More efficient rigs drilling wells faster

RULISON — On a well pad near Rulison stands yet another reason for the reduction in drilling rigs in the region. But energy companies aren’t complaining about this one.

A high-efficiency drilling rig is operating on a Williams Production RMT pad and recently drilled Williams’ 3,000th well in Colorado there. Such rigs do their job more quickly than traditional ones, and as Williams uses more of them, it needs fewer rigs to meet its drilling goals.

Spokeswoman Susan Alvillar said Williams will be able to drill 300 wells this year using nine to 10 rigs, compared to 600 wells with as many as 25 rigs last year.

Williams and other companies have either reduced or suspended drilling this year for reasons such as lower natural gas prices, limits in pipeline capacity for locally produced gas and concern over Colorado’s new oil and gas rules.

But Williams isn’t the only company saying increased drilling efficiency also is contributing to the rig drop.

“I think there’s some truth to that,” said EnCana Oil & Gas (USA) spokesman Doug Hock. Like
Williams, EnCana has been switching to new, “fit-for-purpose” rigs that can drill wells faster.

“That benefits in terms of reduced cost, and it also means that if we have a smaller drilling program and we’re drilling them faster we may not have a need for as many (rigs) for as long a period of time,” he said.

Another factor this year also is reducing drilling costs. Companies who competed for a limited supply of contractors during the drilling boom now are finding that contractors are willing to charge less for their services.

Alvillar said while Williams values its contractors and the slowdown has been unfortunate, the drop in prices has been one silver lining.

Williams also no longer faces supply challenges such as difficulty in obtaining well casing, she said.

Hock said EnCana has been working with contractors “to try to reduce costs, given the environment we’re in right now.”

Jarvis Abbey, a drilling foreman who contracts for Williams, said he’s seeing the costs of drilling drop anywhere from 20 to 50 percent.

Abbey also said wells that used to take 14 to 21 days to drill now take seven to 10 days. He said numerous factors are behind the time reduction. Everything from drill bits to drilling mud to directional drilling tools has been improved.

However, a key improvement has been in the rigs, such as ones that Helmerich & Payne leases to Williams.

The rigs can be easily slid from well to well on a pad and used to directionally drill more than 20 wells from a pad without having to be disassembled between moves.

Crews are able to perform simultaneous well drilling and completion operations on the same pad.

Thanks to increased automation, drillers who once had to operate a clutch and brake outside in the elements now work inside, manning a joystick while monitoring computer screens.

Such automation also means increased safety.

A $250,000, hydraulic machine on Williams’ new rigs threads together sections of drilling pipe, a once-dangerous job done by workers using chains and a tool called a “tong.”

Williams began using the high-efficiency rigs in 2006. Abbey said such rigs can cost
$12 million to $14 million.

Alvillar said the new rigs have their limits.

She said they probably won’t be able to be used on Williams’ leases atop the Roan Plateau, where rigs need to drill 2,000 feet deeper for gas.

But the company continues to seek other efficiencies where it can find them.

Williams officials this week also showed reporters a centralized well fracturing operation that can be used to pump frac’ing fluid by pipe to wells miles away, and is eliminating numerous truck trips to individual wells in the process.


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