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Amy Dalrymple, Published September 02 2013

Oil and gas operators train on state-of-the-art simulator

WILLISTON, N.D. – A state-of-the art drilling simulator is helping Bakken oil and gas operators work more safely.

The TrainND workforce program at Williston State College houses a full-sized drilling simulator used to train supervisor-level oil industry employees.

The only other equivalent simulators are at training centers in Texas, Louisiana and Abu Dhabi, said TrainND petroleum instructor Dave Bartenhagen.

“It’s a pretty neat piece of equipment,” he said. “The level of realism is just tremendous.”

Bartenhagen, a petroleum engineer who retired after more than 30 years with oil company Hess Corp., uses the simulator to teach a course on well control.

It teaches participants how to detect when they’re in danger of losing control of a well and how to react so that it doesn’t become catastrophic.

“The adrenaline gets going because it’s pretty real life,” Bartenhagen said of the simulations.

During routine oil drilling and production operations, the well can take what is referred to in the industry as a “kick,” or a bubble of high-pressured fluid.

“A kick is when you have formation fluid that comes into the wellbore when you don’t want it there,” Bartenhagen said.

If that “kick” gets out of control, the situation can progress to a blowout, or the uncontrolled release of oil, gas and saltwater.

A blowout can be deadly as well as cause significant environmental damage. In addition to the flammable liquid that spews from the well, the pressure can be so great it can shoot heavy drill pipe out of the well like a soda straw, Bartenhagen said.

“It’s important that we’re getting more and more people trained in well control to prevent it from getting to that point,” Bartenhagen said.

The cause of the blowout often is equipment malfunction or human error. Sometimes it can only be minutes between detecting a problem and losing control, he said.

Don Parker, a completions supervisor for Hess Corp., recently completed Bartenhagen’s course. The training, which Parker repeats every two years to be certified in well control, prepares workers to handle a worst-case scenario, he said.

“We take it very seriously,” Parker said.