The number one operational safety risk during the drilling and completion of a well is the risk of a kick and the danger that this can place on people, assets and environment. The second is the potential misdiagnosis of a kick or a limited ability, to quickly and efficiently identify downhole anomalies. Is it a kick, or is the well breathing when making a connection? Are we experiencing losses, or is the well ballooning when the mud pumps are turned back on after a connection is made? If a wrong decision is made based on a misdiagnosed situation, the results can range from costing millions of dollars in nonproductive time to loss of life and rig.

There are numerous key technology elements in the industry today that can greatly mitigate these risks and create a substantially safer drilling and completion operation and environment. These elements are field-proven over 40 plus years, are readily available from many vendors and are relatively economical. Surprisingly, these elements are not used on the most critical, risk-laden and expensive wells being drilled globally. These risk-mitigating elements include such systems as rotating control devices, flow-metering technologies, automated drilling choke systems and downhole isolation valves. Individually these elements add incremental benefits and increase the overall safety of the drilling and completion operations. When these systems are paired or used in combination with each other to create a closed and pressurizable mud-returns system, the benefits escalate exponentially when compared to cost or perceived inconveniences of these elements. Furthermore, when the closed-loop system is designed as such – a system – as opposed to being piecemealed together, the operational benefits of the system are maximized.

This paper describes how a few of these basic elements greatly enhance operational safety and efficiency. A closed mud-returns system enables the quick and accurate identification of kicks and thereby minimizes risk without sacrificing other operational elements.

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