JPT Personnel Benefit From Advanced Drilling Simulators for Well-Contr…


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As new technologies enable the drilling of increasingly complex and challenging wells, well control remains a critical operation that requires personnel to possess not only technical skill but also the ability to communicate effectively during stressful situations. This paper focuses on the preparation for, and implementation of, well-control training, while highlighting the integration of people skills into curricula and what advantages operators and drilling contractors have obtained.

Conventional Well-Control Training

Well control is of paramount importance and relies on trained teams to maintain well integrity throughout the drilling process. Conventional courses remain the cornerstone in competency training and provide a solid foundation for understanding the fundamental physics associated with well control, and should always remain part of the core curriculum. Crews that use high-fidelity simulations with integrated crew resource management (CRM) will be equipped to mitigate challenges in deepwater drilling environments better.

Students who score consistently above average on an individual well-control examination should then be considered for advanced training. Such intensive courses involve a fully immersive simulated drilling rig that mimics real-life situations and well-control scenarios while being guided by drilling and human-factors specialists. On the first day of class, participants will be tested and, upon completion of the course, will be awarded the appropriate certification. Throughout the remainder of the week, participants will be immersed in a realistic and advanced simulated environment where their behavior and interactions, as well as their technical knowledge, will be assessed.

First Steps for Training

As deepwater drilling operations become more complex using managed-pressure-drilling (MPD) technology, it is fitting that crews receive specialized training focusing on the rig and on company-specific equipment, procedures, and well-control situations. Typically, the training is completed in conjunction with the service company using MPD software and a high-fidelity drilling-floor simulator.

To prepare for this training, the MPD provider and operator meet 5 to 6 months before the training date to discuss the details of the venture and develop rig-specific procedures. Then, typically 2 to 3 months before training commences, the providers begin involvement with the operator to establish expectations. During this period, the schedule is developed on the basis of the crew’s experience with MPD and the software being used; well data are also provided to build different scenarios in the simulator to make them as realistic as possible, and to mirror the actual well that will be drilled. The degree of difficulty for each scenario varies depending on the operator and the crew’s experience with MPD operations capabilities. Given the limited exposure that offshore rig contractors have had with MPD, initial scenarios are used to familiarize participants with the software, the limitations of their equipment, and appropriate procedures. Scenarios evolve throughout the course of the training as participants become more knowledgeable. Part of this evolution includes gaining an understanding of how problems with other departments, such as marine, engine-room, and crane personnel, can affect rig-floor activities.

Procedurally based scenarios cover the basics of rig-specific MPD operations. Throughout these scenarios, crews review procedures meticulously and make any changes necessary; these changes will be submitted to the operator for approval. This activity allows crews to rewrite procedures, test those adjustments, and tailor procedures to their rig specifically.

Once scenarios have been established by the operator, a schedule is developed that ranges normally from 5 to 6 days depending on the number of participants. The first 1 or 2 days of the training usually is conducted at the MPD-provider facility (Levels 1 and 2) and the last 3 or 4 days at the training center providing the high-fidelity simulator (Levels 3 and 4).

The size of the training class also is controlled in order to ensure an engaging and dynamic experience for the participants. Depending on enrollment, the class can be divided into two groups. Each group will alternate between CRM classroom sessions and the simulator. Class size normally ranges from a minimum of six to eight participants to a maximum of 20 to 30 participants.

During the procedural rig scenarios, crews receive hands-on practice on the MPD simulation. The first simulator exercises can be instructor-led and are scheduled for at least 1 hour. These scenarios are typically preceded by MPD-related “technical talks” that involve reviewing procedures or developing a specific procedure. Upon completion of these discussions, crews will ensure that their specific procedures are well-written and easy to follow; any changes required are submitted to the operator. The remaining simulator scenarios are well-control scenarios that implement rig procedures, well-control knowledge, and CRM. Upon completion of the scenario, crews receive a detailed debriefing on their performance, not only from the technical perspective but, more importantly, from the human-factor perspective. Upon completion of Levels 3 and 4 of the course, students are given an end-of-course examination that requires a minimum grade to pass.

Simulation exercises with immersive scenarios can be expanded to encompass all teams in the operation. This ability allows a giant leap from theoretical practice to real-world interactions that produce an unparalleled learning experience for participants, leaving them with a new or refreshed appreciation for the importance of CRM in their working environment. Outcomes are primarily determined by the actions (both technical and CRM) of the crew. Some of the primary outcomes of simulation exercises into which CRM has been integrated include the following:

  • Mitigation of risks and increased safety performance  
  • Substantial cost savings  
  • Decrease in training time
  • Improved learning retention and increased muscle memory
  • Increased productivity as the result of a team-based performance culture
  • Improvement in crews’ decision making, communication skills, and situational awareness
  • Shared understanding of operational decision-making in critical situations
  • Mutual recognition of competencies and increased teamwork

Implementation Phase

The MPD service provider works with well-control instructors to ensure that the functionality of the MPD simulator and control software is effective in testing the scenarios that will be run during the training. Course content is based on potential issues the operator and service provider could encounter during the venture. Levels 1 and 2 of the training typically are instructor-led while crews adjust to the system. As comfort level increases, more-complex scenarios are developed for crews to handle in Levels 3 and 4.

Often, during Levels 1 and 2, participants attend a 1- or 2-day training at the MPD service-provider facility, where they are guided through the system by an MPD service provider. Participants receive hands-on training with regard to how the system will be implemented on their rig. The content of this portion of the course typically covers the foundation for MPD operations.

As participants move into Levels 3 and 4, they are introduced to the procedures that will be used during the operations. During this phase, issues that can develop during MPD operations are introduced. Participants explore technical and human-factor issues and discuss how they both play a key role in the safety and success of the venture. The CRM portion of the class focuses on the problems created by human error during an MPD operation. Simultaneously, technical discussions help to develop efficient procedures that provide crew members the best chance for success. Finally, simulator scenarios allow students to practice their procedures physically and make necessary adjustments.

In the remaining scenarios, crews are placed in more-dynamic situations that include high- and low-intensity kicks, losses (minor to severe), and ballooning situations; other unplanned events can be also added during these simulations, especially when the crews are performing well and instructors wish to challenge them by adding more complex or unexpected events to the operation. During this time, crew members normally operate as they would on the rig. The use of high-fidelity simulators allows students to experience different levels of difficulty. The degree of difficulty can range from a low-permeability, low-intensity kick that can be circulated out using the MPD system to severe losses dealing with potential blackouts. Scenario difficulty is based on client demands and is dependent upon how far the client wishes to push crews. Higher degrees of difficulty create more stress on crews, which places participants in the position of identifying areas for improvement. In turn, this process builds a strong MPD foundation for crews to carry back to the rig.

This article, written by JPT Technology Editor Chris Carpenter, contains highlights of paper SPE 194181, “Advanced Drilling Simulators for Well-Control Training: Bringing Together People, Procedures, and New Technology,” by Robert Howell, Brian McKenzie, Craig Leslie, and Isabel Poletzky, Maersk Training, prepared for the 2019 SPE/IADC Drilling Conference and Exhibition, The Hague, 5–7 March. The paper has not been peer reviewed.


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