By Peng Yuanhuai
Every day, I get up at 5 o’clock, sit on the helideck at 5:30 expecting the sun to rise above the sea level, take part in the HSE morning meeting at 6 o’clock, communicate with Beijing headquarters at 7 o’clock, attend a teleconference with Perenco headquarters at 8 o’clock, and monitor real-time dynamics and learn instructions for each step for most of the rest time in the morning. In the afternoon, after I put on work clothes and get myself armed with safety shoes, helmet, protective spectacles, protective gloves and anti-noise earplugs, I open the heavy iron gate and go to the rumbling drilling site, a platform as large as a football field. At 5 o’clock in the afternoon, the work for a day comes to an end. After that, I go to the gym for exercises and also partly for Chinese movies I can sometimes enjoy on the TV set on the running machine. By 7:30 in the evening, I generally have finished my report for a day’s work. Then, I lie in bed, watching an episode of A Song of Ice and Fire, and finally go to bed.
This is one of my typical days on Ocean Star, a rig that works 1,435m under water in South Atlantic.
Learning, Observing, Questioning, Thinking and Eating More
Due to the peculiarity of its creep, the evaporite bed complicates the drilling work and even may cause borehole’s destabilization, jamming of a drilling tool, casing collapse after well cementation and other accidents. The period I stay at the platform also sees the critical stage the drilling comes to drill through the evaporite bed.
"At 8 o’clock on the morning of April 28, local time, in Brazil, the drilling came across the overlying anhydrite bed at 4,220m; at 1:51 in the afternoon, the drilling ran into the Halite layer (salt bed) at 4,254m; and at 8:30 in the evening, a drilling tool was jammed at 4,330m.” I knew that workers were bustling on the drilling field as if facing a formidable enemy, but I didn’t know that although it was midnight in Rio, the offices in Beijing with 11 hours’ time difference from Rio were in full operation upon receiving one after another piece of news from me. Drilling experts and geological specialists with the headquarters and the project company performed their respective responsibilities, made professional judgment and sent out an immediate suggestion that operators should remove the neutron porosity and density logging instruments on the drilling tool, as it would lead to inconceivable consequences with these radioactive sources jammed in the well. Operators also agreed with our point of view. Fortunately, with concerted efforts of field workers, the jam was finally removed successfully. At 2:55 on the afternoon of May 7, we succeeded in passing the evaporite bed with the greatest engineering risks, marking a further step forward towards “making geological discoveries without engineering accident”!
Smart dolphins are good partners of humans, but their naughtiness can also cause trouble to our work. After the drilling tool jam was removed and when Logging Well VSP was going to calculate the bottom boundary of the salt bed, dolphins which had never appeared before and seemed to have known the news began to play around our platform and jumped out of water now and then, as if fearing that we would fail to notice them. According to requirements of the Brazilian Ministry of Environment, we could not release seismic wave under that circumstance. “Always have a back-up”. I would never forget in my life these words of the field supervisor with more than 30 years’ working experience. After communication with the headquarters over phone, we initiated the emergency plan, successfully avoiding hide-and-seek game between the rig and the dolphins, which, otherwise may incur the daily cost as high as USD800,000.
As the drilling well went deeper, there were also more unknown challenges. However, it was also these challenges that made our work more meaningful. “Learning, observing, questioning, thinking and eating more” is the “five-more philosophy”, Ji Fahua, General Manager of the Brazilian project company, told us who worked on the platform. Now, the “five-more philosophy” has been integrated into my work and study…
Working Diligently, Living Happily
Ocean Star is a semisubmersible rig, working on which we feel as if it is on a ship. During my first two days on the rig, I suffered from seasickness in the daytime and from insomnia due to different kinds of noises at night. Despite this, that was not the greatest challenge I had come across on board. The three-storied living quarters on the rig resembled a small-scale united nations, as there were people of yellow, brown, black and white races and from the US, UK, France and Brazil. I, working abroad for the first time, came to know what London accent of British people, southern accent of American people, somewhat unknown accent of Brazilian people and sound swallowing of French people were… During the first week of my stay here, my mobile phone basically served as a recorder and I spent every night listening to playback of my talks with others and correcting my pronunciation. Perhaps one could grow fastest under pressure. Gradually, I got adapted to sleeping with noises and vibrations, accustomed to local food, a variety of accents, and used to growing mature in loneliness…
Geologist Hermani on the night shift taught me to identify strata based on rock fragments and I taught him Chinese and gave him a Chinese name “Heng (亨)”. He was a pious Christian and enjoyed talking with me about Marxism and China. Geologist Wayne on the day shift was a typical British man with a fine sense of humor. I still remembered the first words he said when we met, “Hi, my name is ‘win’, I never lose”. I gave him a Chinese name “Wei (伟)”. Besides them, I had also made friends with Drilling Engineer Jerome (Jie, 杰), Field Supervisor Roderick (Luo, 罗), and Biologist Maisa (Sha, 莎)…
"Work diligently, and live happily”. I did not figure out the meaning of these words then. From the first day I was assigned the task, I thought instinctively that this was bound to be a lonely journey. Not until I experienced the journey did I understand what it meant by “It is always sunny when there is sunshine in heart.”
Learning Advanced Technologies from Others, Turning Them into Our Advantages
One Day, there were 102 people working on the platform of the Ocean Star rig, with Drilling Engineer Jerome from Perenco and I representing Party A and the other 100 people belonging to Party B. Everything on the platform was in perfect order, indicating powerful project management competence of Perenco.
The Statoil, our another partner for this project in Brazil, has 200 employees and more than 500 offshore direct service providers and enjoys a global service provider procurement and assessment mechanism in its headquarters. Take the recent maintenance of the Peregrino oilfield as an example. Statoil sought for advantageous resources around the world to solve the problem, and it has many service providers.
This is the current international oil and gas field exploration and development industry with a mature labor division system, where major oil and gas field service providers, such as Schlumberger, Cameron and Baker Hughes, focus on innovation and R&D of related technologies.This also sets me in deep thought. To survive and grow stronger, Sinochem Petroleum Exploration & Production Co., Ltd. cannot always be a partner, as we must develop our own deep sea operation capacity. Thus, the only way out is to “learn advanced technologies from others and turn them into our advantages”, that is, to learn market-oriented and international resource integration means and project management competence of Perenco and other companies.
I believe that as long as each of us devotes ourselves to learning engineering and project management experience from cooperative partners through one after another project and exchange, gradually connects these knowledge points into a continuous line, then develops a knowledge network with such lines, and finally forms a set of mature project management strategies and management manuals (such as Drilling Policies and Drilling Guidelines), we can cultivate our own operator capacity step by step and gain differentiated competitive advantages as a petroleum company with Sinochem characteristics and independent operator capacity on the international arena.
In work, study and deliberation, days have passed before I notice it. We are also approaching closer to the geological target and sirens for hydrogen sulfide exercises are becoming increasingly frequent. What is awaiting us? Opportunities coexist with risks. We cannot predict the unknown precisely, but we will never stop going forward. When the good news comes, it is also the time for me to leave the rig. However, these people, these things and these unforgettable experiences will be always with me for the rest of my life.