By Christy Anyanwu
For a long time, oil and gas engineering firms engaged in deep offshore exploration encountered a major problem called annular pressure build up, in the course of drilling oil wells. The solution adopted to contain the problem was not efficient. Victor Osayande, a graduate of Ambrose Alli University, who studied Mechanical Engineering found an innovative and revolutionary solution that has been patented and now being used by oil industry majors engaged in deep offshore drilling. His knowledge and skill in this specialized field has taken him to many oilfields in far-flung places. In this interview, he shares his inspiring story.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born in Kishi, a town in Oyo State. I am originally from Edo State. I had my early school years in Benin City where I attended Western Boys’ High School after which I proceeded to Ambrose Alli University to study Mechanical Engineering, graduating with a Bachelors Degree in Engineering in 2000.
What memories of your school days stand out?
We used to walk 5km to school each day. I remember waking up at Ikpoba Hill. Motorists occasionally felt sorry for us and would give us free ride to school. All through my secondary school days, from JS-2 through SS-3, I was a Class Prefect. I had a very firm control of the class which earned me a nickname among my peers till this day. When we were in SS-2, we developed the habit of staying back to study after school hours. We were all science students preparing for GCE and JAMB exams. We were ambitious students who wanted to achieve all the required credits towards our admission into the university. We would always quiz each other. That helped us to build a strong bond that exists till this day.
What informed your decision to study engineering and the particular field you chose?
I am passionate about calculations. I read and completed the popular physics textbook written by Abbott, three times, from cover to cover before our GCE exams. I studied additional mathematics textbook on my own and was the only student that took calculus exam and passed in my set. All these potentials and more culminated drove my interest for engineering.
I learnt about Schlumberger when I was in my final year in the secondary school and remember even then telling my childhood friend that I would work in Schlumberger. Schlumberger is the world leader in the provision of technology for reservoir characterization, drilling, production and processing to the oil and gas industry operators, and I knew I needed to study engineering in order to get a job leading engineering projects at Schlumberger. Given the possibilities, I was more inclined than ever to study Mechanical Engineering, over any other engineering discipline.
Please paint a picture of your career, and give an insight to what the experience has been like.
My Schlumberger career started with an internship opportunity in Wireline (reservoir evaluation), back in 1996 in Warri. I had a supervisor there who trained me in the rudiments of Wireline logging tools maintenance. Following my year-four’s first semester, I went back to Schlumberger for another six month internship. Over this internship period, I worked closely with my supervisor (Sonde Specialist) for two months, after which he went on an eight-week vacation. Despite the fact that I was an intern, I carried out all the required maintenance for these complex wireline tools at Warri without supervision in his absence, and with more than 95% efficiency (95% of the tools were current on maintenance schedule). My outstanding performance during that internship period paved the way for my acceptance by Schlumberger upon my graduation in 2000 for a post-graduation National Service assignment at their main Well Testing facility at Port Harcourt. Within two weeks of joining Well Testing, I was placed offshore on a well test campaign. That marked a turning point in my career, as I learned a lot over the thirty days I was offshore; putting well test principles, equipment operation, troubleshooting and maintenance to the test on the actual offshore rig.
By the time we got back onshore, I was increasingly entrusted with tougher challenges, giving me a thorough understanding of the well testing equipment. I assisted in several well testing and well kill operations during that year. My performance was so impressive, in fact, that I was the first trainee in Nigeria to be assigned to the Multiphase Flowmeter, which at the time was the next generation Well Test Equipment. My peers could not believe we joined on the same batch, as I gained a wealth of knowledge and experience on the job.
At the end of our service year, I was enthusiastically hired by Schlumberger full time, and assigned to Cementing Engineering for Schlumberger’s Well Construction Services. Having already had so much opportunity to “:get my hands dirty” in the field and acquire a solid understanding of wellsite operations, the transition to full-time Schlumberger engineer was easy. I progressed quickly through the ranks from being assigned a rig for Pan Ocean to becoming the Cementing Technical Engineer for Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC) – the Africa affiliate of the Italian supermajor oil and gas company ENI – then moving on to lead cementing on projects for the French supermajor TOTAL and the regional affiliate of Royal Dutch Shell (SPDC), one of the largest companies in the world. Once again, these projects gave me the opportunity to gain experience in a wide variety of different types of drilling projects – ENI, for example, was primarily involved in drilling oil and gas wells on land and in swampy areas, while Shell was drilling offshore wells.
For example, I remember that on one project in 2005, ENI was facing a drilling challenge involving he loss of the drilling fluid used the keep the well under control during the drilling process. They were planning to use a cement plug to address losses – the traditionally accepted treatment for this kind of issue at the time – but this would have cost the company three days of rig time (and thousands of dollars) on this swamp rig. I recommended to them that instead of pumping the cement plug into the well, the newly-developed “CemNET” Schlumberger lost circulation control material in the oil based mud used for drilling. It had never been done anywhere in the world, at the time. ENI trusted my recommendation. It was pumped and it “worked like magic” based on the company’s feedback in a letter of appreciation to Schlumberger. This success was shared with the global community and it was transformed into a New Technology provided to operators at the time. Further advancement has been made in the industry and a more robust solution is now offered in the Lost Circulation Control portfolio. Schlumberger developed a software called Lost Circulation Advisor (LCCA) which we now use for design optimization to address specific well conditions.
In 2006, I was transferred to Lagos to be the Technical Sales Engineer for the deepwater clients based in Lagos; Shell, Total, Chevron, Esso (Exon), Ocean Energy and ENI/Agip Energy. It was during this assignment I learned of the challenge posed by Annular Pressure Build-up (APB) in deepwater well construction worldwide. I saw this as a challenge that should be addressed. This marked the birth of seven years of research into the issue.
In 2007 I was transferred to Baku, Azerbaijan, where I was confronted with yet another major challenge in the extended reach oil wells drilled by a supermajor in the oil and gas industry, BP. The wells barely met the zonal isolation requirements across the reservoirs, making them relatively dangerous and difficult to complete. I made a radical change to the cementing design and implementation to address the problem and, for the first time, BP recorded more than 2,000 meters of continuous isolation compared with an average of 40 meters on most of the previous wells. In fact, the new design was so effective that BP sent my design considerations to Baker Hughes (a Schlumberger competitor) as an example for implementation on the rigs where Baker was contracted to provide cementing services. They achieved similar results.
When the moratorium on deepwater drilling, following the 2010 Macondo incident, was lifted in the US. There was need to transfer industry experts to the Gulf of Mexico to restart the provision of top-notch technical support to the deepwater operators. This resulted to transfer from Baku to the United States in 2012.
While in the US, one of the wells planned was considered very critical to BP (which, due to Macondo, was under scrutiny by the US government and industry press at the time). The well design requirement did not have room for any form of liquid to be left behind the casing to mitigate APB. I saw this as the break I was looking for; a well to implement my many years of research into a solution to APB once and for all. Working with BP Cementing Subject Matter Experts, I developed and implemented yet another original cement design system specifically designed to address these pressure considerations. I invented a cement design principle for top-down cement placement that was needed to isolate a section of the well, a section that would have been near-impossible to isolate using conventional cementing techniques. I also designed the cement slurry placement which allowed the cement at the top of the production casing to get to the sea bed prior to “setting”, allowing the casing to be directly cemented to the sea floor. Both these designs were the first recorded cases of these designs being used successfully worldwide.
Since then, my design, planning and implementation of these new cementing and slurry systems has been executed on numerous deepwater wells in the Gulf of Mexico. I am so excited to be the pioneer in finding a lasting solution to APB challenges.
I am currently in Ghana, where I am leading the cementing teams in support of Tullow Oil’s efforts to restart oil and gas production in that country after abandoning its efforts there for several years, and working on developing a cement system to address Tullow’s zonal isolation challenge across reservoirs that are few meters apart. These are near-horizontal wells, similar to those I so successfully addressed in Azerbaijan, so I am happy to continue putting my expertise to work in addressing additional challenging environments around the world.
From an engineering point of view, what are the major challenges of deep offshore oil and gas exploration?
Deepwater exploration is more challenging than shallow water and land.
Deep offshore, or deepwater, exploration and productions present more challenges than shallow water or land operations in so many ways. First, consider the drilling environment. In deepwater, the margin between the formation pore pressure and the fracture pressure is very narrow. As a result of this narrow margin, deepwater wells are highly stressed compared to wells on land and shallow water environments.
Pore pressure is the pressure trapped between the formation sand/rock particles during deposition of overlaying sands. This is what drives the hydrocarbon to surface during production. The fracture pressure is the minimum pressure that can be applied to the formation to initiate losses.
Secondly, the drilling fluid must exert pressure that is higher than the formation pore pressure, but less than the formation fracture pressure. This way, the well is secured. However, the rock is not isotropic (uniform properties). This means that the rock properties change with depth; pore and fracture pressures, rock type etc. The drilling fluid properties must meet certain criteria on surface, at sea bed where the temperature is low and at the bottom of the well where the temperature is high. At low temperature, the drilling mud becomes more viscous than at surface. At the bottom of the well where the temperature is higher, the mud becomes thinner. If it is too thin, it will become unstable. If it too viscous, it will become more difficult to move, thereby increasing the pressure on the formation to such an extent that it may exceed the fracture pressure. Drilling fluids for deepwater operations are carefully designed to meet the critical requirements for a successful drilling.
Thirdly, the potential for shallow flow is high in deepwater. Shallow flows are flows encountered close to the sea bed in deepwater wells (without the riser in place). This is attributed to the pore pressure being higher than the pressure exerted by the drilling mud. In extreme cases, this can lead to the loss of the well.
Fourthly, the presence of hydrates (bonding of gas with water at high pressure at sea bed) can be very problematic to the operator. Hydrates are destabilized as the rig drills into hydrates. A gas bubble quickly breaks out and rises to surface. As the gas bubble rises, it expands due to the reduction of the pressure exerted by the sea water column. The size of the bubble can be as seventy times more than its original volume at sea bed by the time it gets to surface. Deepwater rigs are semi-submersible drill ships, so these bubbles create problems of being able to steer the rig.
In the Gulf of Mexico, for example, the operators have a very good mapping of the sea bed that indicates potential presence of hydrates.
Thankfully, we have not encountered hydrates in West African deepwater exploration.
Fifth, as indicated above, probably the most prevalent current problem in deepwater wells is Annular Pressure Buildup (APB). APB is the pressure trapped in the annular spacer between two casing strings. It is the result of the pressure increase due to thermal expansion in the annulus during production. In extreme cases, the pressure can exceed the casing pressure ratings and subsequently result in failure and loss of the well. To mitigate APB, operators are forced to leave a section of the open hole uncemented so that excess pressure can leak to the formation.
At what point in the course of your career did you discover the innovative solution you conceived regarding the problem encountered in deep offshore drilling?
This was during my work as a Deepwater Technical Sales Engineer in Lagos. I attended a series of Drilling Well On Paper (DWOP) sessions and I realized that one common problem the operators wanted to avoid was APB. The challenge with channeling for BP in Azerbaijan came to light when I saw the cement evaluation log for one of my wells and those cemented by other service companies. This triggered the quest to find a solution to the problem on future wells.
What has been the response to the innovative solution?
The response has been quite positive, especially in BP operations in the Gulf of Mexico. The solution to lost circulation control which was conceived for ENI in Nigeria was transformed into a new technology that was deployed worldwide. It has since transformed into a more robust solution suite in the industry.
The unique ERD cementing design for Azerbaijan is still being implemented to this day. These are my outstanding achievements which make me happy always.
Please recall how you felt when you got the first order from an Oil & Gas company to utilize the technology?
I was excited and at the same time, I was worried because it was going to be the first application. That made me invest a lot of time in the risk assessment and planning phase.
Considering the Nigerian law on local content, is the technology being used by Oil and Gas companies operating in the country?
The first unique solution to lost circulation control in wells drilled with oil base mud was done for ENI’s Agip affiliate in Nigeria. The design concept for ERD well cementing I developed in Azerbaijan is being used in Nigeria on highly deviated wells for Sterling Global and in Ghana for Tullow Oil.
In the course of researching and developing this technology, what challenges did you encounter and how did you surmount them?
• APB Solution: So many simulations were run using the basic cementing principles. None yielded the simulation output I needed. I had to do something different. I invented the principles for top-down cement job design and implementation and I achieved what I wanted. This was verified when the cement evaluation log matched my simulation prediction.
• Solution to Channeling in Extended Reach Drilling (ERD) Wells for BP, Baku: I did so many iterations to the cementing design for BP, including implementing the best practices for ERD wells and we were still not getting the desired result. I made changes to the low shear rates on the fluid design and we were able to achieve outstanding results.
• CemNET in mud: This was a first time solution. In principle, it will work. I had to allow the end result overcome my fear of failure. The client had called for a cement plug to cure losses and I recommended that they should treat the mud with the lost circulation material instead as this would enable them
What is your message to Nigerian engineering students?
I studied Mechanical Engineering, but today, I work with fluids. Engineers should not limit themselves to their core field of study. The work we do is governed by principles which apply between many engineering disciplines. I apply the principles learned in my secondary and university school days on my job. Engineers are trained to face challenges. Do not give up on them – every challenge has a solution. Just keep probing and you will get the desired result. I posted an idea for new technology development in 2006. In 2009, I posted another idea and linked it up with the previous one, which by the way had been acknowledged by my segment president. By 2015, my concept was rolled out as a new technology (INVIZION RT) for worldwide application after the company invested more than $1M on the research and engineering. Little ideas yield outstanding results.
When you are not talking about high tech engineering, how do you relax?
I enjoy watching football and watching or reading the news.
This Interview was first published in THESUN