In The Loop: Managed pressure drilling (MPD)


Managed pressure drilling (MPD) requires a great deal of systematic control, owing mostly to the tiny margin for error. Failures in the control system software will affect safety and may lead to non-productive time. The scope of MPD Hardware In-the-Loop (HIL) testing is to test and verify the functionality and failure-handling capability of the MPD/DGD control system software before it is used on board the offshore installation, jack-up or MODU. The testing will detect hidden software errors, erroneous configuration parameters, and design flaws using state-of-the-art HIL testing technology.

HIL testing enables thorough and efficient testing of control system software without risk to personnel, equipment or environment. This includes the testing of safety critical software barriers that otherwise cannot be proven before they are needed. While system vendors frequently test their own software, third-party HIL testing by Marine Cybernetics has also proved to be an efficient tool to enhance software reliability and safety further.

Marine Cybernetics recently conducted the first third-party HIL test for an MPD control system – AGR Enhanced Drilling’s EC-Drill® system. Working at its Trondheim sites alongside AGR ED and project partners Statoil, Marine Cybernetics (MC) facilitated the latter’s technology qualification of EC-Drill®.

MPD System

The EC-Drill® system is designed to control bottom-hole pressure (BHP) by changing the level of drilling mud in the riser. This aids deepwater drilling especially, enabling the exploitation of depleted reservoirs and allowing production even from very narrow pressure windows. This may also aid in the drilling of the HPHT wells, as BHP can be maintained just below fracture pressure. Ultimately, AGR ED hopes the system can increase safety whilst allowing operators to drill targets that would be impractical or unviable using conventional techniques.

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The system tested by MC is the first version of the next generation of EC-Drill®, featuring new control system capabilities. The technology will eventually be used in projects on the Norwegian Continental Shelf.

The HIL test procedure included both top-side and subsea control systems from AGR ED while the well, riser, drilling equipment, and subsea pump were simulated by MC. The test programme covered various functions, including operational modes, the changes of pressure set points, drilling procedures, increasing/decreasing riser level and various tests for communication and mechanical failures.

Although confidentiality currently prevents the publication of results, MC can report that all participants were satisfied with the test programme and its findings.

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