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Developing the Weatherford new rotary steerable system

Oct 14, 2018
5 min read
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Weatherford has caught industry attention with its new rotary steerable system. John Clegg, director of research, development and engineering, reveals why

With its new Magnus RSS set to go on display, show sponsor Weatherford knows it has a potentially headline offering to get attendees talking at ADIPEC this season.

The company has labelled the product a “leap frog” tool and a “Saudi first”, although John Clegg believes it could prove something of a boon in many global drilling environments. In extensive testing in the US and Mexico, Magnus has logged significant footage and circulating hours since it commenced commercial operations.

Largely inspired by unique directional drilling – and operating - challenges experienced in Saudi Arabia, it is set to give established RSS options a run for their rotation. “I’ve been working around drilling tools and rotary steerables for over 30 years,” says Clegg.

“Over that time I’ve seen the market for these change a lot; when we started doing these things it was very much high technology, a niche application and technically not easy to do. “The two tools that led the market from the early to mid-1990s are probably still the RSS tools available today. Part of what we’re trying to do is develop a credible alternative.

“The challenges we’re looking at are as much commercial as they are challenges around the philosophy of how you design and build tools - it’s more than just a technical solution to specific drilling challenges.” And in an age driven by technology and cost efficiency, Clegg and his team set about making the Magnus appeal on several fronts.

“We designed a lot of things into it that maybe wouldn’t have been done in the past; things like simplicity and reliability,” he says. “Obviously everybody wants reliability, but in terms of simplicity I’m thinking something that’s easy to live with; easy for people to use, easy to train people on and very importantly – and this could be of particular interest to Saudi Aramco – something that can be repaired and built anywhere in the world. So we designed it in a very different way with that in mind.”

Clegg recalls a scene in the film Apollo 13 in which landside scientists trying to fix a re-entry problem are presented with a box of stuff equivalent to that on the lunar module. “We said (to my team) ‘you’re going to have a warehouse or workshop with a torque machine, an overhead crane, which most oilfield workshops have, and one of those big Snap-On tool chests - that’s all and you’ve got to be able to repair the tool and turn it around very quickly with just that’.

“Achieving that in the design means you can very quickly deploy the tool anywhere in the world and quickly build a local repair and, ultimately, local assembly manufacturing capability.” Clegg said one customer grumble they absorbed was reliance upon costly variants when existing RSS encountered problems. Not only does Magnus remove that but evolves the RSS concept with unique features, such as independent pad control and true inclination hold, for better reliability and accuracy, respectively.

“We designed things into the tool which were more than that basic steering performance,” says Clegg. “We have a tool less likely to get stuck than the vast majority on the market.”

He continues: “We realise there are times when you don’t want a rotary steerable tool to be trying to tilt the bit or push the bit sideways - maybe when you’re drilling out casing or reaming - we made it a very specific requirement for this one.”

Clegg says having three independent pads is probably the biggest innovation, not least as you can continue drilling should one fail. “You can effectively switch the tool off so that it doesn’t provide any bias, which means that you can do a true proportional mode, so you have the tool pushing anywhere between nothing and its absolute maximum rate; you can specify a percentage.”

“While a few companies in the market are just now beginning to talk about proportional mode or proportional control, Magnus is the only tool combining continuous rotation of all elements on the outside of the tool with true proportional control.

“Having them (pads) independently controlled means you have a lot of control over whether they’re going to be open or closed and allows you very precise control over exactly what the curve is going to be, so it means you can drill a true curve that is exactly the right radius.

“There are many reasons why it’s desirable to have a smooth well bore.” The RSS project began in May 2016 and involved early and regular consultation with Saudi Aramco; Magnus wasn’t commissioned, but developed with KSA, and anticipated wider demand, in mind. “Some features we put in are specifically because of issues we are aware of with drilling in Saudi Arabia; being able to repair the tool locally and to optimise logistics - one of the things that blight cost in providing a lot of rotary steerable service is the amount of time it takes to repair tools.

“We want these tools to be able to turn round very quickly, within days, which is, I’d say, unique for rotary steerable service.” Clegg will accompany Magnus to ADIPEC with commercial deployment hoped to happen around the same quarter. In the meantime, a “pretty aggressive build programme” is underway with a plan to build a “significant capability pretty quickly”.

“We’re aiming to get the tool wet and operate Magnus in Middle East markets from fourth-quarter 2018 onward,” confirms Clegg, adding: “The timing of ADIPEC is perfect because we’ll be able to get the tool in front of a lot of people in a short space of time and explain the features and benefits.”

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