While at university in the 1980s, Jørgen Hallundbæk envisioned a “Well Tractor” as part of his master’s thesis, and he took the concept forward when he founded Welltec® in the early 90s. After more than 25 years of continuous development, the company’s toolbox covers a broad range of downhole solutions.
To find out more about the company’s innovations, Energy Northern Perspective spoke with Tommy Eikeland, Welltec’s Area Vice President for Scandinavia. With his ‘full charter’ of experience at Welltec, first travelling the world to support the company’s offshore efforts and now leading the company’s Nordic operations, his experience with well completions and intervention is not easy to match.
Although Welltec is headquartered in Denmark, among its nine operational bases around the world, the Scandinavian office leads in terms of revenue, Eikeland explains, “And I would say technology development has definitely enabled the success within the region.”
“You need to go back to about 1994, when we started with a simple idea, what we today call ‘standard conveyance solutions’ – the use of a downhole tractor bringing tools to depth,” Eikeland continues. “And the development has gone from that to much more complex well intervention solutions where we have driven efficiency forward significantly. I would say it’s been a journey where we constantly push the boundaries to increase efficiency, reduce the number of runs, and ‘do more’ while at target depth.”
“There’s still today a lot of special development within conveyance alone,” Eikeland says, describing how the original tractor has evolved. “We have developed the CR tractor – the Well Tractor® Compact Rig-up – a very short tractor which can be rigged-up on many installations that weren’t really built to allow for both well interventions and well operations through the derrick at the same time.”
Saving space on the drill floor lowers costs, Eikeland explains, “For one client we were able to save over NOK 50 million – over 67% of the rig costs – because we were able to rig-up on the BOP deck instead of the drill floor.”
“The development has been towards smaller, higher capacity tools,” Eikeland says. “If you talk about clean-up operations, for example. We are now in the range of recovering 100 litres plus [of debris] in each run, so we have the ability to clean up several tonnes of sand in a short time. Only a couple of years ago, that would have been limited to coiled tubing operations.”
“Now, we can perform combined operations offshore – whatever is needed is added to the string,” he adds.
“For example, we evolved the cleaner from a purely mechanical tool, which simply forced the debris into the tool, to a suction tube that has a powerful turbine motor that creates a vacuum, pulling the debris into its bailer chambers,” Eikeland says.
And the Well Cleaner® Power Suction Tool combines suction with rotation and filtration within those same bailers. All of this increases capacity and efficiency – “it’s about how much can you get out of the well in one run,” he continues. “So, if you have 2,000 liters to clean out, you can do that in fewer runs – and that value creation is what we look at.”
“Another example is combined cutting and punching operations” Eikeland says. “Just a couple of years ago, to remove tubing, you had to go down and cut, and then if you didn’t get circulation, you had to go down again with an explosive puncher to punch afterwards. But now with our Well Cutter® and Welltec Puncher, we can run a mechanical cutter and mechanical puncher in a combined single run. We cut, and if that doesn’t open circulation, we can just drill a hole wherever we want – however many times is needed – until we achieve circulation.”
“We learn all the time and there are a number of upgrades constantly being implemented,” emphasises Eikeland. “We look at how to increase speed or navigate restrictions, optimise surface control, surface readout data, implement sensors, and so forth – and on the outside the tools might look the same, but inside, the lessons learned and development are captured.”
Time and safety
Eikeland stresses that combining operations also means saving time: “It’s been very valuable for light well intervention vessel operations – where you have to catch a weather window and you basically have to complete what you need to do on that well and move on.”
“It’s a task we’ve taken seriously, to put all of this together into a value creation calculation. There’s the time saved that can be spent on other activities,” he continues. “Also, the HSE aspect by reducing the number of people, a lower environmental impact – and the risk reduction by taking less time.”
“We control our entire supply chain – all the manufacturing, all the training and all the running of the tools,” says Eikeland, explaining how development takes place in-house. “And that means we don’t rely on third-party production facilities. So, if we need to alter something or fine-tune something, we can. There are a lot of different surprises that we are able to cover if asked – it helps being set-up as we are as a company.”
As the industry has begun to emerge from the coronavirus lockdown, in-house production has also made it easier to implement pandemic-fighting protocols. “It’s been more a question of how to manage the organisation – and for us, the biggest risk was being exposed to potential infections of our workshop staff, and not being able to mobilise for operations,” he relates.
“We split the whole workshop organisation into three shifts – everything from separate restrooms to separate canteens – and all of these measures ensured that the staff were able to deliver.”
When asked what the pandemic could mean for the future, Eikeland responds, “I think that continuing hygiene and all of these actions for the local staff will be important. But this has also shown vulnerabilities.”
And the vulnerabilities can be mitigated via technology: “If you’re able to reduce people offshore – and if you’re able to operate tools remotely from an on-shore center – these options will be increasingly important in the future.”
The long view
With the future in mind, the Welltec vision has been to emphasise long-term benefits. “When it comes to being a technology company, we have to constantly look to improve, because we want to continue to be in the forefront of development. Working smarter and more efficiently – reducing time – it’s important for the industry as a whole” Eikeland says.
But there are drawbacks for suppliers, he adds. “Let’s say we perform a clean-up operation in 40 runs, and we invest in technology that can do it in only 20 runs – we save a lot of runs, reduce risk and time – but that can also mean less revenue.”
According to Eikeland, the solution is to take a broader outlook: “I think the learning curve that we have had as a company – throughout the technology and value creation chain – has shown us how to calculate value across the life of well development. Not to look at just item costs but at the entire process.”
“And using our Monte Carlo simulation software, when we calculate accumulated costs and time and try to bring in uncertainties and risk, we are able to visualise not only the ‘there and then’, but what will happen if an operator is able, for example, to increase the injection rate significantly. What will that mean in two years’ time?”
Eikeland continues, “We have a case that we are working with now, where we are able to give the client the direct costs of total rig-days saved just by reducing risks and using less equipment. And that’s really good, but what is even more impressive is that if they are able to increase their injection rate with more than 30% by utilising a larger full bore, they’re able to increase production over the next two years – then, depending on oil prices, you could be talking a hundred million dollars in increased production.”
“And I can understand that it’s difficult for clients to take that decision, particularly during a downturn,” Eikeland says, “but looking at the lifespan of the well – what will happen in a year or two – it is important to take that into consideration as well.”
Looking back to the oil price downturn in 2014 and the technology developments that helped ease the pain, Eikeland asserts, “The clients understand that they perhaps pushed the limit – and that without suppliers and without technology and technology development, they could not have done their work. I would say it’s still very tough, but now there’s a more cooperative tone between clients and suppliers and maybe more willingness to understand what needs to be done.”
“The core of it has got to be tight and close cooperation with the client to visualise where the value creation lies and not to be hung up on line item base costs. It’s difficult and complex because the client will have to bring its different organisations and suborganisations together. And this is what we are trying to do for them, enabling them to make a good decision for the long run,” he continues.
“And again, it’s all about technology, technology, technology.”