I used to be a pure red blooded driller. Red, the colour of fire and blood, associated with energy, war, danger, strength, power, determination as well as passion, desire, and love. And all of that hot emotions was for my passion to drill. I did not care about anything else other than well length, cost, time, and how great I was at selecting the right tool, using it and of course telling people about my accomplishments. And in Feb 2004, I reached the very pinnacle of being a drilling engineer. I drilled, single handedly (that shall go in my future memoirs), the longest well in Malaysia. At 6313mMD, I, the lead drilling engineer, held the Malaysian record for longest well ever drilled.
Unfortunately that intense self admiration and jubilation was short lived, when in a few weeks that record was broken by another operator. My ego deflated, my self worth diminishing by every mention of the other well's length, I banged my forehead whenever I thought of them who beat my record by a measly 50m. And of course, being a red blooded driller, the only lesson I learned was to just to drill longer next time. If I ever drilled another record breaking well, I will make sure I just put in some contingency shale drilling of about ~60m, so that I never get beaten again -_-
Sadly, I have never had a chance again, because since 2004, there have only been a handful of ultra ERD wells drilled. To put this into perspective, the longest well currently in Malaysia was drilled in 2014 to ~6700m, which is a laudable achievement, but exemplifies a slow progression over 10 years. As a driller, I feel that it is my responsibility to revive the interest in ERD and invigorate the passion for world class records which has since waned in the Malay Basin.
But now I've since gone to the Dark Side (Star Wars trademark), the side that bleeds hydrocarbon, I realise that my previous infatuation with drilling KPIs just seems so irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, when the oil business bottom line are production and profits, and doesn't really give a hoot on how long a well is. To stay profitable, and as reserves become even smaller and difficult to access, it has becomes an ever-more important to focus on looking at several concepts with enabling techniques, to be able to select the right solution to exploit hydrocarbons. As a driller, nothing is sexier and more elegant than suggesting extended reach drilling. While its the most straightforward option which allows the ability to explore and produce further and deeper, and minimise facilities installation, it does come with added risk and possibility of failure.
Any solution proposed requires capital expenditure. And capital expenditure proposals must be sufficiently specific to permit their technical and commercial justification, with sufficient risk assessment, for exploration and production operations, not just for the immediate fiscal year, but the life of the production sharing contract or field. In the economic phase of evaluation, oil management may find that it has more investment opportunities than capital to invest, or more capital to invest than investment opportunities. Whichever situation exists, oil management needs to resort to some economic criteria for selecting or rejecting investment proposals. Management’s decision in either case is likely to be based largely on the measures of financial return on the investment. In the current depressed oil price climate, how do we make extended reach drilling a viable option?
I won’t pretend that I’m an expert at economics like Wally in the Dilbert strip above, but let’s try to simplify the concept for the purpose of this article. Lets just say, all of the KPIs of a well, production, cost, schedule, IRR, ROI, terms of PSC, can all be rolled into a variable limit, the economic threshold of the project.
This chart represents the likelihood of costs in a normal Monte Carlo S-curve spread, where the cost of a project is typically quoted as the P50, with a range given for sensitivities. In layman's terms, the mid case is the P50 (50% chance having costs below that threshold) and P10 and P90 is the low and high side respectively. The range of costs are given so that the project can be carefully evaluated against the returns for any given scenario.
However, most projects focus on the most straightforward approach, which is trying to reduce base cost ('What we plan for' curve), in an attempt to get closer to the low side, and hope that nothing goes wrong to upset the cart and skew to the upside. To shift the whole S-curve downwards, the team will negotiate contracts, purchase cheaper tangibles/consumables, reduce the technology, and try to get the work done with a lean operation. However, as we lower down our price point, we will inevitably be introducing creep, compromising quality and safety. Post experiencing a trainwreck, the looming result is cost inadvertently passing the economic threshold ('What will actually happen' curve).
A prudent project manager should try to visualise, manage and contain all of the outcomes, trying to put a cap on the risk and exposure of the upside, while making the likelihood of meeting the P50 expectation more likely, even if it means increasing the mid-case, and forgoing a more aggressive P10 ('What we actually need' Green curve). To put it simply, don't lose the farm while trying to save every single dollar.
If you are planning to justify a new technology, a new technique, or a risky proposition such as extended reach drilling, there are 5 key elements that you need in your proposal, to emulate the 'What we actually need' green curve:
Key 1: Collaborate and Build the knowledge of your team: Collaborate as much as possible internally, and externally with partners, host government, increase data trade transactions, and engage professional networks in order to learn as much as you can on the venture you are undertaking. In this environment, you will be pleasantly surprised that others might actually be interested to learn from you to. In my previous life, I was part of an assurance team, called upon by our partner in Western Australia to look at their concept work. They were down to two options, where they were weighing a 10km ERD well versus a subsea development, where the costs of subsea were 50% higher. The upside costs presented by the drilling team for the ERD looked reasonable, with their P90 costs about a wash with the subsea well. So on paper, ERD looked to be the right selection. However, the Drilling Manager confessed that despite the economics and his attempt to show the risks, he believes that his team does not have the capability to carry out the work, in other words the drillability due to the capability was questionable. The ERD well was dropped in favor of the subsea well, and everybody agreed that was the right call, because regardless what the evaluation on paper shows, there was no confidence in the team that was to carry the work out. Pity.
Key 2: Cap your upside costs: Gone are the days when people say, "A well is going to cost what its going to cost". Have savvier contracts, such as with lump sum capped, performance incentivised, meterage measured or even turnkeyed contract. We should no longer be dependent on time based contracts, just because the supplier says so. Determine the cost structure which fits your project and design your contracts to meet what is required
Key 3: Increase your execution reliability: This doesn't mean not having problems. What it means is being able to deliver what you promised. So if the design is complex, and on average non productive time is high, design the lower complexity aspects of the project to absorb the possible problems that you will eventually have. Sometimes you have to accept that your planned costs would have to be higher to increase reliability. Justify the increase and plan for success, but be ready for failure.
Key 4: Have contingency plans for everything, even failure of your base plan: It goes without saying that risk assessments are the support system for a project, but without closing out and implementing any of the mitigation plans, the risk assessment are just a waste of time. An always think of what would happen if the primary plan fails? Do you have a fall back plan to still retain value or limit exposure? An alternative target, perhaps? A ready for deployment sidetrack assembly?
Key 5: Increase the value statement of your design: During detailed design, a D&C team often gets carried away on focusing too much on 'getting the job' done versus remembering why the job was done in the first place. Reaching an objective is just the means to extract the value from the project. Design the well in order to increase the returns on the project, and increase the economic threshold. Drill better wells, which doesn't necessarily mean drilling longer or more wells.
Hopefully the keys above will assist the reader in creating more palatable ERD proposals. Every single project, every single team, and every single company will have a different approach in creating value, but I do hope that maybe in some minute way, I managed to jog some life back into excitement about drilling and ERD in Malaysia. Stay savvy, people.
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After the OPEC+ club met on September 1st, and confirmed that it would be sticking to its plan of increasing its crude supply by 400,000 b/d a month through December, China made a rather unusual announcement. It announced that it was going to release some crude oil from its strategic petroleum reserves, selling it to domestic refiners that were grappling with crude’s heady price rise over 2021. The release of strategic oil reserves isn’t news in itself. What is news is that the usually secretive China did it and did it publicly.
And it did it to send a message to OPEC+: attempts to create artificial scarcity to maintain crude prices will not be tolerated. China has a right to feel that way. Even though great strides have been made to ease the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic worldwide, the virus is still exerting major effects on the global economy. Not least a massive ripple through the health of global supply chains that has seen the price of almost everything – plastics, semiconductors, agricultural commodity, lumber, steel – spike due to supply issues. In some cases, the prices of raw materials are at historic highs. Crude oil is still nowhere near its peak of above US$100/b, but it is high enough to be concerning, especially since it is happening within a major inflationary environment. And for a manufacturing-heavy economy like China, that matters. That matters a lot. So China’s National Food and Strategic Reserves announced that it would be releasing some of the country’s crude stocks to ‘better stabilise domestic market supply and demand, and effectively guarantee the country’s energy security’, a month after the country’s producer price inflation – ie. the cost of manufacturing – hit a 13-year high.
China made good on that promise, releasing 7.38 million barrels from its stockpile to domestic bidders on September 24 with more tranches expected. This was the first ever recorded release from China’s Strategic Petroleum Reserves (SPR), which began back in 2009 in serendipitous response to crude oil prices exceeding the US$100/b mark for the first time in 2008. But curiously, it may not have been the first ever release. So secretive is the SPR that China does not reveal the size of the reserve, although analysts have estimated it at some 300-400 million barrels with total capacity of 500 million barrels using satellite imaging. It has been speculated that batches of crude from the SPR have been released before on the quiet. But this is the first time China has gone public. Compared to the country’s overall oil consumption, 7.38 million barrels is small, almost tiny. And even if additional supplies are released, it will not make a major impact on China’s oil balances. But the message is what is important.
It is a message that China is not alone in sending. US President Joe Biden has already called on OPEC+ to accelerate its supply easing plans, given indications that the crude glut built up over 2020 has been all but erased. It is a notion that would be supported by some OPEC+ members – Russia, Mexico, the UAE – but so far, the discipline advocated by Saudi Arabia has held. The US too has attempted to release of its own crude reserve stocks – the largest in the world with a capacity of 727 million barrels – but this was also in response to the devastating impact of Hurricane Ida. India, China’s closest analogue to size and stage, has been complaining too. As a major oil importer and with a shakier economic situation, India is particularly sensitive to oil price swings. US$70/b is way above what New Delhi is comfortable with. But since India’s appeals to OPEC+ have fallen on deaf ears, it is attempting domestic directives instead. India’s state refiners have been ordered to reduce crude purchases from the Middle East, but with supply tight, there aren’t many other people to buy from. India has also been selling oil from its strategic reserve – officially stated to be for clearing space to lease storage capacity to refiners – although since India is more transparent about these announcements, the announcement isn’t as surprising.
Will it work? At least immediately, no. Crude prices did come under pressure in the wake of China’s announcement, but then recovered with Brent hitting US$75/b. But the fact that China timed the announcement of the September 24 auction to coincide with peak global trading time and with a lot of details (again an unusual move) shows that Beijing is serious about wielding its strategic reserves as weapons. If not to moderate crude prices, then to at least stabilise it. But this is a war of attrition. China may very well have a planned schedule to release more crude reserves over 2021 and 2022 if prices remain high, but its supplies are finite. And they will have to eventually be replenished, possibly at an even higher cost if the attempt to quell crude price inflation fails. Thus far, the details of the SPR release hint that this is a tentative dip in the pool: the volume of 7.38 million barrels was far lower than the 35-70 million barrels predicted by some market participants. And because successful bidders can lift the oil up to December 10, it seems unlikely that a second auction for 2021 is in concrete plans at this point.
But, at the very least, the message has been sent. Beijing has a tool that it can wield if crude prices get out of hand, and it is not afraid to use it. The first step might have been small, and it is a giant leap in what mechanics are available to influence crude prices. And as history has proven, China can be very quick to scale up and very single-minded in its approach. Over to you, OPEC+.
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In 2021, the makeup of renewables has also changed drastically. Technologies such as solar and wind are no longer novel, as is the idea of blending vegetable oils into road fuels or switching to electric-based vehicles. Such ideas are now entrenched and are not considered enough to shift the world into a carbon neutral future. The new wave of renewables focus on converting by-products from other carbon-intensive industries into usable fuels. Research into such technologies has been pioneered in universities and start-ups over the past two decades, but the impetus of global climate goals is now seeing an incredible amount of money being poured into them as oil & gas giants seek to rebalance their portfolios away from pure hydrocarbons with a goal of balancing their total carbon emissions in aggregate to zero.
Traditionally, the European players have led this drive. Which is unsurprising, since the EU has been the most driven in this acceleration. But even the US giants are following suit. In the past year, Chevron has poured an incredible amount of cash and effort in pioneering renewables. Its motives might be less than altruistic, shareholders across America have been particularly vocal about driving this transformation but the net results will be positive for all.
Chevron’s recent efforts have focused on biomethane, through a partnership with global waste solutions company Brightmark. The joint venture Brightmark RNG Holdings operations focused on convert cow manure to renewable natural gas, which are then converted into fuel for long-haul trucks, the very kind that criss-cross the vast highways of the US delivering goods from coast to coast. Launched in October 2020, the joint venture was extended and expanded in August, now encompassing 38 biomethane plants in seven US states, with first production set to begin later in 2021. The targeting of livestock waste is particularly crucial: methane emissions from farms is the second-largest contributor to climate change emissions globally. The technology to capture methane from manure (as well as landfills and other waste sites) has existed for years, but has only recently been commercialised to convert methane emissions from decomposition to useful products.
This is an arena that another supermajor – BP – has also made a recent significant investment in. BP signed a 15-year agreement with CleanBay Renewables to purchase the latter’s renewable natural gas (RNG) to be mixed and sold into select US state markets. Beginning with California, which has one of the strictest fuel standards in the US and provides incentives under the Low Carbon Fuel Standard to reduce carbon intensity – CleanBay’s RNG is derived not from cows, but from poultry. Chicken manure, feathers and bedding are all converted into RNG using anaerobic digesters, providing a carbon intensity that is said to be 95% less than the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of pure fossil fuels and non-conversion of poultry waste matter. BP also has an agreement with Gevo Inc in Iowa to purchase RNG produced from cow manure, also for sale in California.
But road fuels aren’t the only avenue for large-scale embracing of renewables. It could take to the air, literally. After all, the global commercial airline fleet currently stands at over 25,000 aircraft and is expected to grow to over 35,000 by 2030. All those planes will burn a lot of fuel. With the airline industry embracing the idea of AAF (or Alternative Aviation Fuels), developments into renewable jet fuels have been striking, from traditional bio-sources such as palm or soybean oil to advanced organic matter conversion from agricultural waste and manure. Chevron, again, has signed a landmark deal to advance the commercialisation. Together with Delta Airlines and Google, Chevron will be producing a batch of sustainable aviation fuel at its El Segundo refinery in California. Delta will then use the fuel, with Google providing a cloud-based framework to analyse the data. That data will then allow for a transparent analysis into carbon emissions from the use of sustainable aviation fuel, as benchmark for others to follow. The analysis should be able to confirm whether or not the International Air Transport Association (IATA)’s estimates that renewable jet fuel can reduce lifecycle carbon intensity by up to 80%. And to strengthen the measure, Delta has pledged to replace 10% of its jet fuel with sustainable aviation fuel by 2030.
In a parallel, but no less pioneering lane, France’s TotalEnergies has announced that it is developing a 100% renewable fuel for use in motorsports, using bioethanol sourced from residues produced by the French wine industry (among others) at its Feyzin refinery in Lyon. This, it believes, will reduce the racing sports’ carbon emissions by an immediate 65%. The fuel, named Excellium Racing 100, is set to debut at the next season of the FIA World Endurance Championship, which includes the iconic 24 Hours of Le Mans 2022 race.
But Chevron isn’t done yet. It is also falling back on the long-standing use of vegetable oils blended into US transport fuels by signing a wide-ranging agreement with commodity giant Bunge. Called a ‘farmer-to-fuelling station’ solution, Bunge’s soybean processing facilities in Louisiana and Illinois will be the source of meal and oil that will be converted by Chevron into diesel and jet fuel. With an investment of US$600 million, Chevron will assist Bunge in doubling the combined capacity of both plants by 2024, in line with anticipated increases in the US biofuels blending mandates.
Even ExxonMobil, one of the most reticent of the supermajors to embrace renewables wholesale, is getting in on the action. Its Imperial Oil subsidiary in Canada has announced plans to commercialise renewable diesel at a new facility near Edmonton using plant-based feedstock and hydrogen. The venture does only target the Canadian market – where political will to drive renewable adoption is far higher than in the US – but similar moves have already been adopted by other refiners for the US market, including major investments by Phillips 66 and Valero.
Ultimately, these recent moves are driven out of necessity. This is the way the industry is moving and anyone stubborn enough to ignore it will be left behind. Combined with other major investments driven by European supermajors over the past five years, this wider and wider adoption of renewable can only be better for the planet and, eventually, individual bottom lines. The renewables ball is rolling fast and is only gaining momentum.
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