This article, written by Special Publications Editor Adam Wilson, contains highlights of paper SPE 180351, “Deepwater Well Control: Integrated Simulation for Risk Management,” by Fritz Golding, Noble; John Spath, Talos Energy; and Bob Newhouse, Newhouse Consultants, prepared for the 2016 SPE Deepwater Drilling and Completions Conference, Galveston, Texas, USA, 14–15 September. The paper has not been peer reviewed.

As deepwater drilling moved into the dynamic-positioning (DP) era, many drilling contractors and operators lacked an evidence-based approach for identification of potential process-safety and well-control failure points. In an effort to better understand well issues, operational-procedure adequacy, well-control intervention practices, and human factors, a global offshore drilling contractor created a program of fully integrated deepwater-DP-drilling simulation exercises to scrutinize all critical aspects of deepwater well-control operations. The result is a proactive, behavior-based risk-management process.

A Sea Change in Drilling

Beginning in the early 2000s, offshore drilling experienced significant growth in demand. This increased demand, driven by rising commodity prices and the macro economic phenomenon of rapid economic development in China and India, combined with enhanced technological developments enabling drilling in deeper water, led the industry into a new era.

With the move to deeper water and enhanced DP operations, the industry faced unprecedented demand for drilling units and, therefore, new personnel. In the early 2000s, more than 150 new deepwater mobile offshore drilling units (MODUs) were under construction, creating a need for tens of thousands of new crew members. A sector that had historically hired frontline workers and grown them into drillers and managers over a period of years suddenly needed to hire thousands of new employees each year with virtually no time for them to learn on the job. In addition, both old and new crews were dealing with new technology, resulting in daunting training challenges. Many of the new crew members were going directly to the latest and most-complex rigs being built.

New Approach to Training Needed. The effect of all this change and innovation on crew development has been pronounced. Research indicates that technology-intensive systems require considerable operator and crew expertise for effective use. But drilling operations also require the wealth of tacit (undocumented) knowledge that many long-term drilling professionals possess. The older and newer generations do not necessarily share a mental model for tasks that require their collaboration, and any given task may itself involve hundreds of steps that have become automatic for people with long experience but that often have not been recorded because of the long-standing practice of on-the-job training.

While technical-skills training remains vitally important, teamwork and interdependence among drilling, DP, and power-management crews on DP MODUs remain critical to process safety. The merging of groups of professionals from these different disciplines into an integrated team capable of working collaboratively has become more important than ever. The company recognized that the most effective training programs for DP MODU operations must address both the individual technical skills and competencies and the human factors necessary for safe and efficient operations.

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