As deepwater drilling leapt 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. Noble Corporation, a global offshore drilling contractor, (the Company or the Drilling Contractor) has undertaken a journey to scrutinize all critical aspects of deepwater well control operations to ensure a more robust understanding of well issues, operational procedural adequacy, well control intervention practices, and human factors. The Company will present the process and learnings from more than a dozen fully simulated deepwater well control exercises to increase the knowledge base and understanding of the entire industry.

In early 2015, the Company started a program of fully integrated deepwater DP drilling simulation exercises. Utilizing state-of-the-art, immersive simulations with linked software, the Company brings drilling, marine, and engineering crews together with shore based managers from both operator and drilling contractor. Multiday exercises, built on adult learning principles, confront the crews with life-like well control, weather, and equipment failure scenarios that implicate hydrocarbon containment in a deepwater well. All drilling controls are exactly replicated for each vessel, so the drill crew members are in their "native environment," seeing the same drill floor and human-machine interface as at work. Likewise, the DP and power management simulators are the same equipment found on Company vessels. Uniquely, the drilling, DP and power management software is integrated, so that faults on one system impact the others. Beyond the simulations themselves, the simulation center contains all telephone and radio communications and ship-to-shore, enabling the crew to communicate as though they were on the rig; likewise, the shore based rig management and operator drilling engineers participate via telephone. The exercise is facilitated from a high-tech control room with audio, video and instrumentation feeds, and two-way communications. Expert facilitators control events and role play additional players. The lifelike exercises are recorded and a full after-action-review debrief is facilitated with the crews afterwards to identify learnings and opportunities for improvement.

The result of the integrated deepwater DP drilling simulation exercises is a proactive, behavior-based risk management process with the operator and drilling contractor. The exercises return critical learnings and observations in five key areas:

  • Procedural knowledge for critical operations (e.g., well-specific operating guidelines, well control manual, bridging documents)

  • Observed behaviors around well control and loss of position scenarios

  • Human factors, including team dynamics, relationships, and trust

  • Enhanced situational awareness and crew communications

  • Further training and operational procedure development opportunities

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