Rig Management Oman

Date: 09/17/2009
Location: Paris

A rose may be a rose to some people, but a rig is certainly not just a rig to our folks at Rig Management Group (RMG). No way!

Now here was a switch. For once, a Schlumberger person was not talking to me about the benefits of some fantastic new technology.

Bassam Al-Hassan, operations manager of our Oman Rig Management (RMG) business, based at our Schlumberger office in the capital of Muscat, just came out and said it: “There is limited new technology on our land rigs here.”

That sounded pretty fishy to me. But Al-Hassan calmly explained. “Rig markets today are facing serious competency issues, with qualified professionals leaving for higher salaries and many service providers subsequently failing to perform to high standards. That’s why we consider our business here is more about people. Ours have a can-do, quality attitude. That makes all the difference.”

Well, we would see about that the next morning, when I was set to visit Rigs 79 and 96, two of RMG’s six rigs at work in Oman. In the meantime, Al-Hassan provided a little history about Sea & Land Drilling, which is the local name of RMG, which is itself an independent sub-segment of Schlumberger Integrated Project Management (IPM)—and not to be confused with the Reservoir Management Group (also RMG).  It turns out that Schlumberger, through Sea & Land Drilling, has owned and operated between four and six drilling rigs in Oman since way back in 1971, during which time we have helped the country's primary oil company, Petroleum Development Oman (PDO), drill wells on a job by job basis. Today, however, the goal for RMG is to take a more active role in supporting the development of IPM in Oman.

Likewise around the world—by leveraging an increasing fleet of Schlumberger owned and operated drilling rigs to support integrated well construction projects for our clients—we are following through on a strategy of company-wide growth through IPM. Rig Management is a critical part of this growth strategy, for which we require access to drilling rigs. The Rig Management Group and its JV partners operate 142 rigs today worldwide. Got the picture?


Now, let’s get back to Rigs 79 and 96, and to the people who run them—starting with Azzedine Smida, rig manager in charge of both, and probably the best qualified person to describe the big machines I was about to visit. Smida, a powerfully built Algerian who looks like he hand crushes I-beams for exercise, quickly fingered the unique feature that distinguishes 79 from 96, and from all other Sea & Land rigs—the apparently universally known and widely respected contraption known as the “TDS,” which stands for Top Drive System. Because it’s equipped with a TDS, 79 stands apart as our only rig capable of drilling three lengths of pipe at a time, for example, while our other five rigs, of the conventional “Kelly” type, can drill pipe lengths only one by one.

"We get extra money for our TDS, which drills faster, reams boreholes better, and controls the well more reliably,” said Smida. “Other than that, there’s not much difference between 79 and 96.”

I was entirely prepared to believe Smida on this point:  Nearly all oil rigs look the same to me. But it made sense to have a look anyway, widen my horizons a bit.

“Talk to Mamoon Khan, superintendent of Rig 96,” said Azzedine Smida, shaking my hand good-by. “He’ll show you.”


I would do that, of course, but first I had to get there—via a 7am flight to the oil industry outpost of Fahud, then two hours by crew bus across the central Omani desert, a seemingly endless expanse of clay-colored rubble. It doesn’t take long to understand why it looks like this, of course. By the time we bounced up to rig camps 79 and 96, which currently sit side-by-side on a three-acre lot, the air temperature had reached 50 degrees Celsius (122F). Even the handful of camels shuffling around camp were wearing an expression of despair.

But not Ali Shoukat, superintendent of Rig 79, who I discovered in that rig’s air conditioned office, a 5-km shuttle from base camp. A jovial Pakistani who joined Schlumberger by way of Forex Neptune in 1980, Shoukat has been right here, drilling for gas above the Kauther gas field, for the last two years, and the man gives every impression of liking it.

"The TDS makes all the difference for us,” Shoukat smiled proudly. “This is the best rig we have in Oman.” He justifies the statement by citing the average time it takes 79 to drill, cement, case and complete a well here: 108 days compared to 125 for a conventional Kelly rig like 96, for instance. Shoukat’s set-up is also two days faster to move to a new site, he says, needing but seven days compared to 96’s nine. I had to concede the interest of speed when working in this climate, particularly after Ali forced me into the obligatory boots, coveralls, goggles and helmet so I could visit 79’s rig floor, where the drilling motors add 10 degrees to the ambient temperature.

It was going to be hard to find someone prouder than Ali Shoukat, I thought—at least out here in the Omani desert. I was wrong.

Less than a mile across the rubble I found the recommended Mamoon Khan, a Pakistani who joined Schlumberger as an assistant driller in 1994. He was sitting in kingly fashion in his air-conditioned office, in the shadow of Rig 96, to which he has been assigned since December 2006. Khan’s pride, I discovered, stems from his reckoning that 96 is a “cleaner, simpler, more efficient rig” than the much-touted 79. He spurns the idea that his machine’s performance might suffer from its lack of a TDS. And to give him his due, it’s true that Rig 96 underwent a complete refurbishment two years ago, and now boasts purpose-built mud tanks, for example. And you want speed? “For moves of less than 50 miles, we’re two days faster than 79!” Khan proclaimed.


To support his argument, Khan turned to Staff Engineer Jinyuan Qiao, who joined Schlumberger from Chinese national oil company Sinopec nine months ago, and who now oversees logistics and procurement for both 79 and 96. He should be a reasonably impartial judge, Khan figured.

"You’ve seen 79. You know rigs. Which do you like better—that one or this one?” asked Khan, holding his arm to the window where 96 stood, shining in the sun.

“This one is tidy,” said Qiao timidly. “I like this one.”

“You see!” boomed Mamoon Khan, lurching from his chair. “This rig is beautiful! True beauty is universally recognized.”


Clearly, the dueling rig dilemma was nowhere near a resolution. I should point out, however, that in August 2008 Rig 79 will have achieved four years without a single Lost Time Incident, while Rig 96 recently passed the two-year mark without an LTI event—which makes 79 and 96 the two best performing rigs in Oman today. As far as I could tell, Bassam Al-Hassan had been dead right: It’s all because of the people.



One Woman, Many Helmets
Evenlyn Bicelis is only 25, and she hasn’t been around Schlumberger long, but that hasn’t stopped her from trying a variety of jobs. Of course as a junior IPM engineer training to become a rig manager, trying new jobs is her job. She started as a roustabout on a barge in her native Venezuela in 2006, then went to Gabon as a mechanic and an electrician. Now she’s assistant driller on the red hot floor of Rig 79, and she loves it. “I’m just trying to enjoy my time out here,” she beams. “I know how much I’ll miss the field some day.”

Well-Oiled Machine
Nobody’s calling Michel Percherin a machine, and he’s anything but oily, dressed in crisp and stylish casual attire for his five-week trip back home. But as chief mechanic on Rig 96, in charge of maintaining all heavy equipment—generators, mud pumps, winches, drilling equipment and draw works—you could say he likes a well-oiled machine. And after 16 years filling this role, he also likes working on rotation, or the coming and going to faraway places to concentrate on his work…and on his life back home. “I can’t imagine working a job near my home,” he smiles. “It takes some getting used to, but once you’re in the rhythm, it’s easy to get trapped.”

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