As India explores its oil and gas reserves to enhance domestic production, a new technology has emerged for deep well drilling – the Predator Drilling System. Developed by Atlas Copco Drilling Solutions in the U.S., Predator is now helping the Indian Oil & Gas industry to take drilling performance, energy efficiency and safety to a new level.
Ready to work: The Predator truck is backed up onto its platform and fixed into the drilling position before the mast is raised.
For a country looking to reduce its dependence on imports of oil and petroleum products by exploiting its domestic natural gas, the latest technology and advanced equipment is critical. India still predominantly uses conventional methods of exploration and production drilling, which is time consuming and expensive. That’s why, when Indore-based contractor Shivganga Drillers Pvt Ltd., was approached by various oil and gas exploration companies, it realized that a significant advantage could be had by adopting the latest technology.
“We were aware that Atlas Copco had done extensive field trials with both mud drilling and air drilling and that its Predator Drilling System incorporated very advanced, new generation technology,” says Anuj Rathi, Shivganga’s Chief Operating Officer. “We decided it was extremely suitable for this task.” As a result, Shivganga brought the world’s first Predator system to India in 2013, and soon after its arrival, the company was awarded a major drilling contract from ONGC (Oil & Natural Gas Corporation Ltd) India’s largest oil and gas exploration and production company, to drill a well more than 2 000 m in depth.
However, this project was not as easy as Shivganga initially thought. Located in the interiors of central India, the site posed a major challenge. In most zones, the company encountered sandstone with an abrasiveness of 80–85 percent, mixed with much softer formations making it difficult for the driller to anticipate the hardness of the rock and act accordingly. “The compressive strength of the formation was fickle, ever- changing and never a constant. When you encounter a formation that changes so fast you need to be very careful and have very precise control over all the parameters,” explains Rathi. “Thankfully, the Predator gave us that kind of precision and we were able to keep changing the parameters depending on the requirements. The machine responds very quickly and you can change these parameters instantly.”
During the project Shivganga says it achieved a performance of more than 400 m in 18 hours – a speed it believes may be a record in such formations. “We managed to keep our promise and delivered a time saving of 35 to 40 percent,” Rathi comments. “Using conventional drilling technology, it would have probably taken around six to eight months to drill this well, whereas we did it in just two and half months, including field trials, testing, setup and drilling. That’s probably never been equalled.” Outstanding rock drilling tools Shivganga insisted on full support from Atlas Copco and therefore chose Secoroc DTH hammers and bits for this deep, high pressure, percussive drilling application.
Secoroc QL 120 hammers were chosen for the larger diameters (442 and 323 mm) and QL 80 hammers for the final 216 mm diameter finishing section of the well. The performance of these hammers was unmatched. Perfectly married to the Predator they delivered exactly the desired speed for the depths. The QL hammers also came with additional attachments such as a hydrocyclone and a bit retrieval system, which made them even more efficient.
The retrieval system could hold the bit, in case of breakage from the shank, and under no circumstances could a bit be lost inside the well, eliminating the need for “fishing” and the risk of having to abandon a hole. The bits also had buttons specially made with polycrystalline diamonds, on the face and gauge, to make them more aggressive in the hardest rock. “ONGC was very excited with the progress we made with this rig,” says Rathi. “They were a little sceptical initially about the outcome if we found hydrocarbons, but we managed to finish the work successfully.”
The Predator Driling System is a unique package that applies innovation and proven new technology to exploration and production drilling.
Safety and environmental impact
The Oil & Gas industry is both hazardous and environmentally sensitive, calling for the highest levels of safety and health precautions. Any contractor or company aiming to get into Oil & Gas exploration and mining has to follow strict guidelines set by the Director General of Mines Safety. Shivganga was no exception and had to ensure stringent safety and environment norms when carrying out the drilling work. In this respect, the energy efficient and environmentally friendly design of the Predator gave Shivganga an added advantage in negotiating the contract.
“The Predator consumes less diesel and requires fewer oil changes in comparison to other drilling systems,” says Rathi. “The level of emission and sound pollution is also extremely low for the rig. In fact, it’s way below the permissible limits in India.” Another big plus point was the Predator’s mobility that reduces the rig setup time. “With conventional rigs, it takes roughly two months to mobilize and set them up, whereas the Predator, being a mobile machine, can be set up in a matter of hours. Also, it’s an automated drill so you need less manpower which means there are fewer safety hassles and hazards,” adds Rathi. Shivganga managed to complete the ONGC contracts in the preset time frame, which enabled the company to win two more drilling contracts in quick succession.
High quality service and support
One of the company’s main concerns, as a newcomer to the O&G drilling business, was the consequences of not being able to source spare parts in time in the event of a breakdown. “In the O&G business, once the explorer identifies the well, they set up a timeline for drilling. This is defined in the actual contract and the job has to be completed within the stipulated time period. If the work goes beyond that, a penalty has to be paid by the contractor,” adds Shivganga’s Director B L Rathi, who has three decades of experience in water well drilling before entering the O&G business.
“We took this challenge and the risk because we felt confident that Atlas Copco could support us as they have been in India for so many years. All of the promises made to us during the purchasing process, right from providing adequate backup to bringing engineers from abroad to support us and train our people, were fulfilled satisfactorily. Their response was fast, they listened to our problems and attended to them very quickly.”
Working to improve
Mukul Bahety, Chief Executive Officer at Shivganga, explains that the company is now working to make the Predator even better. “We are in a learning phase, understanding the opportunities that an advanced system like the Predator can offer and are working together with the Atlas Copco team to further improve the machine’s performance.”
He concludes: “Overall our customer, ONGC, as well as ourselves, are extremely satisfied with the Predator. I see this rig having a huge future in India and I anticipate that the Predator population in this country will go to at least eight or ten within the next five years.”