Oil and Gas Industry Faces Manpower, Technical Hurdles in Casing Wells with Extensive Horizontal Sections

The process of casing a well presents a number of manpower and technical challenges for oil and gas producers, especially since a majority of these wells are now being constructed with long horizontal sections. For more than a decade, Volant Products has been developing solutions to unique problems these wells present.

The Edmonton-based company, founded in 2001 as a manufacturing spinoff of consulting firm Noetic Engineering Inc., has evolved beyond its origins as a small machine shop to become a global provider of technology that enables well completions in even the most challenging environments and conditions. “Our primary objective is to help our customers do more with less,” President Bill Roggensack says. “We’re responding to several things we’ve seen in the industry over the last few years, including the extension of drill rig automation to install casing, and the routine use of directional drilling to achieve extended reach.”

The company provides manufacturing, design, development and field service operations in three divisions:

  • Volant Products 2008, which manufactures tubular consumable products and manufactures and manages outsourcings for components used in assembled products;
  • Volant Oil Tools, which manages the assembly and quality assurance of casing running tools and other high-value assembled products, while handling customer sales and service for all products; and
  • Volant Tubular Services, which provides top drive casing running services throughout Western Canada, and also serves as an effective platform for conducting field trials with new products.

Volant Products’ growth by 2011 necessitated a move to a new, purpose-built 84,000-square-foot facility in Edmonton that nearly triples its manufacturing capacity. “This new facility gives us room to grow,” Roggensack notes. “We are satisfying the rapid growth in demand for our products by reinvesting into our business.”

The new facility houses manufacturing operations as well as a large office component used for research and development and technical support functions, according to the company.

Consumable Products
Volant Products entered the completion product marketplace manufacturing Multilobe Torque (MLT) Rings™ for casing, liner and tubing strings. The MLT Ring is pressed into the center section of a casing connection, and is engineered to span the diameter tolerances of the American Petroleum Institute’s (API) LTC and BTC couplings. While being installed, the lobe crests conform to the tapered internal diameter of the coupling threads to lock in while ensuring drift criteria are met.

When a connection is properly made-up, the ring rests between the two pin noses, providing a shoulder. This setup prevents over-penetration and provides a significant boost in connection torque capacity, Roggensack notes.

When used in tubing strings, a shouldering connection enables higher torques for make-up and prevents thread back-offs. In production string applications, for example, MLT Rings reduce the potential for turbulence caused by an open J-section and eliminate solids build-up.

In many applications, MLT Rings deliver results comparable to premium connections but at lower cost and with readily available API connections. This typically results in shorter lead times for acquiring tubulars and delivery of robust performance at a reasonable cost.

Volant subsequently expanded its product line with complementary tubular consumable goods to include HydroFORM™ rigid body centralizers that can be placed between fixed stop collars, floated between couplings or crimped onto casings for positive rotation to ensure consistent stand-off, especially for deviated or directional wells, Roggensack adds.

These centralizers are made by using high pressures to hydroform from a single piece of steel tube, resulting in smooth geometry transitions. They are extremely robust and have a proven track record of installation ease and excellent cementing results. HydroFORM centralizers are available for common casing sizes ranging from 4-1/2 to 13-3/8 inches; rib geometries are adjustable in the manufacturing process to suit a customer’s wellbore geometry needs. Rib heights of more than 1.5 inches are common.

Volant’s crimp-on GeoLOK® devices can be crimped onto the outside diameter of casing to enhance load transfer between casing and the formation, relying on a mechanism similar to the way reinforcing bar works in concrete.

All of Volant’s products can be customized to fit specific customer needs and serve nearly any application, Roggensack says.

Advanced Technology
Although Volant’s tubular consumable goods are widely used in well completions, the company is perhaps best known for its casing running tool (CRT) technology, Roggensack notes.

The company offers two CRTs: an internal gripping model, the CRTi; and an external model, the CRTe, which was introduced to the market in 2012. Both CRTs give well completion crews the ability to efficiently use the top drive to make up casing and liner string connections, as well as the ability to rotate, circulate and reciprocate to prevent stuck pipe and move a casing string to the bottom of the well.

Volant’s 7-inch internal running tools have run pipe in sizes up to 20 inches in diameter, and its 8.63-inch tools are capable of running pipe up to 26 inches in diameter. The maximum hoisting load ratings of Volant’s CRTs – 420 tons for its CRTi-4-7-inch, 660 tons for the CRTi-2-8.63-inch and 500 tons for the CRTe-1 model – have been independently verified by Det Norske Veritas. Volant’s tools weigh a fraction of similarly rated tools offered by competitors and require no hydraulics, hoses or controls. “Out state-of-the-art design ensures that very piece of metal is doing something useful,” Roggensack says.

Volant’s CRTs are the only fully mechanical casing running tools on the market. They rig in quickly, and eliminate the need for extra equipment and crewmembers, Roggensack adds.

The CRT transfers torque from the top drive directly into the casing body without engaging the connection threads. This allows rotational, hoisting or pull-down loads to be transferred to the pipe without making thread contact, protecting connection integrity. For additional thread protection, safety nubbins can be threaded into the coupling before stabbing the CRT.

What makes the CRT particularly unique is that once it has been “set,” torque-activated wedge grip [TAWG™] technology increases the gripping force with the application of hoisting load or torsional load in both rotational directions. Its patented and patent-pending design is intuitive, and puts the entire casing running process into the hands of the driller, significantly reducing other rig workers’ exposure to high-risk activities, Roggensack adds.

“This results in an improved overall approach to safety by reducing the number of people involved in one of our industry’s most accident-prone operations, and also reduces the need for costly third-party support,” he says.

Volant’s CRTs also feature an elegant, yet simple design that makes them easy to use, highly functional and difficult to damage, he adds.

The company is assisted in meeting its manufacturing goals by relying on a number of key suppliers with whom it has developed strong working relationships. These include Team Tube, Thermex Metal Treating, Hi Tech Heat Treating, Acadian Metal Finishers, Access Precision Manufacturing, Advance Manufacturing and Precimax Machining. Volant Products’ customers include B&L Services.

All of Volant’s products are tested through extensive use in the field by the company itself. Volant’s services division, established in 2004, targets customers working in challenging drilling conditions, giving it the opportunity to demonstrate its products to potential customers. Environments the company has tested its products in include the steam-assisted gravity drainage market segment for heavy oil production in Western Canada.

“We’ve created a business that is viable in and of itself, but that also gives us an opportunity to use this equipment under field circumstances as well as a rapid training platform for qualifying personnel to train buyers of this equipment,” Roggensack says.

‘Driven by Excellence’
Volant’s significant growth through its 10-year history is in no small part because of its staff. “We enjoy a low turnover rate, which we attribute to providing a work environment where people are happy and enjoy their work,” Roggensack says. “We’re driven by excellence and the excitement of doing new things, as well as things that people viewed as either impossible or at least very difficult.” Deepening its commitment to customer satisfaction and continuous improvement, Volant received its ISO 9001:2008 quality certification in 2012.

The company conducts intensive training programs for tool maintenance and field operation in a specially constructed classroom facility as well as in the field and at customers’ worksites. Volant says customers’ employees are coached through their first jobs by one of the company’s certified trainers.

Roggensack and other company management believe in giving their employees the ability to make their own decisions and make themselves available to staff.

“We’re dedicated to making Volant a company where each individual can approach their manager or any member of the management team to discuss any concern or question,” he adds. “We encourage everyone to voice their reasoned opinions and contribute their constructive suggestions to improve the quality of life and efficiency of business at Volant.”

Volant Products’ staff continues to develop new products and solutions to well construction challenges faced by their customers. Roggensack anticipates that the company will continue to grow as its products become more common in the market.

“We want to see our casing running tools become a standard part of every drilling completion system,” he says.

Volant’s CRT tool performance, reliability, and potential for value creation are widely known and accepted. With significant deployments in North America, South America, Europe, the Middle East and Australia and rapid growth continuing in international sales, Volant’s market development focus is shifting from service companies to other sectors where the value potential is even greater, the company adds.