At the invitation of Titan Operating's VP of Operations, Chris Hammack, I drove out to the Hilliard field drill site in Flower Mound Thursday night for a personal tour of their state-of-the-art drilling rig. Over the past few months, I've sat through 6 or 7 hours of meetings with Hammack and other industry representatives in our City of Lewisville oil and gas ordinance stakeholders group.
I've found Chris to be a decent guy, even if we don't share the same level of concern over some aspects of the drilling that will eventually come to Lewisville. Hammack has a B.S. in Petroleum Engineering from Texas A&M, and in his prior jobs with Range Resources and Stroud, he was responsible for the drilling and operation of over 300 wells, mostly in the Barnett Shale.
Hammack wanted me to have a look at their Helmerich and Payne FlexRig 4S ("Flex 4") drilling rig. Rig 331 is one of two of these identical rigs that Titan has under lease for their urban drilling operations. Sister rig #328 is currently drilling in a neighborhood in Arlington.
On the Drill Site When I drove up to the site, I was greeted by a security guard, who is camped out there in a trailer alongside the access road to the pad site. The road has a set of steel bars somewhat like a really long, really big cattle guard that you drive over before you get too far along. I had to take it really slow in my Prius, for fear that an airbag might errantly deploy. The older gentleman checked his clipboard and asked if I was Steve. After I introduced myself, he jotted down my license plate number and waved me through. He told me to park near the first trailer, and that Hammack was around there.
As I drove up into the entrance of the pad site, surrounded by 32 foot-tall sound curtains, I noticed that all of the vehicles were backed into their spots. I decided to do the same. I noticed that lying on the ground behind where I would park was a drill bit. Although I'd seen them in pictures, I made a mental note to get a closer look before I would leave. I shut off the car and grabbed my note pad, and saw Hammack walking up. He welcomed me to the site, and told me he wanted me to meet his company man, who was living in the trailer for the duration of the drilling. I grabbed my hard hat, gloves, and safety glasses, which along with steel-toed boots are a must on the drill site. I figured I'd leave the camera in the car for the time being and go say hello.
Chris introduced me to Wes, his "company man" on the site. A company man is basically the guy who represents the oil and gas developer / owner in supervising the drilling operations, which are usually carried out by a contractor - in this case Helmerich and Payne. Wes is a middle-aged, burly, ruddy-faced guy with a long grey mustache, who looks like he would be right at home at any biker rally, leaned back on a Harley Davidson. A copy of George W. Bush's new book "Decision Points" is out on his desk, which also has a couple of computer monitors showing data from the drilling operations. On the other side is an LCD television screen turned on, but with the sound down.
The trailer we're in is thin-walled but comfortable. The sound of the rig's generators is a constant drone that is muffled quite a bit inside, 122 feet from the hole according to Wes. Having not gotten much sleep in the past few days myself, I wondered to myself whether I would be able to sleep in a trailer like this with that kind of constant noise. I decided that I could, and that if I wasn't careful, the drone might lull me. But the conversation was interesting enough to prevent that.
Chris and Wes fill me in on what's currently going on with Hilliard South, well 1H. Chris explains that because the well is the first in the area, they need good data about the thickness and characteristics of the shale here. He explains that rather than drill down and turn horizontal, they've begun this well by drilling straight down all the way through the Barnett Shale into the Viola limestone just below it. They won't do this on the other wells the will drill here- only this first one. The idea is to get the hole nice and clean, then pull out the drill pipe and insert well logging equipment on a wire line all the way down the hole, taking various readings to determine the characteristics of the shale, and the best depth at which to turn it horizontal.
The show me a gamma log that they've produced already. Shale has higher levels of naturally occurring gamma radiation than other types of rock, so as gamma detectors pass through, the radiations levels go off the end of the chart and wrap around the other side, creating a line that pretty clearly shows them where the shale begins and ends. In this part of Flower Mound, the logs show that it begins at about 7,900 feet and continues down to 8,350 feet, for a depth of 450 feet. Below the shale is an 80 foot thick layer of limestone known as the Viola. Above the shale is a layer of limestone called the Marble Falls.
Once they get their logs and figure out where they will turn horizontal, they explain that they'll plug the bottom part of the 8 3/4" hole with cement, back up, then use the directional drill to start a slow turn into horizontal.
Hammack introduces me to Tom Strother, his Drilling Manager and well designer. Hammack also explains that after the well is drilled, Danny Brown will take over for the fracturing, completion, and operation. Hammack says Titan has about 15 direct employees, but has about 100 people working for it now if you count consultants and contractors.
About the Rig Chris and Wes are proud of the modern drilling rig and fill me in on some of the specifications of the rig:
The FlexRig 4S is an all-electric rig with a 1500 horsepower draw works that could lift up 500,000 pounds of pipe if it needed to, although they're drilling with pipe that could only handle about 375,000 pounds of tension. It can drill about 7,000 feet horizontally after drilling down to the Barnett Shale. The rig uses two 1,600 horsepower mud pumps, which allow it to drill faster while cooling and lubricating the bit and bringing cuttings to the surface faster. The rig itself has a smaller footprint, they say, and consumes half the fuel of a conventional rig.
Although the FlexRig is all-electric drive, the power it consumes is more than most electric grids can handle, (including ours in Lewisville) so it has two huge diesel generators running at 7,000 - 10,000 RPM. Unlike mechanical drilling rigs where the diesel engines are up on the drilling platform driving the equipment directly and winding up or down to handle the immediate load, these generators sit low to the ground, which they explain keeps the sound down. These are newer diesel engines, so they meet stricter emissions requirements than older rigs. The equipment being powered by the generators is also quieter, and Hammack says you won't hear the squeaks like you would a mechanical rig with a driller working the brake handle.
Wes tells me that they have a 10,000 gallon diesel tank, and that they top it off about once a week with about 7,000 gallons of diesel. These generators connect to an "SCR House" or silicon-controlled rectifier which converts the power into a form usable by the various motors, pumps, and equipment as well as the lights and power needs for all of the trailers on-site.
The rig can be moved with 16 trucks and three cranes, for a total of about 42 loads.
One of the most innovative features of the rig is that once assembled, it can move itself to drill up to 20 wells in one location. The structure sits on skids with hydraulic actuators that can move the whole rig, even with full stands of very heavy drill pipe.
Hammack says that Flower Mound police were helpful in handling traffic while they moved the rig on-site, and that Flower Mound staff have been there for inspections. Although the operations have been the subject of protests each Saturday, Hammack says there really haven't been problems in terms of security, except for one unannounced visit by a journalist, who was turned away by the guard.
The Video I'll apologize up front about the sound. You may have to turn your speakers down, then up. Camcorder microphones aren't great, so hopefully one of these days we'll get a better microphone for the recordings. (Watch in a new window...)
The Tour So after a lot of talking we step outside the trailer, and the sun has gone down already. I put on my hard hat and glasses, and go back to the car for my camera and tripod. There's a whole lot of rig to show, so I get out the wide-angle lens, which I then have a difficult time with for the rest of the tour.
Pipe Loading Our first stop on the tour is the pipe loading area where steel drill pipe is rolled onto a loading chute to be pushed up to the drilling platform. On older rigs, pipes were pulled up with a chain winch in a somewhat noisy process. On this rig, there is a hydraulic ram that pushes them up.
Generators We then walk around to the loudest part of the rig, which is the twin diesel generators. I don't know what the official name for them is, but I call them BFGs. They run at a constant speed while I'm there. I can't perceive any sort of smoke or fumes of any kind, which is good because when I smell diesel fumes, I get unpleasant flashbacks to my time in the military. I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that I smell much greater diesel smell when I'm around diesel pickups or delivery vehicles than what I smelled with these nearly shipping-container-sized generators. I just didn't feel like I was breathing in exhaust.
Fuel Tank After showing me the diesel fuel tank, Hammack assures me that it is a multi-wall tank, and that they use low-sulfur diesel in these engines.
SCR House We then walk to the SCR house, which is like a power-plant control room of sorts. It is full of electrical panels with high-tech meters and gauges and switches, some of which were locked and tagged out. The room was air-conditioned like just about any datacenter where you would find racks of computers. Hammack says that the maintenance workers who maintain these units can get into them remotely by satellite to troubleshoot them, much like someone like me would remote into a computer server to fix something.
Mud Mixing and Pumps Hammick shows us where they mix the drilling mud that is pumped down the drill pipe and used to lubricate and cool the drill bit as well as carry away the rock and shale cuttings.
Mud Return, Shale Shakers, and Centrifuges When the mud returns up the hole, carrying rock cuttings, it enters into a manifold that is carried along to equipment that separates out the rocks so the mud can be reused. The Flexrig is designed so that the mud mixing and return system stays stationary, but the rig can move at 7 1/2 foot intervals and still connect to it.
The mud comes out in a piece of equipment called a "shale shaker". The liquid part of the mud falls out and the tiny bits of rock cuttings are vibrated across a platform and fall out the other end into a metal bin for disposal.
The liquid mud goes into a centrifuge that removes some of the smaller particles.
The entire mud system is a closed-loop system on-site. Of course, the cuttings and the mud end up being disposed of elsewhere on land farms.
Skid Package Hammack shows how the entire rig sits on a set of skids that are connected to hydraulic rams that can pull the rig into a new position to drill another well while stood up. At this particular location, Titan will be drilling two wells at first, with more to follow later.
Blowout Preventer The B.O.P. or Blowout Preventer is a hulking red monstrosity that sits above the drill hole, bolted to the well's surface casing. Its purpose is to prevent a blowout, which is any uncontrolled release of gas from the hole. Hammack explains the purpose of the different parts of the blowout preventer: The annular preventer, the pipe ram, and the shear ram. The annular is a rubber seal that inflates around the pipe. The pipe rams seal around the pipes. The shear ram is a last resort that would cut through the pipe, totally sealing the hole. Hammack says the shear rating on the BOP will allow it to cut through even a joint in the heavy drill pipe.
The BOP on this H&P Flexrig moves with the rig, completely assembled, saving some steps.
More on pipe loading Hammack explains more about the hydraulic pipe loading system, which he says eliminates a lot of the noise that causes complaints on older rigs.
Portability Looking down at the SCR house, and its electrical connections to the rig, Hammack shows how the parts disconnect for a move, and fold up for loading onto a truck. Other features of the mud pumps and tanks are shown.
Rig Floor At the time when I visited, they weren't so much drilling, but mostly cleaning out the hole to get ready to do some logging. You can see the top-drive turning the drill pipe. Lots of drill pipe is stood up on the floor.
Dog House The drilling on this rig is controlled by the driller who does everything from a nice "dog house" out of the elements. He uses a joystick to control the drill string, and he's watching several computer screens monitoring things like weight on the draw works, mud pumping and return rates, and so forth.
We got to see a connection being made by the machine, rather than the old-fashioned manual "tongs" that roughnecks used to throw around and injure themselves with.
Also at one point, I think it was the derrick man who brought in a small bag of shale chips that had just come up in the mud. Several of the guys were looking at them - I guess as a way to see what was going on with the hole. To me, they looked like bits of coal.
Thanks I'd like to thank Chris Hammack and Titan for allowing us to take a camera out and bring you this tour. Hopefully this will allow the residents in Flower Mound and Lewisville to get a good close look at what is coming their way. This rig is one of two identical rigs Titan is using, and may be the one used to drill the Prologis and Ingram units in Lewisville.
WhosPlayin has not been much of a proponent of natural gas drilling in the city, so we're especially grateful to Titan for reaching out and being willing to talk to us. We hope to be able to bring you more in the coming weeks.