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Changing of the Guard

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Wireline speaks with Well-Safe Solutions ahead of the completion of refurbishment on its first dedicated well decommissioning asset, the Well-Safe Guardian.

More than £15 billion is forecast to be spent on decommissioning on the UKCS over the next decade. Well decommissioning alone represents some 45% of this expenditure, and consequently is where some of the greatest efficiency gains and cost reductions can be realised.

Founded in August 2017, Well-Safe Solutions is one of the first movers in the provision of specialist, end-to-end well decommissioning. Its aim is to offer a “one-stop-shop” for operators’ plugging and abandonment (P&A) requirements, taking advantage of in-depth knowledge and bespoke technology to do so faster and with greater cost efficiency.

So far, appetite for the service has been encouraging: the past two and a half years have seen the company secure several major contracts, the growth of its staff from a handful of people to nearly 100, and a move to larger premises to accommodate demand. “It’s been a bit of a blur, but really exciting,” reflects CEO Phil Milton. “Demanding too – there has been an awful lot of work to do given we started the business effectively from scratch.”

Central to Well-Safe’s strategy is the operation and ownership of its own dedicated decommissioning assets. The first of these, the semi-submersible Well-Safe Guardian rig, was acquired from previous owner Diamond Offshore in April 2019 and is now nearing the end of an eight-month refurbishment programme.

Although the purchase of such assets was always the plan, Milton says: “We hadn’t set out to buy the Ocean Guardian (as it was) from day one, it was more the capabilities we were looking for, the right tool for the job.”

Given it would focus entirely on well decommissioning there was no need for many of the mod-cons of newer rigs, such as a second derrick or offline pipe racking facilities. The reputation of the rig was, however, influential to the decision; the 700 Series Guardian has been in service since 1985, drilling hundreds of wells over its lifetime in the North Sea. He continues: “The history of the unit was really important, as was the clients’ perception… The Guardian was a well-respected and well-regarded unit with good performance working for operators here – it was one of the top performing units in the Diamond fleet at the time.”

The Guardian also brings some class-specific performance advantages, such as the model’s proven ability to handle the harsh winter conditions of the North Sea. A frequent maintenance regime by Diamond has also meant that, according to Milton, “we’ve found it to be in every bit as good condition as we’d anticipated.”

“The history of the unit was really important, as was the clients’ perception… The Guardian was a well-respected and well-regarded unit with good performance working for operators here.”

Fit for the future

Well-Safe has put total investment in the Guardian in the region of $100 million, and the scale of work scopes over the past few months highlight how extensive this programme has been. Since its arrival at the Nigg Energy Park in August it has undergone a full refit of all accommodation modules, from the bedrooms to offices and the canteen, complete with new wiring, wi-fi and safety systems.

“From a crew welfare and comfort point of view it’s a significant improvement on what was there previously. We want our crews – both Well-Safe employees and our subcontractors working with us to deliver these projects – to be comfortable and to have somewhere nice to go when they’re not working,” he explains. “It’s important for welfare and for mental health as well. We really wanted them to feel that we do care about that aspect and demonstrate to the crew and the marketplace that we’ve invested in the Guardian for the foreseeable future. We see a long-term future for the unit and the business model so let’s make sure it’s fit for purpose for the next 10-15 years.”

As well as accommodation interior work, the rig has seen a full repaint from 1m below the waterline, as well as new anodes and structural inspection of the legs. Its blow out preventers (BOPs) are being recertified by their original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and will be rebuilt on the Guardian in March 2020, as well as an extensive overhaul of the moonpool crane.

Similarly, all anchor handling equipment has been refurbished or replaced. This is particularly important given the vessel’s intended duties. Milton adds: “We will more likely be moving from one well to the next much more frequently than you would on a drilling operation where you may be sitting on it for 60, 90, 120 days… When we plug and abandon a well we may only be on it for 14-30 days, so you need to have an anchoring system that allows the unit to move from well to well as efficiently as possible but also make sure that it’s fit for purpose.”

The project is on course for completion by the beginning of April, with further enhancements being made next year, in the form of a new 12-man saturated dive spread, and a subsea intervention lubricator (SIL). The latter has been developed in collaboration with the Oil & Gas Technology Centre (OGTC) and will allow for riserless interventions. Final negotiations for the 14-month design and manufacture contract are ongoing, but delivery is slated for Q2 2021 onwards.

With these pieces installed the Guardian becomes what Well-Safe describes as a “one module solution” – a drilling rig that can do conventional P&A operations but can also conduct riserless work usually limited to smaller, monohull vessels – with the added ability to deploy divers.

“We can really reduce the amount of visits you would have to do to a well where conventionally you’d have to go with an LWIV, then a rig, then perhaps a construction vessel afterwards – effectively we can do all these scopes and visits required in a single visit with a single asset leading to considerable project savings due to a reduction in duration, savings on fuel leading to a reduction in environmental impact.”

CEO Phil Milton leads a tour of the Guardian in February 2020.

“We were new kids on the block in terms of our business, but we’ve actually got the most experienced P&A team in the UK working for us in terms of the amount of well experience.”

The first of many

What, then, is the key to a successful refurbishment programme? Milton is thankful for no great surprises during the project so far, putting this down to a very thorough project plan to which the organisation and its supply chain partners have been able to adhere. He adds: “The plan we put in place treated this as a huge project, and the detail in that plan was excellent. Our operations, QHSE, HR, contracts and purchasing teams all worked together really well, and have delivered a very successful project in getting the rig ready to go to work on time and forecast to be under budget – which for a company of our age, having never owned an asset before is a pretty amazing achievement.”

He also believes that the experience held within the team will help set the business apart from those who look to offer similar services: “The amount of systems and processes and policies that you have to put in to run a business like this properly is a huge undertaking,” he says. With Well-Safe acting in various capacities as an asset owner, and operator, and a well engineering and project management company – in addition to logistics, waste stream and personnel management – he believes these foundations put the company ahead of potential competition.

“I think we have been watched with interest,” he reflects. “We were new kids on the block in terms of our business, but we’ve actually got the most experienced P&A team in the UK working for us in terms of the amount of well experience, so although we are a new entity we are certainly not an inexperienced entity.”

That team is being proven on its current projects, including contracts with Repsol Sinopec and a recent award to decommission up to 21 wells on the Schooner and Ketch fields in the UKCS, operated by DNO North Sea.

The Guardian, meanwhile, is set to be finished in April, ready for active duty. Well-Safe hopes it will be the first of many assets, with the potential addition of another semi-submersible and a jack during 2020 into early 2021.

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