Originally Published: E&P Magazine January 2019 Author: Paul Sipps

In the oil and gas industry, the digital transformation is delivering new technologies to help improve the safety, productivity and sustainability of all operations. With the industry increasingly emphasizing risk mitigation and efficiency, it is more important than ever to ensure that critical well control equipment, such as BOPs, can be verified to contain pressure on demand. Continuous innovation and the extension of these technologies to all well barriers are providing a clearer picture of well integrity in real time.

Analog versus digital

Other industry methods for conducting pressure tests related to well control equipment and well integrity often have relied on the century-old analog circular chart recorder. A circular piece of graph paper rotates beneath one or more pens, which draw pressure plots during testing and can result in a poor-resolution graph of pressure over time. In addition to the poor resolution, the resulting graph is susceptible to manipulation. The circular chart relies on several other factors, such as chart scale, pen width and recorder motor function, to produce the result. It is common for one or many of these factors to cause the results of pressure tests to be undeterminable, leading to prolonged test durations or multiple unnecessary test attempts. These additional attempts further expose personnel to dangerously high pressures and increase wear and tear on equipment.

Moreover, subjective interpretations of circular charts can lead to false positives, introducing risks of noncompliance or critical equipment not functioning when needed. The risks incurred from false readings for pressure tests related to well integrity and well control equipment cannot be overstated. As such, new methods for interpreting the results of such tests were imperative for the future of pressure testing.

Many pressure tests are captured digitally and saved for further interpretation by humans, representing an incremental positive shift toward safety and efficiency for the industry. That said, however, there is still much room for improvement. Many operators find themselves in the position of needing to satisfy a variety of criteria for validating pressure tests, including local, international and self-imposed regulations.

This increased demand for compliance has created rigid, complex and time-consuming processes for operators and drilling contractors that revolve around the verification and interpretation of the data collected from pressure test results. Several individuals often analyze these data before a pass or fail result is determined and requires collaboration with both the rig site and office personnel, delaying the determination of test results considerably. Although capturing the pressure test data digitally for review and analysis represents an improvement over analog circular charts, considerable inefficiencies and inaccuracies remain.

Neither circular charts nor current digital capture methods include schematic representations of the equipment or well components being tested. With complex systems such as subsea trees, BOPs and choke-and-kill manifolds having dozens of required components for pressure testing, it is vital that all components be tracked and tested to demonstrate that they meet or exceed criteria and are fit for use. This has led to several tools being utilized to create schematic representations of the various equipment and wells that undergo such testing. Many methods for creating these schematics are suboptimal as they rely on tools that were not designed for the specific task of creating such schematics. As such, the traditional schematic creation process is prohibitively lengthy and contains an inherent risk of human error. The identification of these inefficiencies and risks have led to the creation of software tools, which are easy-to-use and render accurate schematic depictions of well control and well barrier equipment.

Digital alternative

IPT Global LLC has created a software suite specifically designed to address the challenges commonly experienced in digital pressure testing. Namely, the software was created as a fit-for-purpose digital alternative to properly design, plan, test, report and archive the results of all required pressure tests throughout the life cycle of a well. Leveraging the experience of industry experts, combined with software engineering and data analysis, IPT Global focuses on addressing the pressure testing workflow with a single integrated software platform designed to be the principal system of record for all pressure testing in upstream operations. The first challenge was to create a tool that offered real-time analysis of pressure, rate and volume data with preconfigured criteria so that pressure tests could be objectively passed or failed. This was a critical first step as it solved several of the challenges of alternative methods for pressure testing. The risk of human interpretation or manipulation was removed and replaced instead with software that mathematically verifies the results of each test as they occur. Next, the focus shifted to creating simple but powerful tools for schematic and test plan creation. The tools were designed to be intuitive and allow the user to quickly create complex schematics that were easy to edit as needed to reflect the changing nature of operations and equipment. The planning tool was designed with industry requirements in mind and contains several safeguards that inform the user of incomplete test plans, missing testing requirements and safety concerns that might be present. A reporting tool was developed that instantly aggregates the results of all pressure tests into one organized report, designed with industry operators, contractors and regulators in mind. These reports are organized for archiving in a cloud-based repository for secure retrieval.

The SureTec schematic planning tool is for subsea BOP and wellbore pressure testing. (Source: IPT Global LLC)

This technology initially targeted subsea BOPs where the regulatory requirements and testing challenges were significant. However, the software has expanded to cover all pressure tests for rig site operations from well spud to plug and abandonment. Additionally, these tools are designed to be a value-add for subsea testing, surface testing and onshore applications. By using real-time analysis of pressure data and machine learning methodologies in R&D, continuous innovation has delivered to the industry advanced testing criteria and algorithms, greatly enhancing the efficiency and safety of pressure testing operations. Several critical testing cases have been proven out by using such technology.

Case study

By using advanced real-time analysis of pressure trends, the technology has been able to detect small leaks during predeployment testing of several subsea BOPs on the surface that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. Operators were able to address the leaks and prevent unplanned pulls before they could occur. With the testing optimization through advanced schematics and planning tools, along with comparative algorithms for thermal compensation during BOP testing, the technology was recently able to capture the fastest subsea BOP test ever recorded using U.S. Bureau of Safety of Environmental Enforcement’s Gulf of Mexico criteria, timed at 2 hours and 51 minutes.

This record-setting test was performed utilizing the most rigorous criteria in the industry. The software also recently helped an operator identify a leak during a critical well integrity test that had gone unnoticed using standard criteria. The leak was identified using real-time analysis of the pressure trends and was able to be documented and isolated with the aid of interactive to-scale wellbore schematics, which reflected the location of the problem. Additional industry applications include predictive maintenance, trend monitoring and performance insights for driving testing operations to their technical limit all while enhancing safety. Lastly, technical consulting with operators and drilling contractors is driven by research surrounding hundreds of thousands of pressure tests stored in the largest database of its kind in the industry. Bringing those insights to the operator during the planning phase of a well and during challenging workovers brings tremendous clarity into the test planning and execution processes necessary to safely and efficiently complete these projects.