From Fossil To Fuel™
From Fossil To Fuel™

Episode 16 · 2 years ago

Episode 15 - Troubleshooting


Things go awry all of the time in oil and gas. What is the general strategy that we use to troubleshoot?

My name is Brennan McDougall and I'm a professional engineer. Or the last decade I've worked in many different facets of the oil and gas industry. While I have a pretty solid technical background in oil and gas, I don't really know a whole lot about the other non technical departments that help run an oiling gas company. Recently I took a course to help develop my business acumen and better understand how the financial side of the business works. What a novel concept to educate the technical people on the business and financial side. I thought it would be a really cool idea to return the favor and educate the non technical people on the technical side. This is how the concept from fossil to fuel was born. Through these twenty four episodes, we will take a journey from how oil and gas was formed millions of years ago how it is refined into the fuel that runs our cars and keeps our homes. Come join me on this adventure as we learn how the oiling gas industry operates from fossil to a few I've gotten a kick at of some of the names that drilling completions people have come up with for the equipment and processes over the years. For those of you who don't have much exposure to drilling, completions operations, let me put it this way. If a doctor calls the thing that he puts in your ear a stethoscope, drillers would call it in ear stick. If an engineer calls hydraulic fracturing high pressure reservoir stimulation, drillers will call it ground pounding. The people who have developed the nomenclature for drilling and completions over the years have a knack for developing terminology that is either very simplistic or describes with something actually...

...looks like, rather than using some arbitrary techno jargon derived from some Latin term nobody's ever heard of. Being an engineer myself, it can be a little weird at first, but it certainly makes sense and it makes it easier to remember what something is and what it's called when the word used to describe it actually describes what it looks like and describes it in Layman's terms. One of my absolute favorites is called fishing. So when you have a piece of equipment and it's typically broken or stuck somewhere in the well, typically you want to get it out and retrieve it. So this is usually done using wire or wire line or pipe, which is either usually coil tubing or a service rig. So if we're talking about wire line, picture in your head a piece of wire or string of wire going down the well and trying to latch onto something down there and then bringing it back up the surface. It sounds a lot like fishing right, how appropriate? A lot of people that work in oil and gas tend to be superstitious and, while I'm not, I can't really blame them, considering the line of work that a lot of these people have. If I had something broken or stuck several kilometers down a piece of pipe five inches in diameter and I had no way of seeing it or touching it or knowing what's wrong, I could see how some people would start subscribing to superstitious beliefs around good and bad luck. But that's exactly what fishing typically is. When something goes wrong downhole or down the well and you're trying to retrieve a piece of equipment, it really takes a specialized person and specialized experience and, of course, a little bit of luck to get it out.

Despite all the advances that we've made in technology around the world, and I'm not talking just oiling gas, I'm talking in general here. It's kind of surprising that we still don't have many ways to actually see what's going on that far down the well. So it takes a lot of educated guess work to narrow down the list of possibilities, and there's basically an endless list of scenarios where you could be fishing on a well and really, for the context of this podcast, there's no point in going into all these details. So suffice it to say that if you hear someone has, quote unquote, gone fishing on a well, things certainly are not going according to plan. Having said that, engineers are typically planners and most of them will know that eventually something is going to go sideways and you may have to fish a piece of equipment out of the well. So what they do, knowing that, is design the tool so that if it does come apart or it does get stuck down in the well, it has a designed piece of that equipment that a fishing tool can latch onto. So this area or this piece of the equipment is called the fish neck and it makes the fishing job go a lot easier than if you didn't have a fishing neck. So to help paint a visual for you here, if you've ever seen or used barbecue that has a natural gas line rather than propane or an air compressor, they usually have what's called quick connect adapter. The quick connect is able to latch on to the mail end of the host. So this hopefully provides a bit of a visual analogy for what happens if you have a fishneck available to you, if the tool breaks... an area where it isn't supposed to and you're not going to have an engineer fish neck and it's going to be much more complicated in terms of the fishing job because you have no idea which tool or hook will successfully catch or latch the fish. And so what I mean by this remember that if you've got something stuck or broken down whole that you need to get out, you'll know, you'll have actual engineer drawings of what that piece of equipment looks like and if it has an engineered fishneck on it, you'll know exactly what that fish look what that fish neck looks like, what the size of it is and therefore what type of fishing tool you'll need to be able to latch onto it, and so in that case it becomes more of a systematic approach in terms of fishing the tool out of the well, because you know what the fish neck looks like and therefore you can bring out whatever fishing tool or corresponding or matching fishing tool you need for that fish neck and it's just a matter of going down the well and attempting to latch onto it and then pulling it out of the well, and making that sound a lot easier than it actually is, but relatively speaking, that's the most straightforward way to fish something out of the well. Now, on the flip side, what I was talking about before this was if you don't have an engineered fish neck or if the tool breaks in a place where it's not supposed to so you don't have access to an engineered fish neck, then the fishing job becomes a lot more complicated because you have absolutely no idea how you're going to get this thing out of the well, because at least with an engineered fish neck, you know what...'re trying to latch onto and you have something that's actually engineered and designed to be latched onto and it's kind of a structural, strong point to help you pull it out of the well. So if you don't have that, then your job and your life is going to be a lot tougher than it would be if you were dealing with a fish neck. So remember on top of this, if your operations are costing you thousands of dollars a day, then a few thousand bucks for an experienced fisherman is worth every penny. Believe me on that. I know from personal experience. So, while fishing is one of the areas that requires trouble shooting, there are many, and I mean many, other areas where the proverbial shit can hit the fan. Time is always of the essence when trouble shooting because when things go wrong, you're generally still paying for all the people and equipment that are still on location that aren't being used. They're just standing there waiting for you to finish your fishing job, which means while you're trouble shooting and attempting to resolve the problem, you're paying for every minute that goes by without making any progress on the wall. Remember, the cost to drill and complete almost anywhere in the world is typically in the millions of dollars and not in the thousands of dollars, which means that every hour that goes by without making progress is costing you thousands of dollars. Think of it this way. If an engineer makes a hundred thousand dollars per year and mistakes or delays on a drilling or completion operation cost you two thousand bucks an hour, and that's probably low compared to the average, is usually more than this. The engineer only needs to save two days worth of downtime per year to pay his entire salary. That's how costly this downtime can be in drilling and completions. When we're in a situation that prevents you from...

...making progress because something is broken or stock or whatever the case may be, this is generally referred to as an in pte, or nonproductive time. In operations circles, you'll hear this acronym a lot, because it is the bane of everyone's existence. It's basically any unexpected mistakes or delays that cost the project additional money. And I say unexpected because if we have expected delays, we generally term that maintenance or some sort of planned shutdown. If you're a project manager, that's under scrutiny because your project is over budget, it's likely due to, or in large part due to, NPT. Most budgets will have some cost allocated or some cost estimate put aside for Endpt, which is known to most of us as contingency. But it can be very difficult to predict exactly how much mpt you will incur because there is a wide range of things that can happen. But at the end of the day, though, it always comes down to money. Cost benefit analysis is a regular part of any engineer's Day job and we're constantly trouble shooting. There's usually more than one solution, so it's all about doing a little bit of economics to figure out which one will give you the most for the least. Let's take a look at an example and, considering that we were just talking about fishing, let's use that as an example. So let's say you're drilling a well and one your drilling tools got stuck down in the well somewhere, and the cost of that tool is a hundred thousand bucks. So the cost of your drilling operations while they're on standby, meaning they're not doing anything, is going to cost you fiftyzero a day. And if you want to get someone to come out and... the tool. And by the way, the person that comes out to fish the tool for you is called the fishermen. So the fisherman and his tools, let's say, that cost you twentyzero a day. So now you've got to ask yourself, first of all, are you confident that you can get the tool out and if so, how long do you think it's going to take, or how long does the fishermen think it's going to take? There's also the option to just leave it down whole, depending on where you're at. Perhaps it's at the very bottom of the well. So if you think it's going to take you two days or more to fish it out, at Fiftyzero dollars a day for your stand by and twenty Theros a day for your fisherman and his tools, that's going to cost you north of a hundred and fortyzero. So if there isn't much drawback to leaving it down whole, you're actually probably better off doing that and moving on. It sounds pretty strange to just decide to leave a perfectly good tool, where the hundred thousand dollars down hole, never to be seen again, but if it's going to cost you more to get it out, then the decision becomes an easy one. I often find myself thinking somewhat like a professional poker player. I see these guys on TV betting and losing hundreds of thousands of dollars on one hand to cards, and I'm odd at how they're able to do that in a single moment when I'm too cheap to buy Guacamole for my Tacos. But we make decisions like that every day. True, the poker players are playing for their own money, but it's not really theirs until they actually win either way. The point that I'm trying to make is that you need to remove yourself from thinking of the sums of money you're dealing with and start making decisions based on math, economics and cost benefit analysis, much like a professional poker player does when deciding whether to go all in on a hundred thousand dollar hand. It's...

...all about gathering as much information as you can and making the best educated decision you can, because the longer you take, the more it's going to cost you. Typically, the people that succeed in this type of of environment are the ones that are well informed but decisive. I'll be honest, when I first thought of this episode I was thinking of going into specific examples of trouble shooting and what can go wrong. But, like I've already talked about, when you sit down and you actually go over all of the likely or most likely scenarios, there's still hundreds of them. So I then realize the important point here is not necessarily going over all the scenarios that we can trouble shoot an oil and gas but more so the frame of mind that you need to have in order to solve them. And remember that when I say solve them, I don't necessarily means solve the original problem, I mean come up with the best solution, which can sometimes be to do nothing. You can throw around terms like economics, cost benefit analysis and nonproductive time, but at the end of the day it's all about money. Hey, guys, if you like today's episode, make sure you subscribe to the podcast. Unlike most podcasts that release an episode every week or two, I did all twenty four at once, Netflix style, so you can listen to them all right now if you just hit subscribe. If you like today's episode, make sure you leave me a comment or thumbs up, or you can email me at from fossil to fuel at GMAILCOM or look me up on Linkedin. I'm Brendan McDougall.

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