Rising 162 feet above the rolling dunes outside of ‘Ain Dar is the latest addition to Saudi Aramco’s drilling rig fleet. It is the first rig to be designed by Saudi Aramco engineers and built according to the company’s specifications, and it will be a key component as the company moves toward greater localization of drilling services through our two new joint ventures (JVs) with Nabors Industries Ltd. and Rowan Companies Plc.
The rig started drilling the first well and will give its crew of Saudi operators and engineers an opportunity to test out the capabilities of the most up-to-date drill rig in Saudi Arabia and the GCC region.
On the drill rig floor, perched 45 feet above the ground below, rig project leader Khaled Al-Said watched with pride as a driller uses a joystick to direct a length of pipe into position, with the guiding hands of some skilled rig-men.
Above is a monkey board, where a length of drill pipe is moved into position automatically, without a danger to rig workers. “This device protects our people, and it saves lives,” Al-Said said, adding that the rig is an example of the company’s commitment to Saudization. “All the rig crew are Saudi employees, and the young engineers are Saudis. This is one thing we are proud of: every step, from A to Z, from the development of scope of work to the commissioning in the field, is being done by Saudis.”
Best in Class
AbdulHameed A. Al Rushaid, executive director for Drilling & Workover (D&WO), said the arrival of the rig to Saudi Aramco’s company-owned drilling rig fleet will maintain the company’s role in ensuring safety remains the top priority. “Among all drilling contractors, I am fully confident that Saudi Aramco’s rigs will be best in class in performing their operations safely and efficiently,” he said.
Omar Al-Husaini, general manager for D&WO Operations, said the rig is a major milestone for the company. “It is a moment of pride to see our young Saudi men assembling this high spec new rig together in a very professional and safe manner. I am excited to see our first Saudi Aramco gas rig joining the rest of our fleet, and I am looking forward to see it in operation.”
The rig is just the latest in a fleet of onshore and offshore rigs owned and operated by Saudi Aramco, but it is proof that the company is well on its way to further enhancing the quality and the economic impact of its drilling operations.
“This is the first rig built from scratch for Saudi Aramco,” said Fahad Al-Mulaik, manager of the Southern Area Oil Drilling Department, which includes the Saudi Aramco-owned drill rig program. “By tailoring the rig design to fit our needs, we can make sure that we get the drilling services we need while setting an example for the highest standards of safety, efficiency, and environmental protection.”
The Saudi Aramco-owned drill rig program is a key enabler in the company’s strategy for diversifying and strengthening the Saudi economy through the creation of drilling JVs, Al-Mulaik added. “The company benefits, because these rigs will always be there for us when we need drilling services. But the country’s economy also benefits, because the JVs will begin building drill rigs locally, and that creates new jobs.”
Talal Al-Zahrani, drilling maintenance superintendent for the rig, said the addition of this 3,000 horsepower rig to Saudi Aramco’s fleet will be a critical contribution for the company to the new onshore drilling JV with Nabors.
“This rig is a landmark in the Saudi Aramco rig fleet,” he said. “It is equipped with the most sophisticated equipment that enhances health, safety, and environment standards in all aspects.”
Khaled Al-Said reviews plans for the new
company-owned rig right outside of 'Ain Dar.
Habes Al-Enezy, the operations foreman, watches his crew pull up a length of drill-pipe and place it into position in the mouse-hole. Even though this rig is designed to be semi-automatic — with machines doing most of the precision work of guiding the pipe into position — Al-Enezy is making sure his young crew is ready to complete their tasks manually in the event of system failure.
He’s proud to be working on a rig that sets new standards for environmental compliance.
“This rig is designed to operate with zero spillage,” he said, pointing to grates and drainage ducts on the rig floor that will gather up any liquid that spills during the drilling process.
As drilling engineers, Hussain M. Alzori and Hussien A. Alzaki are responsible for communicating with the operations staff the objectives of this particular well — in its current position, the rig began drilling its first oil well — and for making sure those objectives are met. Both men have been given significant responsibilities early in their careers and they feel Saudi Aramco has prepared them well.
“In the past three years, I have taken service assignments, an operations assignment and back to drilling engineering, and along the way I have also taken technical courses,” says Alzaki. “I feel very well prepared.”
The rig is the most technologically advanced in the Kingdom and in the region. Its 3,000 horsepower draw works give it the ability to drill wells 30,000 feet deep. Mud-control systems and a cementing tank give the drilling crew the capability of controlling pressure during drilling, and the blowout preventer system is certified up to 15,000 pounds per square inch (psi).
But what makes the rig a state-of-the-art drill is the level of automation that is built into every single function. To minimize the risk of injury, the design team insisted on equipment such as an “iron roughneck” and a “stand transfer vehicle (STV)” to carry out more risky tasks and to minimize the danger to human employees.
For the most dangerous part of the job — assembling and disassembling a drill rig onsite, also known as “rig up” and “rig down” — the rig has created a remote Drill Rig Control Cabinet on the ground below where a driller can complete the final tasks, using remote real-time video from cameras placed on all parts of the rig floor.
Experience and Excellence
While Al-Said and his team took a very close look at the drilling process and managed the design to eliminate risks, there will always be a need to have skilled people able to carry out operations, especially when automated systems go down.
One of the more experienced crew men is Mohammed A. Al-Ghadeer, a tool pusher with 17 years of experience with D&WO. “With this new technology, there is a new challenge,” Al-Ghadeer said. “No single oil field is the same as another. It is like an ocean; there are so many different kinds of wells, and each one gives a different experience.”
And this newest rig is a sure sign that the brightest days of Saudi Aramco’s drilling program are yet to come.