Drilling companies are constantly evaluating ways to improve the efficiency and safety of their operations, the way the returns of the well are circulated while drilling has remained unchanged for decades, however, having a circulating system open to the atmosphere imposes a risk to the drilling crew in the rig flow.
Conventional influx detection methods can easily allow the gasification of the mud column in the annulus before it is noticeable and H2S or flammable gas alarm can be triggered before any action is taken.
A rotating control device (RCD) is a piece of equipment that diverts the returns of the well from the rig floor while allowing the drill pipe to be rotated and reciprocated, that means tripping and drilling operations can be performed while the well is isolated from the rig floor by the RCD.
The RCD is a key component in Managed Pressure Drilling (MPD) operations as it is responsible for containing the annular surface pressure and preserving the integrity of the circulation system, hence maintaining a slight overbalance condition on the well, additionally the RCD can be deployed independently for other applications that enhance the safety and optimize the costs of the drilling operation. For this reason, efforts are made to ensure that optimum operating conditions are present to reduce the chances of system failure. Historical data detailing the performance of RCD systems, including total stripped footage, total rotating hours and failure mechanisms were used to evaluate the reliability of this technology and to set operating limits to optimize its performance.
Historically there are conditions that are known to reduce the life span of RCD bearing assemblies, such as misalignment of the Blowout Preventer (BOP) stack, hard banding or bad condition of drill pipe tool joints, excessive drill pipe vibration, temperature and type of fluid out of the well, among others. Ensuring that the operating limits are observed regarding rotating speed, pressure and temperature were observed to be key to maximizing the life cycle. It was observed that the base technology over which RCDs are designed is far from recent and new additions to the current setup are needed to "smarten up" an otherwise very basic piece of equipment, this with the intention of obtain better data regarding its operating conditions and the parameters that affect its performance. New technologies in terms of elastomer compounds, seal design improvements, monitoring systems and implementation of artificial intelligence are some of the upcoming developments discussed in this document and that are to be implemented in the short and medium term in RCD operations in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.