Petromac covers every kink in oil well surveying

Published: 01 January 2015
Filed under: Economic development

The wheeled Tool Taxi and adjustable Guide
The wheeled Tool Taxi and adjustable Guide, with its ski tip, was designed and developed by Petromac’s Stephen McCormick.

Auckland petrophysicist and inventor Stephen McCormick has made surveying of oil and gas wells easier and more effective, and in the process created savings in time and money for the big exploration companies.

Stephen’s company Petromac has developed a patented conveyance system that enables sophisticated surveying devices (logging tools) to traverse the most difficult wellbores.

Petromac’s clever system comprises a wheeled carrier or Tool Taxi that clamps onto the outside of the surveying device and a Guide with a ski tip that fits into the bottom of the device, which is lowered by wire into the wellbore.

The `accessories’ ensure the surveying device doesn’t get stuck on a ledge or other impediments when lowered down a wellbore, and they guide the sensors to gather crucial data in deviated wells that extend at an angle of up 60 degrees from vertical.

The surveying device contains sophisticated and expensive electronic instruments that measure a range of physical and nuclear attributes of the subsurface reservoirs and determine hydrocarbon producibility.

Stephen says the ability to provide accurate and detailed information, to descend in situations not penetrable without the Tool Taxi and to control sensor orientation has the potential to revolutionise the logging and analysing of wellbores.

“Analysis of this data is the cornerstone for oil industry executives to make informed decisions about whether to commercialise or abandon the well,” he says.

Petromac’s Tool Taxi
Petromac’s accessories, the Tool Taxi and Guide, are attached to the surveying device and ready to be lowered down the wellbore.

Petromac has successfully trialled its Tool Taxi in 50 oil wells worldwide, including New Zealand, Australia, Vietnam, Caspian Sea and in the challenging conditions of Gulf of Mexico.

“One of the early trials involved sending the tool down 2500 metres of water – it was subzero at the seafloor – and into the sub-surface to 7000 metres at a 60 degree deviation,” says Stephen. “It worked successfully. The cost of drilling wellbores is so significant that improving the data collection for analysis will add huge value to the industry.”

Petromac has rented its tools to BP Global for two jobs in the Caspian Sea and BP has extended the contract. It has also had interest from Burma, Indonesia, Thailand, and for horizontal wells in Texas.

The Auckland company has received endorsement from the world’s biggest wireline logging company, Schlumberger, which has used 10 tool taxis and two guides in the Gulf of Mexico.

As a result, Petromac is negotiating a two-year contract with Schlumberger in the Gulf. “Once signed we are on a strong commercial footing,” says Stephen.

Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) first worked with Stephen McCormick in June 2012, and has helped Petromac make business connections and secure two Callaghan Innovation grants of about $100,000 each.

Fellow director Michael Oliver and Maui Capital managing director Paul Chrystall have also invested in the company.

Paul Robinson, ATEED’s local economic growth manager, says Steve had many years of experience in well drilling and realised if he developed a device that accurately mapped the data in wellholes with a greater than 55 degree deviation, then he had the potential to save drilling companies vast sums of money.

Stephen spent countless hours experimenting and developing the taxi tool and guide, including lately modifying the wheel bearings.

He first tried making the tools in plastic and glass reinforced nylon before finally resorting to machine-made 6mm thick aluminium and carbon fibre/Kevlar. Petromac’s first commercial production occurred in April 2014.

Stephen says he was grateful for the financial help provided by ATEED and Callaghan. “All the research and development and cost can be taxing on your motivation, and the first grant came at an opportune time.

“It wasn’t that the product didn’t work – it works extremely well - but it can be trying for one person to do it all.’’

Stephen kept going to plug a gap in the market. “The wireline services companies make fantastic (surveying) equipment but I was always annoyed that the accessories were lacking.

“I sat down with a blank piece of paper and the idea to make a few gadgets. It just grew and morphed into the Tool Taxi and Guide,” he says.