Communication: The Key to Good Drilling Operations

by Bill Murchison. Jr.

On a recent trip from Raleigh to Atlanta, I sat next to Malcolm Gillis, President of Rice University. We had several interesting conversations, including one about how he never loses at Monopoly. He came up with a game plan as a youngster that has enabled him to wipe out everyone he has ever faced. Since I have ten children, I asked Malcolm to tell me what the best way to prepare my children for college. He said three things. He advises young people to learn to communicate well. They need good oral and written communication skills. He also suggested that young people take as much math and science as they could.

In the drilling business, these same three areas are critical to the success of our operations. But of the three, communication is the key to successful drilling operations. "The one thing that all successful operators and contractors have in common is good communication."

Communication in drilling begins before the first foot is drilled. It begins in the pre-planning and pre-spud meeting. In order for effective communication to take place in that meeting, many things must be considered. Here are just a few of those considerations.

  1. The meeting must be well planned by the engineer. (He must meet with a number of people before he even makes his plans.)
  2. The purpose of the meeting needs to be very clearly spelled out. Here are five purposes for that pre-spud meeting: to open all doors of communication, to reduce unscheduled events, to review the well plans, to review the geological considerations and finally to co-ordinate the responsibilities between the contractors, service companies and the operators. The meeting must have an agenda which helps accomplish these purposes.
  3. The meeting needs to have the right people at the meeting. The Operator's Superintendent and the Contractor's Superintendent both need to be there. The tool pushers and drillers, the foremen, the engineers, the geologist, the Offshore Installation Manager and the representatives from the service companies all need to be at this meeting. Unless all these key individuals are at the meeting to both communicate their concerns with others and come to a mutual understanding of how the program is to be implemented, the efficiency, profitability and success of the entire drilling operation is jeopardized.

Communication does not stop at the pre-spud meeting. It continues throughout all the various meetings that are held. At the Operator/Contractor meeting, which should be private, they need to review their respective responsibilities, the MMS requirements, the IADC report, the BOP drills (reaction and trip drills), land covenants and the BOP closing-in procedure. The pre-cement meeting is more of a people plan. The responsibilities of the company man, drilling engineer, tool pusher, driller, feed pump operator, chief cementing engineer and mud engineer are all spelled out and delegated.

In addition to good communication at the various meetings, there also needs to be good communication between the crew and the home office. The crew on site needs to be very thoughtful and detailed in their reports of any problems. Their communication needs to include the trends and related facts, their operational plan to correct the problem and their recommendations.

Besides communication between the various parties, there is another type of communication that is extremely important in a drilling operation. The driller must learn to communicate with the bottom of the hole. He can do this through monitoring trends. The various trends tell the driller exactly what is happening down below and gives him the information that everyone needs to make critical decisions on a daily basis. In order to see these trends, they must be written down. Some of these trends that he must monitor include:

  • Pressure and stroke trends
  • Torque trends
  • Drag trends
  • Rate of Penetration trends
  • Mud trends
  • Pit trends

The trends, daily reports, appraisals and other records that are kept are all effective tools in communication. The logging records help the geologists pick their sites and make better plans. The bit records help the drilling team in their future bit selection. The reports and records help the engineer do his post appraisal of the well. It helps him determine if the program was followed, whether the deviations were necessary and how future programs that he plans can be improved. Good communication helps management properly supervise and optimize their operations.

Good drilling training programs do not merely give out information; they help drillers, engineers, rig foremen, and service companies learn to communicate with each other, optimize their drilling operations and properly supervise the well. When Bill Murchison started Murchison Drilling Schools in 1977, he set forth 5 objectives for his Operations Drilling Technology and Advanced Well Control Course. They were:

  1. How to supervise a drilling operation.
  2. How to preplan field operations.
  3. How to analyze and solve drilling problems.
  4. How to prevent unscheduled events.
  5. How to communicate on the rig.

Twenty four years later, the same 5 objectives are helping companies around the world to supervise, optimize and communicate better on the rig. The training has proved so valuable that many oil companies, contractors, and service companies have made it standard policy to put all their new service men through the Murchison Drilling Schools Operations Drilling Technology and Advanced Well Control Course. It has become part of their overall training that they receive before going out into the field.