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How Does Formation Testing Work?

While every effort is put forth before drilling begins to ensure a successful well, not every well hits hydrocarbons at a commercially productive level. Statistically, wildcat (or exploratory) wells have a one in seven chance of discovering oil or gas. While six may be dry holes, one in the group can make a big enough difference to outweigh all the risks.

Once drilling operations have been completed, it is important for drillers, engineers and geologists to determine whether to move on to the next phase: completion for production. Formation tests ascertain if there are enough hydrocarbons to produce from a well, as well as provide important information to design the well completion and production facilities.

Used to establish formation pressure, permeability, and reservoir and formation fluid characterization, there are three major methods of formation testing that help to reveal the downhole formation: well logging, core sampling and drill stem tests.

Well Logging

A way of retrieving and recording downhole information, well logginginvolves lowering measurement instruments into the well during or after the drilling process. Used as a journal of what has been encountered during drilling operations, well logs measure the electric, acoustic, radioactive and electromagnetic properties of a downhole formation.

These measurements help to determine the permeability, porosity and reservoir pressure, among other characteristics of the formation, and ultimately the presence of hydrocarbons downhole. Well logging tools can be lowered into the well and raised to retrieve the information, or they can be included in the drillstem and send the information to the surface in real-time.

Well logging is the first step in formation evaluation to determine whether hydrocarbons are present within the well.

Core Samples

Another method of formation testing is performed by obtaining core samples. Here, a small segment of the formation is retrieved from the well and analyzed to determine porosity, permeability and the presence of oil and gas – the capabilities and productivity of the well.

While core samples can be taken throughout the drilling process, core samples are also retrieved after drilling has been completed. In this case, the drill stem is pulled from the well, and the drillbit is removed from the end — replaced by a special coring instrument called a core head. Next, the drillstem is introduced back into the well and the core head retrieves a long cylinder of rock from the bottom of the well.

The core sample is then analyzed and broken to determine the presence of hydrocarbons, the fluid makeup and reservoir qualities. Sometimes oil can be seen in oil staining of the rock fragments within the sample. Also, the sample can be put under an ultraviolet light, and if there is oil and gas, the hydrocarbons will glow.

Drill Stem Tests

Used to provide a more definitive idea of the production capacity of the well, drill stem tests identify the types of fluids within the well, as well as the flowrate of these fluids, formation permeability and reservoir pressure.

Drill stem tests involve connecting a measurement device to the bottom of the drill stem, also in place of the drillbit, and lowering the system into the well, all the way to the formation. The instrument is activated at the bottom of the well, measuring the flow of oil or gas for a specified amount of time, usually an hour.

Drill Stem Test

The testing tool includes a perforated anchor at the bottom that allows fluids to enter the empty pipe. Also rubber packers expand against the sides of the hole to seal pressure. A series of valves open and close to control the flow of the hydrocarbons into the empty drill stem. Additionally, the tool contains a pressure-measuring device.

When the tool is opened, the oil and gas enter the drill pipe and are sent through a flowline to the reserve pit on the surface. While oil or gas can reach the surface during the specified testing time, many times hydrocarbons and water simply enter the drill pipe, but do not reach the surface. Nonetheless, the flow, pressure and volumes are recorded.

Important factors in determining the success of the drill stem test and, in turn, the well, include the depth of the tool; duration of the test; time required for hydrocarbons to reach the surface; fluids recovered in the drill pipe; initial and final flow pressures, indicating the increase in flowing capacity of the well; and the shut-in bottom hole pressure, which signifies the maximum reservoir potential.

While drilling a well can be expensive, sometimes completion operations can be even more expensive. It is important to decide whether a well is commercially productive or it is more logical to simply plug the well and move on to another location. Typically, one or more formation test is performed to determine if the well is productive or not.

If formation tests reveal that the well does not have enough hydrocarbons present to complete the well for production, the well is plugged and abandoned. However, if the formation tests prove the well productive, it is moved into the completion phase, which includes running completion strings the length of the well, casing the well andcementing it.

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by David K. Hurst  |   11:00 AM October 2, 2013

Every organization that aspires to greatness has something to learn from relevant success stories of the past. But how should managers go about unlocking the lessons of those efforts? Many of their consultants advocate an engineering approach:

  1. Find multiple examples of organizations that have coped with equivalent challenges successfully.
  2. Reverse-engineer the reasons for their success, looking for features that they share in common.
  3. Present these shared “success factors” as precepts, rules, and principles that should be implemented by all those who wish to achieve similar levels of success.

This approach sounds great, and the growth of the consultancies pushing it cannot be gainsaid. But it simply doesn’t work. The engineering approach can be described but not practiced.

Start by considering an extreme and high-visibility case. At the outset of the Iraq War, President George W. Bush expressed the hope that Iraq would become a federal democracy and a beacon to all the totalitarian states in the Middle East. The Americans then set about creating facsimiles of various institutions – the critical success factors of its own democracy. But if these were necessary conditions then clearly they were not sufficient. Iraq is far from a viable democratic system.

Similarly, in the management world, we constantly see the engineering approach being urged and falling short. As just one example, academics W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne examined the emergence of outrageously successful companies like Cirque du Soleil, and claim to have discovered the keys. While never claiming that their case organizations, with their idiosyncratic histories and unique contexts, had consciously implemented their “blue ocean” principles, Kim and Maubourgne argued that it was “as if” they had. How else could they have moved their businesses into positions that so thoroughly defied competition?

Unfortunately this approach has done no more for corporate strategic success than it has for nation states. Managers are presented with inspiring stories from the past that they quickly discover cannot be replicated, and with abstract principles that sound incontrovertible yet cannot be implemented. They might, at best, produce facsimiles of certain features of great organizations, or get learn to say all the right words about what it will take to succeed. But while they can talk the talk, their organizations can’t walk the walk.

The fundamental problem with the engineering approach is that simple mechanics do not drive outcomes in complex systems. Where causes and effects are constantly subject to dynamic adaptation, as they are in ecosystems, societies, and organizations, conditions cannot be reproduced.

Moreover, we have yet to see an organization succeed by deliberately hewing to some equation for sure success. An example from baseball (or cricket) helps us understand why. Professional fielders in these sports catch most fly balls successfully. From the perspective of a physicist it is “as if” they can calculate the velocity of the ball off the bat, predict its trajectory and run to the spot where it will land. We know that they don’t actually do this; instead they maintain a constant angle of gaze between their eyes and the ball. If the ball rises in their field of view they run away from it; if it’s dropping they run toward it. A constant process of adjustment allows them to be at the right place by the time the ball becomes catchable. They gain this skill through practice and feedback, built upon a platform of native capability powered by high motivation. They improve their performance through deliberate practice and expert coaching. Teaching them physics and how to calculate the trajectories of ballistic objects is not only unnecessary. It can only distract them from the efforts that will truly help them catch more baseballs.

It’s the same with successful companies (and nations); while they all seem to arrive at the right place strategically, they don’t get there by “implementing” any abstract engineering principles. They get there by high levels of motivation (and at the corporate level no one gets up early to maximize shareholder value), a guided process of trial of error, practice and feedback. Trying to teach them abstract principles derived from other successful companies or nations is not helpful in this effort.

What is needed is an ecological approach to learning from the past, which is rather different from the engineering one:

  1. Study successful organizations to appreciate the rich contexts and processes involved – their histories – but not to distill generic precepts and principles from them.
  2. Focus intensively on the organization at hand to understand the opportunities and challenges – the potential – inherent in the current situation.
  3. Resolve to control the controllable, preempt the undesirable, and exploit the inevitable to produce outcomes that none could have anticipated.

Unfortunately, there are no short cuts to excellence. We should always try to learn what drove the success of other organizations, but never believe our own success can be as simple as borrowing the keys. We must pay attention to the innovation bubbling up in our own organizations, and work to spread it further – not try to transplant what has grown up elsewhere, in very different contexts. Our focus should be on fostering communities of trust and practice, disciplined yet free, from which brilliant strategies can emerge organically through doing and learning. In short, we need to recognize the inherent complexity of organizations and work to cultivate excellence within them, not try to engineer it from without.

 

This post is part of a series of perspectives leading up to the fifth annual Global Drucker Forum in November 2013 in Vienna, Austria. For more on the theme of the event, Managing Complexity, and information on how to attend, see the Forum’s website.

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