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Home / Issue Archive / 2007 / January #1 / KCA DEUTAG Drills Down Deep into Permafrost

№ 1 (January 2007)

KCA DEUTAG Drills Down Deep into Permafrost

If you want to understand how hydrocarbons are distributed at one of the world’s largest gas-condensate fields, visit Urengoigazprom’s Labor Hall of Fame in Novy Urengoi.

By Elena Zhuk

Under the oblong golden models of the Cenomanian and Valanzhin deposits of the Urengoi field,  there is a small red spot – a so-called Achimovka.
Deep down, more than 3,500 meters below the permafrost, lie low-permeable Achimovsky sandstones. The gas temperature there reaches 110 degrees Celsius. Russias natural gas monopoly Gazprom and Germanys Wintershall, a division of BASF, have joined forces to create the Achimgaz Company (Gazprom/Wintershall – 50:50) to extract subsurface deposits of gas containing methane, butane, propane, ethane and condensate. At about EUR 1 bln, this joint venture is one of Germanys largest capital investments in Russia. As cold as it gets in Novy Urengoi, German engineers working a few dozen kilometers from the Arctic Circle can take comfort in the fact that when the Achimgaz project reaches peak production, one-years gas output will suffice to warm as many as 4 mln single-family homes back in Germany.

The Way it all Began

"The project dates back to 1998, when Wintershall received Gazprom’s initial offer to begin joint development of the Achimovsky deposits," Alexander Zabotin, the Achimgaz drilling superintendant, told Oil&Gas Eurasia during a recent visit to Novy Urengoi. "Unfortunately, Wintershall declined for chiefly economic reasons after a brief consideration." A second offer was made in 2001, and after a more detailed consideration, the two companies began to develop a plan in 2002. "The analysis took quite a long time, as the German company approached such issues with great deliberation," says Zabotin. "But because of Wintershall’s long standing partnership with Gazprom, the project was finally approved".

After Wintershall headquarters in Kassel gave the nod, a project team was organized and sent to Moscow, then – after three years of training – to Novy Urengoi. Tyumenburgaz,  Gazprom’s drilling company, and the international drilling contractor KCA DEUTAG, one of the leading companies in designing drilling rigs, won the tender to deliver the rigs. The first unit for Tyumenburgaz was built at the URALMASH engineering plant which also participated in the design of the second unit – a T500, manufactured in Badbendheim, Germany. "Our drilling units are the best in the area," Zabotin says proudly.

Technologies’ Transfer

"Basically, all technologies that we use are Western-made," Zabotin comments. "In fact, the first slanted wells, similar to those that we are currently working on, were drilled in Russia many years ago. Later, this technology fell out of use in this country while in the West such wells became very popular. At this site it is a necessity, as the area is surrounded with marshes. That has required us to build a site that will enable us to drill as many wells as possible. Of those wells, one may be vertical, with the rest being slanted or horizontal. Abroad," continues Zabotin, "similar technology is employed in offshore operations: wells are drilled from a single platform in various directions. We invited Wintershall’s specialists to develop the Urengoi field since they have had a lot of experience in drilling both offshore and onshore in Brazil, Argentina, Libya, and the Netherlands. Practically every project there involved drilling horizontal and sub-horizontal wells. Tyumenburgaz also has a lot of experience in drilling slant wells, directional wells and horizontal wells. But unfortunately, the company’s equipment is somewhat outdated, so we utilize Western service companies." 
Halliburton provides more than 16 types of services including directional drilling, cementing, and logging while drilling, as well as wireline services, completions, and the supplying of drilling muds. An agreement was also signed with Weatherford to run the casing.

"Our drilling units use state-of-the-art equipment. Top drive allows for efficient performance. We employ both Russian-made and imported pumps. Pumps maufactured by URALMASH are among the most powerful pumps used in Russia today," Zabotin says.

The DEUTAG drilling units are fully supplied with Western-made equipment. Only 30 percent of the Tyumenburgaz units are composed of imported parts, including the top drive and blowout preventer. At Achimgaz, the team chooses foreign-made components as it is convinced that Russian-made equipment is frequently deficient in quality. Yet, when tested, drill bits manufactured by the Russian company Burintekh showed the best performance at certain intervals compared to drill bits manufactured by four western companies.

What has been Achieved?

The pilot project, during which the most efficient drilling techniques have to be identified, involves drilling six wells of approximately 3,700-4,700 meters. Each unit will drill three wells. Tyumenburgaz was the first to start. "At any new field one can face various surprises," Zabotin says. "We started to drill the first well on April 12 and finished it three months later. The next well did not come out exactly the way we expected. We lost time because of a mismatch between the geological cross-section and the drilling muds we applied. As a result, some sticking occurred during drilling, and it took time to eliminate it. But what matters is that we finally learned how to correct it. It might have been a negative experience, but we will sure keep it in mind in the future."

Both units are currently drilling their second wells. Tyumenburgaz is completing operations, while ?????? DEUTAG is about half way through. In Q1 2007 Alexander Zabotin plans to test one of the wells and to produce the first gas condensate. Gas will flow into Russia’s main export pipelines as soon as all four wells begin to operate, which is the minimum design capacity of the gas treatment facility.  But that is just the beginning. Eventually, the team expects to drill up to 80 wells to Achimovka.

Improving Drilling

Training to improve the professional skills of the drilling team was an issue at the start of the project. There were problems in operating the two units and the top drive. Some personnel were trained at the Orenburg oilfield for a week followed by further training on-site by experts who were invited to Novy Urengoi as consultants.
In addition, an independent control system supplied by Petroservice was introduced to control the drilling process. Petroservice is a Russian company which utilizes both domestic and Western innovations. Information on well conditions, received via a central control board, is displayed instantly on the computers of supervisors, toolpushers and drillers. More than 30 parameters are monitored. Sensors for pressure, temperature, distance, etc. have been installed on the surface. A Halliburton Sperry Sun system delivers information on the direction and load of directional deep drilling.
"Unfortunately, there is no connection here. The distance between the office and the well is about one hundred kilometers. That’s why we can’t see well condition data displayed on our computers. But we can promptly get in touch with our drilling crew and make collective decisions regarding the plan," Zabotin says. Going deep below the permafrost, the project engineers – ten representat ives of Achimgaz, KCA DEUTAG, Halliburton and Weatherford – are gaining invaluable experience in international cooperation in the harsh conditions of Western Siberia.

Human Resources is all that Matters

In spite of the fact that, according to Zabotin, it is really difficult to find employees who are equally familiar with Western and Russian technologies, such people have come together to develop Achimovka in Urengoi. 
"When I came here for the first time, I thought the conditions were way too severe," says Teo Mensen, an Achimgaz supervisor, from the Netherlands. "But everything turned out to be much better than I thought. Russians in general are really friendly and outgoing. It is difficult to compare the operation of the two units, as the units and profiles of the drilled wells are so different. Both units cope with the task equally well, but the German unit is undoubtedly more high-tech."

Emitting clouds of steam in the frozen sky, a huge ??500 – the ?????? DEUTAG brainchild – with its luminous mast looks like a ship in the boundless ocean of the tundra. The place is bustling with trucks, autocranes and operators in red uniforms. Once you look inside the liner, you can see the two 1,200 kW (1,600 hp) drill pumps, which feed drilling mud into the well at a maximum of 320 atm of pressure. There is a MI-SWACO separator and a Weatherford hydrocontrol station. Access is restricted to the second floor where a blowout preventor manufactured by Shaffer-Varco and Cameron is pressure-tested to 700 atm.

The distance between the drilled wells will be 70 meters. "We have now drilled 1,350 meters for the first production string, which is 12 inches in diameter. The next interval will be 2,750 meters. That will be a vertical wellbore, after which we plan to start well inclination and change the layout for the nine-inch casing. Then we’ll do a 7-inch production string, and the well will be practically completed," says driller Vladimir Klimenko. "With the previous well, we drilled that interval very easily. It took us nine days. Now, here we’ve drilled 2,200 meters in ten days, and starting from 1,350 the footage is really good." For Klimenko, who started in the industry in 1974 and has drilled wells up to 1,000 meters at 90 degrees deviation in the Sahara for SAIPEM, the Urengoi wells, with a planned deviation of 70-80 degrees, are not that hard.

The German engineers that came to develop the Achimovsky deposits do not agree with the Russian saying, "What is good for a Russian will kill a German". Ulf Siering, a foreman supervisor who joined the project in March of 2006, thinks the only real problems are in logistics. Carolina Izaguiree is the only woman in the project. She is a drilling engineer of Guatemalan origin, a graduate of the RWTH University in Aachen. Currently, she is interning with Wintershall in the sub-zero frost. In fact, the living conditions are quite decent. The comfortable trailers are warmer than some apartments in the European part of the country. There is a laundry and television in the camp. Two drill crews spend about four weeks at the well, working 12 hour shifts, after which they rotate home and are replaced by others.

Alexander Matusevitch, the ?????? DEUTAG project manager in Novy Urengoi: 

"The ??500 unit was manufactured in Germany. It has the best components made by the leading international producers. At the same time, the drilling unit concept and the method of its movement along the well clusters incorporates the experience of Russian units constructed for Western Siberia. This combination of advanced Western and Russian experience is a distinguishing feature of the unit.

"The T500 is a completely new concept to be operated in Russia. At present it is being tested for its frost susceptibility, operational capability and for some other parameters. It is operated by just a few foreign specialists – a foreman-instructor, a mechanic and an electrician. The rest of the crew is Russian. The staff is not experienced in operating this equipment, nor is it experienced in working for a Western company, where certain special requirements, principles, methods, safety norms, etc. are applied which differ from Russian practices. And at the initial stage of the project certain problems arise that have to be dealt with. I think we are making quite rapid progress, taking into account all these complications. A good case in point is Salym, where another ?????? DEUTAG unit is in operation. (By the way, it is our first unit of this kind). The crew has been employed there for two years now, so all those issues were resolved a long time ago. Are we moving ahead in accordance with the plan? Planning is a tough thing. You can’t really predict how many mushrooms you’re going to pick up in somebody else’s forest. There are always some unexpected geological issues in the process of drilling. Sure, there are a number of backlogs, but that is due to the drilling conditions of the first wells.

"The major improvements in the equipment were connected with winterization. We had to elaborate a lot of the problems that we encountered through practical experience to the producer. These things included coating, lining in some areas of heating cables, heat insulating of the pipe work, wrapping into insulating materials, and installing additional fans. We invited the manufacturer’s representatives to the site where they eliminated the above flaws out there in the frost. The thing is, there are some components that are just not designed for operating in low temperature conditions, and nobody wants to manufacture the suitable components. Take, for example, a telecamera installed on the top of the derrick at a height of 40 meters. There are no telecameras certified to work under conditions of minus 50 degrees Celsius. The camera is remotely controlled by a driller from his desk, and is in operation at all times. It is exposed to winds and rain. So, one has to resort to various tricks: providing a supply of warm air, using heating cables and insulating wrappings. So far we have successfully tested it at minus 36 degrees Celsius."

KCA DEUTAG Settles in Siberia

In 2002 KCA DEUTAG entered the Russian market where it has enjoyed a very successful presence during its five years. Russia is strategically important for KCA DEUTAG. That is why the company’s strategy seeks to boost further growth and increase its land drilling fleet there. Western Siberia is a key area of focus for the company. In 2005, KCA opened a new regional office in the Tyumen region with the main task of management and support of the company’s production activities in the area.
Initially, KCA DEUTAG signed a contract with Sibneft to drill extended reach horizontal wells in the Sporysh oil field in the Noyabrsky district, located in Western Siberia. The project involved a Western-made T2000 heavy boring rig yielding 2,000 hp and modified to work in extreme Arctic conditions. Presently, the rig is being relocated to Verkhnechonsk oil-gas condensate field in Eastern Siberia, to embark on a VerkhnechonskNefteGaz drilling project. The estimated spud date for the first well is the first quarter of 2007.
In March 2004, KCA DEUTAG signed a four-year contract with Salym Petroleum Development N.V. to provide drilling services for the development of the Salym oil field in Western Siberia. The company ordered production of two new drilling rigs for the project with the Russian construction company Uralmashzavod. Drilling started in 2005 and the home-made rigs have been a success. The rigs’ design incorporates some Western-made equipment and component parts allowing the reliability, longevity and efficiency of the drilling equipment to be enhanced by combining the leading-edge Russian and Western technologies. Specifically, 3900/225 EK-BM rigs were upgraded with the following Western-made components: SWACO solids control system, Varco top drive, Koomey BOP contro l system, and Bentec thyristor unit. Construction of wells within the project is speeding ahead. It takes 7 to 12 days to drill one well. In addition to two rigs, the company will put into operation a 200-ton capacity transportable drilling rig made by Uralmashzavod in 2007 for the Salym field.

The HR-5000 – series of the company’s oil rigs designed and manufactured by BENTEC – was custom tailored using operating experience gathered in Russia while its design will meet the most rigorous Arctic conditions. The rigs feature the cluster design capable of boring in the Extreme North conditions. One such drilling rig built to the Achimgaz design has provided exceptional performance in Novy Urengoi. In early 2007, four more rigs of the same type manufactured last year for a TNK-BP order will alternatively be commissioned within the framework of a field group development in the Uvatsky district of the Tyumen region. At present, the rig crews are undergoing training while the rigs are being relocated to the new job area.

Now works are under way to build yet another HR-5000 series rig with a 320 ton capacity capable of drilling wells down to 5,000 m. The rig will be ready for the Russian drilling services market in the fourth quarter of 2007.
KCA DEUTAG will be operating ten drilling rigs in Russia by the end of 2007.

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