Adrin Shafil

Petrofac Drilling and Completions Manager
Last Updated: August 16, 2017
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Drilling & Completions
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During my first month as a young drilling engineer, I was sent for a hitch on a drilling rig at offshore Terengganu. My head was giddy with the vision of the awe I would receive upon stepping on to the semi, and impress people with my genius. After all, I had in my backpack my university TI82 graphing calculator, a thick company issued laptop, Excel pre-installed and I had made a point to read at least 1/3 of the Drilling for Dummies book during the weekend before. I entered the chopper cabin with hopes and dreams, and was sure that this was the start of an illustrious career.


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Unfortunately, my earlier personal euphoria was gutted swiftly when I exited the chopper in a dazed stupor, trying to get my bearings on which was port and starboard, and wondering why nobody can just say left or right. Pointed to the briefing room direction by the HLO, I still managed to successfully go down the wrong set of stairs, while struggling to keep upright on non existent sea legs fighting against the rig sway. After finally being pushed impatiently by a fellow traveler to the right doorway, I sat gratefully in the front row through the safety induction, looking for the nearest waste paper basket in case my digested lunch decides to come up the wrong way. After the last presentation slide, I shook hands with the rig OIM and jolly old rotund medic, who then proceeded excitedly to show me locations of the galley, lifeboats and room. The images of the food being prepared in the galley, and the sight of tightly made top bunk in the four person occupied room, filled my mind with hopes for dinner and a deep slumber. Unfortunately those images were replaced with dread, when I was informed that actually my work shift had started. And like everyone else, especially as a newcomer, I would start my shift with the honour of meeting the drilling supervisor, aka the king of the rig, aka the company man.


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Gingerly swaying in my shiny boots, I walked through the corridors and found the company man's office, eerily situated at the dimly lit end with the door half open. I knocked, and only silence greeted me. I knocked again, and a sudden bravado overcame my senses and I stepped in, because it occurred to me that technically, I was a company man too. Shifting to the middle of the room, my presence continued to go unnoticed by the man in charge. He was just sitting there on a rickety chair, gazing out to the rig floor through the smudged safety glasses and half opaque window. He looked very uncomfortable, hunched in filthy coveralls withered by what I assume to be continuous rig laundry and exposure to mud and sun, but he maintain his slouched posture in deep thought. I tried to calm my nerves and grunted a half swallowed "Hello, I'm Adrin, boss", and waited for him to respond. For another full 5 mins he continued his silent meditation, his deadlocked eyes just continued to stare into space. Then, his cracked lips moved ever so slightly, lisping the words no driller ever wants to hear, "We just stuck pipe". Unfortunately for me, I didn't know how dire a situation that actually was, and with the cheeriest voice I could muster, I said, "Oh good, then I can learn about what stuck pipe is!". He looked up and peered at me through his safety glasses, and gave me the most disgusted grunt. "You are here to learn, right? Then by all means, learn. Get your PPE, I'll show you what a stuck pipe is. I want you to figure out how to get free, and until you let me know how you are able to do that, or we free the pipe, you will spend your shifts on the rig floor. You will only come down for meals and safety meetings. Is that clear, whoever you say you are?".

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Side note: Just for the benefit of non-drillers, during drilling operations, a pipe often with expensive bottom hole assembly (tools, or referred to as BHA) is considered stuck if it cannot be freed from the hole without damaging the pipe, and without exceeding the drilling rig’s maximum allowed hook load.


        So there I was, first week offshore, already incurring the wrath of the company man, and already bought a front row seat on a stuck pipe event. The experience itself, is as interesting as the namesake, a pipe stuck, stationery and unmoving. Most days were spent with me spewing obvious solutions like "pull harder...let's try twisting it...let's pull now because maybe whatever has the pipe in its jaws has tired of holding on to it.." As time passed to days, and into the second week, I saw the mighty top drive pull and jar up and down on the pipe in futility, and over time people started to talk to it, hug it, curse at it, but most of the time stare at it. Somebody actually suggested that we slaughter a black chicken and drip the chicken's blood on to the stick up, but when I took the idea seriously and suggested it to town, I could still recall the cruel laughter on the other line and comments about how the contracting to buy the animal alone would take too long. What i learned though was, once a pipe is stuck, it generally stays stuck. The only recovery was to continue to work on the pipe until we received approval to cut the pipe as deep as we can, and pump cement across the tools downhole and leave it buried. As we had nuclear sources in the tools, it was only until the government gave the approval on the 10th day, could the attempts to free the pipe cease, and I saw wireline tools run to cut the pipe, and the recalcitrant pipe finally was freed without the tools downhole, and cement plugs pumped above the abandoned BHA, tools worth millions of dollars left for the next generation to unearth.


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Pictured: A picture I found online on how other crews help start the well process with prayers or Pooja. I hope that the flowers and belief did help this particular rig stay trouble free. 


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If there is anything that the oil fields ingrain into a man, it's humility. We can try to predict what will occur, be ready with an assortment of fallback plans and equipment, and try to avoid certain conditions that might lead to catastrophe. Unfortunately in drilling, we deal with the unknown. The mystery of the unknown is more prominent in exploration or appraisal drilling, but even in development mode, the formation drilled can throw us a curve ball. Every single meter drilled have different characteristics, but challenges for every single meter cannot be addressed with real time changes, at least not with the technology available now. Apart from managed pressure drilling technology, all wells are drilled with normalised planned parameters, tools, fluids and practices, and the mode is always progressing while avoiding catastrophe. But when stuck pipe occurs, while we can likely deduce that its most likely caused by a deviation, a practice that went wrong, we cannot expel the notion that there is the element of the unknown that the sentences the pipe to its final grave.


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For non-drillers, I often explain a stuck pipe as an earthquake catching our tools. Indeed the simplified metaphor covers the likely causes of stuck pipe. Formation movement, debris, collapse, ruptures, key seats, pressure differentials are what the common man associates earthquakes with, albeit on a much larger scale. Unfortunately, more often than not, a stuck pipe is notched to a mistake made by the drilling crew. But drilling crews are also human. Training, drills, procedures, data analytics and supervision are all available for the driller and crew to make decisions, but just like our normalised parameters, they are often unable to predict and react easily for every single meter drilled. Thus a stuck pipe event will still remain a real catastrophic event, that until our technology catches up with real time response of equipment with real time inflow of data, we will have to put our faith on the team with the right attitude and knowledge to keep us out of trouble.


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However, a stuck pipe event still remains a commercial event. While it does introduce its safety risks with possible flow inside the pipe due to trapped pressure, there are many other drilling incidents that are far worse, often involving immediate injuries, explosive events and death. While any stuck pipe event often brings me back to the memories of my youth, standing across an unmoving stub, full of despair, I would take a hundred stuck pipe events before I would go through the ordeal of having casualties under my watch. Our focus on performance and continued diligence in trouble shooting should never falter, and make we have less stuck pipes in our careers, but more importantly we all stay safe and return to our homes unhurt.

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June, 12 2022