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SPE-175431-MS

Use Of Plasma-Based Tool For Plug And Abandonment


Matus Gajdos, Tomas Kristofic, Slavomir Jankovic, Gabriel Horvath, and Igor Kocis, GA Drilling AS

Copyright 2015, Society of Petroleum Engineers


This paper was prepared for presentation at the SPE Offshore Europe Conference and Exhibition held in Aberdeen, Scotland, UK, 8 11 September 2015.
This paper was selected for presentation by an SPE program committee following review of information contained in an abstract submitted by the author(s). Contents
of the paper have not been reviewed by the Society of Petroleum Engineers and are subject to correction by the author(s). The material does not necessarily reflect
any position of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, its officers, or members. Electronic reproduction, distribution, or storage of any part of this paper without the written
consent of the Society of Petroleum Engineers is prohibited. Permission to reproduce in print is restricted to an abstract of not more than 300 words; illustrations may
not be copied. The abstract must contain conspicuous acknowledgment of SPE copyright.

Abstract
Plug and Abandonment (P&A) is the largest category in Decommissioning expenditures, representing
40-44 percent of the total investment that basically comes as mandatory cost with no expected return. If
the well operator gets P&A inadequate, results may include water flows, gas or oil seeps from the seabed,
or underground cross flow between formations with huge impact on environment and marine life. The
objective of this paper is plasma-based technology for enhanced casing section milling addressing the
P&A challenges.
According to some oilfield service providers, two main P&A challenges are as follows: Time and
expense of casing milling - for example, Norwegian regulations call for cementing two 50-meter sections
of casing above and below each hydrocarbon-bearing zone. Each section may take more than 10 days to
mill and may generate four tons of swarf. The second challenge is swarf damaging blow out preventer
(BOP) - Milling generates swarf, which then must be removed before cementing. However, swarf removal
can damage the BOP. To avoid well integrity issues, BOP has to be dismantled, inspected and repaired
at considerable expense.
The presented paper is focused on technology eliminating the P&A challenges. The core of the
technology is based on plasma generator producing high temperature water steam plasma for rapid steel
structural degradation. This approach brings a radical abandonment of the classic rotary approaches with
connected tubes in long strings and generation of swarf which need to be removed. Besides elimination
of aforementioned challenges, the technology advantages include also rigless operation since the system
is designed for coiled tubing solution. This feature brings additional cost savings using Light Weight
Intervention Vessel (LWIV). Moreover, fully automated coiled tubing goes hand in hand with enhanced
safety of the operational staff.
Impact and potential of the technology is to change, simplify the process of P&A and therefore
significantly cut the time of whole P&A. The technology is currently under development with expected
commercialization within three-year period.

Introduction
Only 7% of existing North Sea installations have been decommissioned, which creates an enormous
opportunity for engaged companies in such a business (Jamieson, 2013). Naturally, operators worldwide
are seeking effective solutions that would cut their massive expenses in decommissioning. Operators

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forecast that annual decommissioning expenditure will average 1.5bn (Werngren, 2014). Currently, the
well abandonment is an absolutely critical industry that every well that was ever drilled will require P&A
in its lifespan.
The basic technologies associated with P&A has not changed significantly since the 1970s. Waterbased slurries of cement and drilling mud are still the basic materials used to plug most wells although
progress has been made in use of additives to customize the cements and muds for specific types of wells.
The lack of progress in P&A practices is attributable to absence of a long-term vision, dysfunctional
supply chain and in attention to corresponding research that recognizes the P&A issues within development projects.
The operational costs calculation of P&A in offshore platform is derived from various factors. Mostly,
it depends on whether isolated wells or whole campaign to decommission a platform. Secondly, it depends
on the parameters of the well - depth, pressure, weather conditions and the risk of potential drawbacks as
fishing. From economic point of view, rig count is a significant indicator of well P&A opportunities. Last
but not least, it depends on the well localization, distance from the shore, storms, hurricanes, ship impact,
and corrosion. The offshore wells P&A are divided in two main groups: With wet tree and dry tree.
Difference is in location of production tree (X-mas tree). In case of dry tree there is X-mas tree located
above the sea level. In case of wet tree, X-mas tree is located on the seabed - under sea water level, what
is from few feet to few hundred feet, or in extreme scenarios more than few thousands of feet.
Each P&A job depends on well construction, well location, production history, casing condition and
many other factors. From time to time there is an option to use a rigless solution for P&A. In this case,
the well is plugged without pulling tubular or casing milling. Cement plugs are set directly to production
string and after successful pressure test of this plugs, wellhead and casing strings are cut with special
device few feet under seabed and removed to surface. P&A in wet tree scenario is more expensive. For
the reason that all operations are happening under the sea water level, there is a need of using remotely
operated vehicles. For this type of P&A, deployment of heavy rig is preferred, which is more expensive
and all operations take longer time with higher cost. Present casing milling technology consists of using
the common casing section mill. This mill is hydraulically actuated tool used for milling a section in
casing or tubing. The main part of mill are milling knives dressed with tungsten carbide. Once the casing
mill is run in to hole to the desired depth, the circulation of drilling mud starts.
According to some oilfield service providers, two main challenges of conventional casing section
milling for P&A are as follows (Halliburton, 2015):

Time and expense of milling casing - for example, Norwegian regulations call for cementing two
50-meter sections of casing above and below each hydrocarbon-bearing zone. Each section may
take more than 10 days to mill and may generate four tons of swarf.
The second challenge is swarf damaging blow out preventer (BOP) - Milling generates swarf,
which then must be removed before cementing. However, swarf removal can damage the BOP. To
avoid well integrity issues, BOP has to be dismantled, inspected and repaired at considerable
expense.
A specific issues are also related to milling of exotic alloys and their influence of milling knives and
tool wear. All the aforementioned challenges are redoubled by the infrastructure used for P&A. Operators
would prefer performing P&A with a light well intervention vessel (LWIV). The reason is a significant
reduction of a daily rental (1/3 of conventional rig rental; 1/2 of heavy well intervention vessel).
The presented plasma-based technology is addressing all these challenges. In general, electrical plasma
can be used for drilling or well intervention operations. Both of these options have been presented at the
SPE/IADC Drilling Conference and Exhibition (Kocis, 2015). This paper follows the mentioned presentation focusing on capability of plasma-based technology for casing section milling for P&A.

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Methods and Procedures


The plasma-based technology for P&A is in the prototype stage under development within Joint
Industry Project (JIP). The aim of the current phase of JIP is to reach Technology Readiness Level (TRL)
5 - technology validated in relevant environment. For tracking of the development is used 9-Level TRL
Scale. The offshore field test should be then performed in 2017.
Currently, the development is held in the R&D center of the technology provider with testing
infrastructure consisting of customized rig, diesel generators, technology containers and control center.
Technology container cover water and air cooling systems for milling process and electrical power sources
able to supply plasma torch with power.
The testing was performed on tens of either simple or multistring casing samples in liquid environment.
Multistring casing samples consist of tube-cement-tube-cement-monotube structure. Fig. 1a shows the
plasma-based tool entering multistring casing sample; Fig. 1b shows the upper view on the sample after
the experiment. Fig. 1c shows a sample after diagonal section in order to reveal obtained steel/cement
removal. It is obvious that the inner casing and cement layer have been completely removed on the chosen
section. The team proved that 3.5 tool is capable to mill a wide range of casing sizes including 4.5, 5.5
and 7.

Figure 1Plasma-based tool entering multistring casing sample (a); Upper view on the sample after the experiment (b); Sample after
diagonal section in order to reveal obtained steel/cement removal (c)

Moreover, to prove the feasibility of the technology, the scaled testing in pressures up to 1,450 psi was
performed. Based on the aforementioned casing section milling challenges, the parameters of ROP,
influence of steel types and cuttings from the process of plasma milling have been analyzed.

Results and Observations


Rate of penetration
Series of experiments carried out at different boundary conditions showed that effectivity of steel cutting
can be characterized by one special parameter. This parameter, namely , describes the energy needed for
total removal of a mass of a steel in certain physical conditions. Parameter has a statistical character
since it summarizes the liberated energy coming from exothermic iron oxidation processes and the real

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electric energy put to plasma generator. Therefore, it is evident that is always lower than consumed
electric energy. It was also found that is dependent on the degree / type of steel oxidation and
hydrodynamic circumstances. In order to determine the value of ROP, a testing with a plasma generator
was performed on two types of steels materials analysed were carbon steel S355 and alloy steel having
20% Cr and 12% Ni. The value of was calculated from an equation:
(1)
Where UI is the electrical power to plasma generator,
m is the mass of the removed steel from the sample plate and
t is the time of the process.
A functional correlation was observed between the steel removal rate SRR [kg/h] and plasma voltage
U [V], current intensity I [A], plasmatorch efficiency h[01] and net energy requirement per unit mass
of removed steel [MJ/kg]:
(2)
In real casing conditions in water environment at low pressures the value of was found in range at
about 3-4 MJ/kg. When considering power output 250 kW, plasmatorch efficiency 70% and net energy
requirement per unit mass of removed steel 3 MJ/kg, the value of SRR is 210 kg/h. This value means ROP
2.0 4.5 m/h for 9-5/8 casing section milling (depending on the wall thickness). This ROP is comparable
to present-day section milling techniques, however the difference is in the fact that plasma-based tool is
able to mill various casing dimensions (as well as multistring) using one tool. This means reduction of
tripping and significant increase of net productivity.
Various steel types
For S355 steel, scanning electron microscopy (SEM) analysis showed the microstructure of formed
cuttings that clearly describe the dominant presence of iron(II) oxide. Structural analysis proved a
heterogeneity between the formed oxidized and diffusive metallic layers in the cuttings. This resulted in
differences in the thermal expansion coefficients of metal / oxide systems at the border of a metallic and
oxide layers. Therefore hydrodynamic destruction of such weakened multilayers could be realized
relatively easily.
In case of alloy steel, the mentioned differences in thermal expansion properties of metal / oxide
multilayers are significantly higher due to higher grade of chemical heterogeneity of microstructure. Fig.
2 shows samples of SEM image and Energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDX) analysis of cuttings
material formed during plasma-based steel removal process of S355 steel.

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Figure 2Samples of SEM image and EDX analysis of cuttings material formed during plasma-based steel removal process of S355.

Based on the results of experiments, plasma-based tool is capable to mill carbon steel as well as alloys
steel without significant obstacles.
Cuttings size
Fig. 3a shows a typical example of cuttings collected from the casings bottom after milling processes.
Using a sieve analysis the size distribution of cuttings after drying was evaluated it is shown in Fig. 3b.

Figure 3Cuttings generated during plasma milling processes in water environment (scale in mm) (a); Cuttings size distribution (b)

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The smaller particles are formed from small fragments of oxidized particles having irregular shape. A
fraction of bigger particles contains larger amount of globular particles having smooth surface. The ratio
of cement particles is approximately the same for each size group. SEM-EDX analysis has been carried
out for each size groups and it has been concluded that oxidation processes penetrate into the steel volume.
Fig. 4a shows spherical particles identified as a ferrite material with small amount of oxygen in the
structure. Higher content of oxide was found in the dark parts on the particles. Fig. 4b and Fig. 4c shows
a visible inner structure on the oxide fragment.

Figure 4 Spherical cutting particle having feritic structure (a); SEM photo of oxidized cuttings surface (b, c)

Fig. 5 shows EDX analysis of chemical composition inside the oxidized cuttings structure. The
presence of calcium in the structure is caused by thermal diffusion into the melted and oxidized metal.
This is an evidence of strong volumetric oxidation and high temperature oxygen diffusion into the metal.

Figure 5EDX analysis of chemical composition inside the oxidized cuttings structure

Chemical analysis of oxide surface of particles having size around 1mm shows higher oxygen content
and also higher content of impurities from cement structure. Fig. 6 shows the surface of oxide particles
containing dense structure of globular pores.

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Figure 6 Oxidized particle of size around 1mm containing pores (a, b)

The dominancy of oxidized cuttings is a proof of presence of exothermic reactions that highly improve
the overall energy balance of plasma milling and supplies additional energy into the milling processes
increasing the ROP.
Fig. 7 shows a chemical analysis of the composition of oxidized particle at different points.

Figure 7Chemical analysis of the composition of oxidized particle at different points

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The experimental results comfirmed that the size of produced cuttings from plasma-based milling are
not dangerous for well control equipment.

Case study
The abovementioned facts can be applied on the following P&A case study. In general, the conventional
P&A process in North Sea region can be broken down into eight sub-processes:
1. Rig-up on well and set temporary barriers
2. N/D X-mas tree and N/U BOP
3. Pull completion
4. Run scraper and run CBL log
5. Set Reservoir barrier
6. Set Bunter Sand barrier
7. Set environmental cap
8. Retrieve tubulars from 10 ft below the mudline
The plasma-based tool is being developed for simplification of this procedure. The tool should be able
to operate through tubing without need for X-mas tree removal. This ability eliminates a need for tubing
removal since the tool can mill tubing as well as casing in one trip. Fig. 8 shows a process of tubing and
casing section milling using plasma-based tool. The tool is inserted throught the tubing into the target zone
where the plug should be set (a). The electric arc is ignited, plasma is created and the tool is moving
upwards removing the tubing (b). After tubing removal, the tool is positioned to its starting position and
it removes casing and cement layer (c). After removal of both tubing and casing, the tool is POOH (d).
Then the section is ready for cement plug setting (e).

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Figure 8 Casing section milling of tubing and casing with plasma-based tool

Based on this description, the P&A process using plasma-based tool has a different structure:
1. Rig-up on well and set plug below reservoir barrier depth (allowing for milling debris sump)
2. RIH, mill 100ft window through tubing, casing and cement at Reservoir barrier depth, POOH.
3. Set Reservoir barrier
4. Set plug below bunter sand barrier depth.
5. RIH, mill 100ft window through tubing, casing and cement at Bunter Sand barrier depth, POOH.
6. Set Bunter Sand barrier
7. Set environmental cap
8. Retrieve tubulars from 10 ft below the mudline
Based on this difference, Fig. 9 shows a comparison of conventional and plasma-based P&A process
on a North Sea case study well where two sections need to be milled and cement plug set. Besides
aforementioned simplification of the process, significant savings are secured also by use of coiled tubing
solution reducing mob/demob time.

10

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Figure 9 Comparison of conventional and plasma-based P&A process on a North Sea

Although still at the precommercialisation stage, technology provider, involved operators and oilfield
service provider hope that plasma-based technology could lower the costs of the P&A process by up to
50% (Jankovic, 2015).

Conclusions
The paper presents current advances in the development of plasma-based milling tool and its use in casing
section milling for P&A operations. A special attention is paid to justification of technologys advantages
regarding net ROP, milling of various steel types and cuttings size distribution. Development and testing
confirmed advances of the presented technology in comparison to conventional rotary approach.
Impact and potential of plasma-based milling technology is to change, simplify the process of P&A and
therefore significantly reduce the time of whole operation. The main technology advantages include:

Rigless operation since the system is designed for coiled tubing solution. This feature brings
cost-savings using LWIV.
Rapid structural degradation of steel using plasma enables high milling ROP. When compared to
conventional approach, this feature brings time savings when considering no tripping operation.

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The mechanism produces tiny steel particles instead of swarf. This is beneficial for proper BOP
operation as well as other components where swarf usually cause failures and increasing NPT.
The non-contact approach brings improved reliability by minimization of wear and tear of the tool.
The risk of damaged milling tool and LIH causing time delays is significantly reduced.
Fully automated coiled tubing goes hand in hand with enhanced safety of the operational staff.
The P&A application of the plasma-based technology is under development by few O&G operators and
one oilfield service provider within Joint Industry Project with few free slots to join. The main aim of the
team is prove the whole system in offshore field test in North Sea by 2017.
Nomenclature
D diameter, L, m
I
current intensity, A
L
length, L, m
m mass
p
pressure, m/L2, Pa
P
power, W
t
time, s
U voltage, V

heat energy per unit mass, MJ/kg

References
1. Halliburton Company. 2015. How North Sea operators saved 414 rig days while plugging and
abandoning 67 wells. http://www.halliburton.com/en-US/locations/halliburton-europe-locations/
halliburton-halliburton-europe-locations.page?DocListingBundle4AFCDCD0, (accessed 11
May 2015).
2. Jamieson, A., et al. 2013. Decommissioning in the North Sea. http://www.raeng.org.uk/publications/reports/decommissioning-in-the-north-sea, Royal Academy of Engineering, pp. 4.
3. Jankovic, S. 2015. Divine Intervention. InnovOil. Iss. 31, March 2015, pp. 24 25.
4. Kocis, I., et al 2015. Utilization of Electrical Plasma for Hard Rock Drilling and Casing Milling.
Paper SPE 173016 presented at the SPE/IADC Drilling Conference and Exhibition, London,
17-19 March.
5. Werngren, O., et al 2014. Decommissioning Insight 2014. http://www.oilandgasuk.co.uk/cmsfiles/modules/publications/pdfs/OP098.pdf, Oil & Gas UK, pp. 6.