September 2021 /// Vol 242 No. 9

Features

Operators: Are your partners taking digital transformation beyond the drill bit?

Streamlining day-to-day operations, using purpose-built apps, is enabling improvements for operations, maintenance and worker safety.

Drew Doty, Eric Sawyer, Patricia Zarate, Nabors Industries

The impact of digitalization is moving oil and gas operations into a new era. More data are being acquired more quickly than ever before, and that is enabling greater standardization, more streamlined processes, faster and better decision-making, greater operational efficiencies, and safer work environments.

Although inroads are being made, the fact remains that the oil and gas industry is particularly risk-averse, and because change equates to risk, many companies have had difficulty transitioning to implementing digital tools. According to a Market Worlds report, only 13% of companies in the oil and gas sector use the insights from technology to enhance business intelligence solutions. It is a difficult transition, so it is not surprising that many companies that have begun transitioning to digital tools are focusing almost exclusively on improving drilling performance and enabling remote operations. But to make impactful changes, it is critical to go beyond the bit.

Capturing the best value from digitalization means not just finding ways to automate processes but using performance data to monitor operations and improve safety. To be successful, it also means choosing the right partners—companies that are embracing and committed to developing, incorporating, and advancing digital solutions.

Commitment to safety drives innovation. Safety improvement was the primary driver for Nabors’ recent development of digital applications, designed specifically for oil and gas operations beyond the bit. In partnership with a supermajor, Nabors began investing resources to create applications that address a range of oil and gas activities.

Fig. 1. A crew member using an iPad to run a Nabors’ app.
Fig. 1. A crew member using an iPad to run a Nabors’ app.

The first digital tool developed in this program was introduced to streamline and simplify documenting and monitoring safety drills. The app, known as myDRILLS, initially focused on well control incidents but soon expanded to address other emergencies and safety incidents, like stop work authority drills, H2S drills, and other emergency drills such as first aid, firefighting and muster, Fig. 1. The app simplifies the process of gathering data about safety drills on every rig and monitors crew competency to see how well they are identifying potential incidents and executing responses. The ability to track drills and collect the data in a central, digital repository makes it possible to understand how processes and procedures are being followed and to respond proactively when changes need to be made.

Initiated with a September 2019 pilot that comprised 10 safety drills, the app was soon applied internationally, resulting in approximately 2,000 drills globally managed, using the app by year-end. In 2020, more than 12,000 drills were executed by more than 450 unique evaluators across 18 countries, and this year, Nabors is on track to carry out approximately 20,000. Today, the number of drills managed by the app has more than quadrupled to 44 unique drills.

Before the apps were developed and disseminated, the drills executed on the worksites followed a set sequence that was not always based on real-world conditions. Today drills are developed, using centralized data, and the procedural and technical guidance is baked into the app. Furthermore, it is now easy to see if a drill was completed without sending an inspector to a rig to check paper records, a labor- and time-intensive process that required travel to and from the rigs and relied completely on how thoroughly the recordkeeping was performed. The new app allows a single engineer to monitor all drills worldwide and use the insight derived from the data gathered to improve well control safety.

Improving safety, minimizing risks. The next step in the process of implementing digital tools to improve HSE performance was to digitize the checklists used for inspections. Before the introduction of the VERIFYit app, developed for this function, lists had to be printed at each work site, filled out by hand, scanned (with work orders attached) and submitted to the corporate office for processing. Sometimes, the lists were housed at the worksite, and only some of the details were collected at the main office. By digitizing hundreds of pages of checklists, app designers have enabled workers to fill in the checklists on a device, like a company-supplied iPad, and upload the reports daily to a central repository, where they could be analyzed for trends and patterns.

The app has saved time for on-site workers by providing guidance for completing inspections that ensures assessments are being completed in a timely and accurate manner. It also is streamlining and standardizing reporting globally and eliminating the need for large volumes of paper to be printed, processed and stored, leading to environmental benefits, Fig. 2.

Fig. 2. Digital tools are helping to reduce environmental impacts while improving safety and operational efficiencies.
Fig. 2. Digital tools are helping to reduce environmental impacts while improving safety and operational efficiencies.

The app also creates global consistency, so crews around the world are using similar checklists for common items, which allows experts evaluating the data to recognize when things are failing broadly and to identify problems that are common across the fleet. Now, instead of one-off problem-solving in different locations at different times, it is possible to provide global actions, based on insights derived from the data.

When actions are required, they are categorized digitally to identify activities that need immediate attention (within 24 hours), providing a record and assigning accountability for those responsible for carrying out maintenance tasks. This approach shifts maintenance activity from a calendar-based program to a process of using operational data to efficiently schedule management, refurbishment and replacement. And the insights derived from the data can be shared across the fleet.

Although maintenance is a critical function managed by the app, it is not the only advantage of this digital tool. The VERIFYit app has improved worker safety by reducing the instances of dropped objects. According to a U.S. Department of Labor/Bureau of Labor Statistics report, falling objects account for 5% of all workplace injuries. And the American Bureau of Shipping recently estimated as many as 10% of fatalities and thousands of medical treatment and lost-time injuries each year in offshore oil and gas operations are caused by dropped objects. Nabors wanted to be proactive in addressing situations that could lead to dropped objects in the workplace to reduce the number of incidents and protect the lives of their workers. However, without the data it wasn’t possible to accurately identify where the problems lay.

Using the features of the app, the drilling contractor began tracking drops on its assets and gathering operational data to identify conditions where dropped objects were most likely to occur. By analyzing the data collected from its rigs, it was possible to reduce the rate of high potential dropped object incidents globally by 80%, the lowest recorded in the company’s history, even while more rigs were being added to the fleet.

Achieving efficiencies through data analysis. Tracking activities for safety improvement soon led to applying the same technique to reduce flat time or invisible lost time (ILT). Rig crews, accustomed to doing things in a similar manner one time to the next, had lost sight of lost time because they were used to following a process without questioning its efficiency. Nabors decided to carry out remote, real-time monitoring to track offline activities to determine where efficiencies could be captured. Using this information, developers created MOVEit, scaling down the data collected to exactly those elements that help to achieve efficiencies when applied across the board.

Using data gathered from the field via the app, experts have defined best practices for completing a multi-step job. The app provides the end-user with those steps, along with guidance for performing specific tasks and the ability to measure performance that is fed back in real time. Now, crews can be aware if they are running behind or ahead of schedule and know the expected completion times. Ultimately, performance can be normalized across the fleet, and guidance can be developed, based on what is being learned.

Fig. 3. The MOVEit app has helped improve rig move performance by 56%.
Fig. 3. The MOVEit app has helped improve rig move performance by 56%.

Using the app to run pre-planning digital checklists ensures that the necessary tools are on site and accounted for, and that all the appropriate procedures are available and lined out in a way that is easy to follow. By using the insights afforded by the app, it was possible to reduce the time required for a normal rig move in Kazakhstan from approximately two to three weeks, to just 11 days, Fig. 3.

By making the app customizable, developers have given end-users the ability to tailor it to a specific type of job, following clearly defined steps to create effective workflows that improve best practices, as well as safety procedures. This has made the app invaluable in understanding how time is being spent on offline activities like casing jobs and BOP testing, which historically have been tracked by the third party carrying out the job, rather than the rig manager.

Most companies that run casing cannot get accurate key performance indicators, because they depend on the data provided by the rig owner. Tracking casing jobs and chronicling actions on a timeline—and documenting activities by taking photographs to show how the work is being carried out—has led to better, more consistent and safer processes that have collectively reduced the amount of time needed to run the casing. The complete transparency of data gathering is attractive to casing providers, who can now use the data generated by a third party to show how quickly, and safely, they have carried out their part of the drilling operation.

Change management. Digitalization is transforming the workplace, but as the industry transitions to a new way of working, it is important that the lessons learned from the past are integrated for future operations. Recognizing the potential consequences of experienced workers leaving the industry, app developers began drawing on the experience and knowledge of mature crew members to preserve and share the vital knowledge that otherwise resides only in the heads of people who have done these jobs for decades. Using purpose-built digital tools that incorporate this specialized knowledge allows the experience of a subject matter expert to influence operational decisions, enabling remote crew members on assets anywhere in the world to leverage their expertise. Until new technologies are adopted and integrated, however, their value remains untapped.

Managing change in the field is a challenge, as the app developers discovered. Training in the office was followed by training in the field, but the team struggled to engage the field crews, who did not immediately grasp the value of the apps. The software development team began making more field visits, helping site workers navigate the app, and investing in good-faith efforts to ensure the crews mastered the technology.

Breakthroughs came when workers realized that without the tools, they could not precisely identify inefficiencies. Without the app to help identify ILT, they had no way of knowing why or how the flat time developed, so they had no way to address the issues that caused it. As field crews became better users, they also became more enthusiastic about the apps, and there was a significant increase in measurable improvements. Now, when a new module is deployed in myDRILLS, the field teams normally achieve 90% utilization within 60 days.

Being able to quantify progress was eye-opening. The employees, who saw the value of the technology and embraced it, became internal product champions, encouraging others to use the digital tools, expediting adoption, and providing valuable feedback to developers, who have improved the interfaces and capabilities of the app.

The company is making incremental updates to its apps to improve the user interface and functionality and to more precisely measure how changes implemented, as a result of data analysis, are enhancing performance. Procedures, processes and interfaces are being improved, using the data gathered through the app, and efficiency gains are being captured in a way that allows them to be shared across the company.

The next step. Digitalization in isolation has a limited impact. Its true value can be realized, only if new technologies are implemented broadly. That is why Nabors is working to make these apps available to the industry. When these proven tools achieve large-scale adoption in the industry, they have the ability to transform the workplace, going beyond the bit to streamline activities and, at the same time, make oil and gas operations safer and more sustainable.

Oil and gas workers of tomorrow will be expected to achieve efficiencies without compromising safety, and the digital tools being used successfully today will help them realize those goals. The next stage of the process will be to take advantage of artificial intelligence (AI) and its capacity for predictive analytics that allows rig owners to prevent dangerous incidents from occurring and improving the safety of the workplace.

Applying AI will help drilling contractors identify trends as they develop, capture best practices, and apply what is learned to adjust operations. Even more important than the efficiencies gained, this digitalization trend will lead to fewer safety incidents by continuously refining best practices for a safer work environment and a safer industry.

The Authors ///

Drew Doty is an HSE manager for Nabors Drilling Solutions.
Eric Sawyer is a senior manager of information technology at Nabors Industries.
Patricia Zarate is a digitalization engineer at Nabors Industries.

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