateral vibration tendencies of alternative BHA design
configurations was applied to the challenge of this drilling interval. This method is described in more
12 SPE-170751-MS

Figure 12—The sacrificial tubing string is run in hole on drill pipe and cemented in place. The tubing is released by pressuring up against the wiper
dart (Rogers 2006).

Figure 13—Steady improvement in drilling results.

detail in SPE papers 139426(25) and 163503(26). Fig. 14 illustrates the BHA configurations used in each
of these wells. Note that the stabilization contact points are different in these designs, and the results of
the modeling program are provided on the right hand side. The BHA Strain Energy is a vibration index
that characterizes the amount of bending energy in the BHA resulting from a certain amount of lateral
excitation that is common to all of the designs.
SPE-170751-MS 13

Figure 14 —BHA designs and corresponding vibration model results.

The vibrations model helped explain the severe component wear seen in Well-1, and Well-2 achieved
the objective of a significant reduction in lateral vibrations. BHA-2 was confirmed to have lower
vibrations at about 90 and 140 RPM than at 120 RPM, but in the hard formation there was significant
stick-slip at the lower speed and there was too much torque at the higher speed. Reducing bit aggres-
siveness and BHA mass were identified upgrades for subsequent runs.
Wells 3 and 4 were drilled at about the same time and both had improved but slightly different results.
Both were shorter BHA designs with lower vibration indices in the 100-140 RPM range than the BHA for
Well-2. BHA-3 had logging while drilling (LWD) tool constraints that generated higher index values at
120 RPM and was therefore run at lower RPM and WOB. BHA-4 included a torsional shock sub that
required higher rotary speeds to be effective. Both of these runs completed the interval in a single trip. The
run in Well-3 actually reached section TD, which included drilling more than 1500 ft. of salt below the
hard interval, with a resulting bit dull grade of 4-4. The run in Well-4 required a bit change after drilling
the hard interval.
The performance of BHA-3 was considered to be better than BHA-4, so it was used as the starting point
for Well-5. A change in the LWD tool suite enabled the contacts to be repositioned to facilitate tuning
BHA-5 for the lowest possible indices at 120 RPM. Fig. 15 illustrates the change in the sweet spot rotary
speed for this BHA design. The BHA Strain Energy vibration index value of less than 0.3 at the sweet spot
rotary speed is considered to be exceptional. A value of 10 is considered to be good, and many prior art
BHA designs exceed 100.
To combat stick slip, Well-5 was the first well to use a full string of 6-5/8-inch drill pipe in this interval.
Well-1 used 5-1/2-inch pipe, Wells 2 and 4 both used a tapered string of 6-5/8 and 5-7/8-inch pipe, and
Well-3 used a full string of 5-7/8-inch pipe. The larger pipe provided up to twice the torsional stiffness
to resist stick-slip torsional vibrations and is credited with a substantial reduction in stick-slip.
14 SPE-170751-MS

Figure 15—BHA-5 was tuned for 120 RPM.

Figure 16 —DAS trial in Well-5.

Field Trials of a Drilling Advisory System (Real Time Recognition and Response)
The Drilling Advisory System (DAS) comprises a computer that reads standard Wellsite Information
Transfer Standard (WITS) data at the rig and calculates MSE and other diagnostics to provide a better
understanding of the MSE values corresponding to different drilling parameter values, in real-time. It also
estimates stick-slip at the bit using a method described in SPE 163420(34). Despite what was in hindsight
a primitive optimization algorithm, this DAS trial provided benefit in Wells 3 and 4 to help guide the use
of better drilling parameters and increase bit life.
The DAS system was significantly upgraded for Well-5, with a second-generation algorithm that
included WITS output of recommended WOB and RPM on the mudlogger display in front of the driller.
The upgraded system was used in the first portion of the interval in Well-5 (“DAS On” in Fig. 16). In the
second interval, a conscious decision was made to not actively use the recommendations (“DAS Off” in
Fig. 16). There was a step-change reduction of 27% in the ROP in the second interval that began at the
time of the parameter change.
In the second interval, the WOB was increased, and the RPM was also increased to reduce the
occurrence of stall events. MSE and the lateral vibrations increased in Interval #2 as seen in Fig. 17. This
case study is considered in more detail in IPTC 17216(35).
SPE-170751-MS 15

Figure 17—MSE increased at the higher WOB levels seen in Interval #2.

This paper has described how a Limiter Redesign workflow has expanded from a purely bit-on-bottom
drilling improvement process to now include all phases of rig operations. In review, specific limiters to
improved performance are identified and the physics of the systems impacting the limiter are probed until
fully understood. Solutions to remove or extend the limiter are then developed, risk identified and
mitigated, then implemented. The process then repeats itself with the identification and elimination of
subsequent performance limiters.
Conclusions that can be drawn from this ongoing workflow process are summarized below:
● The safety, health and environmental aspects of the drilling operations are improved as critical-
path operations are simplified, made more efficient or removed altogether. The emphasis is on
working smarter, not faster.
● Significant efficiency gains have been realized across all phases of drilling operations from the
application of the Limiter Redesign Process. This is truly an extension of the Fast Drill Process as
those initiatives continue to be progressed within the drill teams.
● To be effectively utilized, the process must have the support of drilling management, operations,
engineering and service providers.
● This effort requires an organizational structure that fosters open communication, the global sharing
of learnings and empowers individuals to relentlessly seek to improve the performance of their
● It is an ongoing and evergreen workflow process. As limiters are eliminated, subsequent limiters
are identified and the process continues until further improvement is not economically justified
(reached the economic limit).
● The Limiter Redesign Process has been firmly engrained in the operator’s culture for a decade and
has readily expanded to include all aspects of rig operations as well as to other parts of the
operator’s upstream organization.
Now that ~80% of rig time is Flat Time due to the success of Fast Drill, significant efficiency
opportunities still remain to be captured. Within Flat Time, there is a great diversity of tasks with
corresponding limits and potential solutions. This diversity will require a multi-year effort to realize many
of the potential opportunities in Flat Time operations.

The authors would like to thank ExxonMobil Development Company management for their support of the
Limiter Redesign Process and permission to publish this work, the drill teams who do this work every day,
16 SPE-170751-MS

and the participants of the Limiter Redesign Network for sharing their learning and allowing the authors
to present this paper.

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