16 Sep 2020
Last month, our revolutionary Casing Cement Breaker (CCB) tool won the Emerging Technology Award at the 2020 Offshore Achievement Awards.
We caught up with Alan Glen, our casing recovery systems manager at Deep Casing Tools (DCT), so he can share his insights into why the CCB technology was recognised at these prestigious awards.
Alan is currently involved in managing the development and commercialisation of our casing recovery systems across key international regions with the support of our strategic partners.
Alan, you joined Deep Casing Tools in September last year, bringing over 15 years’ experience in the decommissioning and Plug & Abandonment (P&A) sectors to DCT. What makes the CCB stand out from any other technologies that you have seen in these markets?
I was once involved in a P&A project whereby it took over a month to recover a cemented 9 5/8" casing. We tried using a variety of traditional methods to remove the cement bond, such as cut and pulling, perf and wash, and even pilot milling.
As expected, the number of failed attempts to remove the cement bond led to increased rig time and rental equipment costs that skyrocketed, which had an impact on the project budget and saw it run over by millions of dollars.
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for P&A operations to over-run due to downhole surprises, execution difficulties and the varying success rates of technologies. These conventional methods often fail to adequately perform during stages of casing retrieval. These failed attempts drive conservatism in future P&A cost forecasts, which in turn, inflates current provisions.
What makes the CCB a one-of-a-kind breakthrough technology, is that it deals directly with this issue of the cement bond holding the casing inside the hole, an age-old problem that has prolonged casing recovery operations for decades. Even now, operators have been using ‘trial and error’ methods due to the uncertainty of the cement down-hole condition.
Using the CCB, operators can remove guesswork and solve this issue whilst also saving rig time, using less equipment on board, and ultimately, reducing the cost of P&A operations significantly. Tried and tested, this tool reduces the force needed to remove cement casing by around 90%.
Many have said that Covid-19 and oil price drop has accelerated the need for decommissioning. However, others argue that operators may see this as an excuse to defer decommissioning activity. What’s your outlook on the industry’s current appetite for decommissioning?
Good question. Whilst the low oil price has accelerated the need for decommissioning activity, we’re still seeing a lot of well abandonment projects being deferred in the UK until 2021, some until 2022.
Whether this reduction in activity has been a direct affect of of the pandemic, is still up for debate. However, I do think these deferrals have come from the fact that we’re all still learning how to work in this new Covid compliant environment.
If you look at the decommissioning spend in Norway, it contrasts greatly to the UK - the country is exceedingly busy with activity and managing these projects well. Some may argue that this is due to the Norwegian government taking quicker action to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 at the start of the outbreak, which means the country is better positioned to manage the crisis.
The action taken by the Norwegian government has seen an increase in the testing capacity for COVID-19. This level of heightened preparation and management of the virus has allowed decommissioning activity to continue at a higher pace than in the UK.
It’s not all doom and gloom however. Recently, we heard that some UK projects have been brought forward again which is positive, but we won’t see big developments this year. Whether these projects go ahead or not will be determined by how we continue to adapt to the ‘new norm’.
Just before your appointment at DCT, we secured a three-way partnership with The Oil & Gas Technology Centre and Total in order to help bring the CCB technology to market by the end of 2020. How has this support accelerated the tool’s development?
We were very fortunate to receive backing and sponsorship from Total and the Oil & Gas Technology Centre (OGTC) back in October last year. Not only has this support been invaluable from a financial perspective, but it has also provided us with essential knowledge, industry insights and access to their extenstive networks in the P&A space.
These partnerships have also connected us to potential clients who are interested in running the CCB, and companies who are supporting the development of the tool including Archer. We’ve seen a lot of interest in the CCB, illustrating just how much the industry is in need of technologies like this to make operations more efficient.
Last year, the CCB technology was trialled with Equinor in its Huldra Field, with early results showing exceptional time and cost savings. Have there been any successful trials recently? What have the key milestones been to date?
Since the initial Equinor trial with the CCB protoype tool, we have engineered two new prototypes; the first based on the original rotary tool, and the other being an all-new non rotational (axial) tool.
After thorough in-house testing and an engineering review, we have further developed the pre-existing prototype design to create the improved rotary tool. This is now stronger and more efficient than the original, with extended tool life.
Last year, our axial tool undertook significant rig testing at Ulrig and we saw promising results. Now, we’re honing in on this technology with rigorous in-house testing, which has shown a 70% to 90% reduction in pull force on cemented samples of casing. This prototype breaks down the cement bond, expanding the casing to as little as 2mm, deformating the casing to 9mm.
Not only are we currently working to refine these two prototypes to prepare them for fresh trials in October, but we’re also in the process of developing a wider casing recovery system that integrates the CCB into a complete one trip system – watch this space!
As you know, we are founded on the philosophy of ‘Simple Innovation’. What does that mean to you?
At DCT, our goal is not to try and reinvent the wheel, but to make the wheel turn smoother.
My background is originally in downhole fishing tools, which are traditionally very simple technologies that have not been over-engineered. Taking inspiration from these tool designs that have been around for years, we apply the same thinking to our own suite of technologies.
Watch out Casing Cement Breaker in action below.