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Well abandonment: when an end is a beginning

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Well abandonment: when an end is a beginning

January 6, 2021

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Uneconomical oil and gas wells owned by NAM are permanently being closed all over the Netherlands, using a world-first, fully electric rig-less setup.

Birdsong is something you wouldn’t expect to hear at an industrial site that’s operating 24/7. Yet the chirping of birds is frequent background noise at several of the well sites where P&A – plug and abandonment – activities are being completed for NAM, the Dutch-born exploration and production company jointly owned by Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil.

“We’re running all-electric machinery, which means the noise levels are much, much lower than traditional diesel-powered well site operations,” explains Vincent Dekker, Integrated Well Services Project Manager with Baker Hughes. “Some of the sites are in forests, and because it’s silent on location, you can hear the birds chirping – it’s quite amazing.”

“Some of the sites are in forests, and because it’s silent on location, you can hear the birds chirping – it’s quite amazing.”

Vincent Dekker, Project Manager

Baker Hughes is leading the project management, engineering and providing the well-services products for the three-year campaign, which will safely retire more than 60 wells in 23 different locations across the Netherlands. Joining in the project are WellGear, which is providing an electrified P&A unit and pressure-control equipment, and Mammoet, which is providing on-site services and logistics. “We started in mid-February 2020 with a new crew and a new alliance between the three companies, and it’s going really well – we are even ahead of schedule,” says Dekker.

“Ensuring the proper decommissioning of oil and gas infrastructure that has reached the end of its useful life is a vital part of energy transition,” explains Bart Joppe, Global Well Abandonment Leader for Baker Hughes Oilfield Services. “Baker Hughes is focused on helping our customers do it in a cost-effective way that’s also sustainable and environmentally aware.”

This P&A project has to operate within tight parameters, including the strict noise and emissions regulations in the Netherlands and the fact that many of the wells are more than 50 years old and now sit in the middle of urban areas. “We make a lot of effort to lessen noise,” says Dekker. “We even put rubber bands on the units so that when we lay down pipes they don’t ‘cling, clang, clong’!” 

“NAM wanted a cost-effective, low-impact, environmental solution, with a very small footprint” explains Bart Joppe.

''Our customer wanted a cost-effective, low-impact, environmental solution, with a very small footprint''

Bart Joppe, Global Well Abandonment Leader

 
Plugging in to shut off

The fully electrified rig-less unit, which mostly runs off grid power, is critical to reducing emissions and noise levels, as is the fluid circulation package being used on the project, which also operates on all-electric pumps. “It has a very low impact on the environment and so far, we have had exactly zero complaints about noise or emissions from neighbors, and sometimes we are working only 50 meters from someone’s front door,” says Joppe.

Despite being a rig-less setup, the electric unit can perform all the P&A work a rig can do. “Normally, rig-less units are used only for fairly simple P&A work, but these units are equipped to do more complex P&A wells, too,” says Joppe. “We are also deploying down-hole technologies to make it cost effective, such as being able to do combinations of applications in a single trip in the wellbore, which means we can reduce the number of trips.”

As Joppe explains, the plug and abandonment of an oil or gas well relies on a carefully planned sequence of events. NAM engineers set the scope for each well and then NAM, Baker Hughes and service partners jointly do the detailed engineering plans for each site. Each well will differ but there are some constants.

“First we isolate the reservoir at the bottom of the well to make sure that it’s no longer connected to the surface,” says Joppe. The cap rock formation – an impermeable barrier which was previously drilled through for oil or gas extraction – is repaired and, he explains, “sealed for eternity”.

Moving up the wellbore, isolations are put in place on other layers, and the completion tubing and casing is pulled out and more plugs – both cement and mechanical – are placed in the well as needed and then pressure-tested. “How much work is required to safely and compliantly abandon the well depends on the complexity of the well,” says Joppe, a Dutchman currently based in Houston.

The alliance is rightly proud of the zero LTI (Lost Time for Injury) metric for the team, which is working together for the first time, as Dekker, who is based on the ground in the Netherlands, posted on LinkedIn last October. Only a few weeks in, COVID-19 struck, and strict social distancing, testing, quarantining and use of PPE has enabled the campaign to proceed safely. “We’re like a dynamic circus travelling through the Netherlands,” says Dekker with a laugh. “Everyone’s really happy to be working on this project, and where we are now in the north-east, for a lot of the project team, it’s really close to home. We spend between seven and 35 days working on one well, and right now we’re in one location with 10 wells, so we’ll basically jump the unit about 70 meters between the wells.”

NAM well abandonments image 3
One of the well abandonment sites in The Netherlands. 

Courtesy, respect and transparency

NAM is managing the non-technical risk – ensuring neighbors are not inconvenienced by the P&A work – which relies on excellent communications before the “circus” comes to town. “We have about 60 truckloads of equipment to bring to site, and it all has to go through small villages on the way,” says Dekker. “NAM makes a great effort to inform the public a couple of weeks before we arrive so that no one is surprised.”

“NAM makes a great effort to inform the public a couple of weeks before we arrive so that no one is surprised.”

Vincent Dekker, Project Manager

Says Joppe, “These wells are not in the middle of nowhere – they are surrounded by tree lines and all the piping is below ground, so if you don’t live there you might not notice them when you drive through the Netherlands.” All the same, the electrified set up is a tall structure arriving on site and care is taken to make sure everyone knows exactly why it’s there. To that end, NAM invites neighbors, says Joppe, to “come and have a look at the site from a safe distance so they can understand what is going on – that’s a very important part of it.”

Dekker says the only issue that’s come across his desk from a local resident so far is when a woman who lived a couple of kilometers away came to the worksite to report that a light was shining in her window at night. It was fixed that same day.

“All the guys working with us know that when they’re driving to and from the site, they must drive very slowly and carefully, it’s a neighborhood and there are kids playing,” says Dekker. “We’re an integral part of the world around us and the people there know that we’re there to retire these wells and that most of the land will then be given back to nature.”

As each stage of the campaign is completed and the wells are closed forever, birds will have even more space to sing.

 

 

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