Downhole Testing Facility Completes Expansion

So you have a great idea for a new downhole device that you think will help save money and increase production — if it works.

Where do you test it?

One of several facilities worldwide is the Catoosa Test Facility (CTF) in Pawnee County, west of Tulsa, Okla.

CTF recently completed a $2.5 million expansion that will double borehole testing capacity for oilfield manufacturers in the research and development phase of new product development.

The facility added a second rig that will allow 18 additional test wells.

“Before, we could pull 200,000 pounds (of drill string). Now we can pull up to 555,000 pounds,” Facility Manager Dale Arnold said.

“We can test just about anything they want to test. Some of these new tools are big. Now we can do big hole tests,” he noted.

“Technology-focused companies who are developing new tools and instruments prefer real world test conditions instead of simulations in a laboratory. The new rig allows us to create new jobs and expand our testing capacity with a variety of cased boreholes up to 20 inches wide and 2,000 feet deep,” Arnold said.

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So you have a great idea for a new downhole device that you think will help save money and increase production — if it works.

Where do you test it?

One of several facilities worldwide is the Catoosa Test Facility (CTF) in Pawnee County, west of Tulsa, Okla.

CTF recently completed a $2.5 million expansion that will double borehole testing capacity for oilfield manufacturers in the research and development phase of new product development.

The facility added a second rig that will allow 18 additional test wells.

“Before, we could pull 200,000 pounds (of drill string). Now we can pull up to 555,000 pounds,” Facility Manager Dale Arnold said.

“We can test just about anything they want to test. Some of these new tools are big. Now we can do big hole tests,” he noted.

“Technology-focused companies who are developing new tools and instruments prefer real world test conditions instead of simulations in a laboratory. The new rig allows us to create new jobs and expand our testing capacity with a variety of cased boreholes up to 20 inches wide and 2,000 feet deep,” Arnold said.

Developing the Tools

CTF was formed by Amoco 30 years ago. Private investors purchased the company in 2011 and made testing services available to major oilfield companies including National Oilwell Varco, Halliburton, Schlumberger, Weatherford, General Electric, Enventure, Chevron and Shell. CTF can test 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We have all the majors and operators in China, Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, North Sea companies — wherever they’re drilling,” Arnold said.

The area’s geology is the same found throughout Oklahoma.

“We have all the zones here, just shallower,” he explained.

Arnold said much of today’s testing involves horizontal drilling to develop new steerable tools and measurement while drilling (MWD) and logging while drilling (LWD) devices.

“All companies are trying to develop horizontal tools that keep you on target and in the zone of interest,” he said. “They want to stay in a zone with the highest porosity and greatest permeability, looking for maximum production.”

Most of the work is “top secret” and “extremely sophisticated” as companies search for any edge on the competition, he said.

While he couldn’t discuss specifics, Arnold said much of the testing involves offshore operations. A major service company recently finished testing a new device and, “We’d bet it’s going offshore because of what we did with it.”

There are good reasons for real-world testing, he noted.

“We tested some weird tools that don’t work,” he said with a chuckle. “They go home with their tails between their legs. It would have been a good idea — had it worked.”

The industry downturn has had mixed effects of research and development, he said. “It depends of the company. Some have had their budgets cut drastically; others seem to be going ahead. But everybody’s watching costs now.”

Arnold said CTF has been offering discounts. “They can’t exceed their budget but they need so many days of tests, so we have been helping them out,” he explained.

The facility does not test hydraulic fracturing-related technology.

“If we put in a lot of fracs it would ruin our whole site,” Arnold said.

However, “We have discussed a new type of frac’ing (a company) is trying to design and patent that we could do here. It’s in discussions,” he added.

Other Operations

Pawnee County has been the site of earthquakes believed to be related to wastewater disposal wells.

“We’ve been in discussion with the Oklahoma State University Geology Department and we’re trying to put funding together to drill a basement well for seismic monitoring,” Arnold said.

In addition to its regular operations, the facility also hosts tours for students, academics, geological and other professional associations, he said.

“Many of the people we deal with are unfamiliar with the drilling process itself,” he explained.

The site has 22 employees, the majority of them rig hand and tool pushers, Arnold said. Most of the employees have 10 years or more and some up to 40 years in the field.

Both of CTF’s research rigs use a pivoting rail system to move between test wells drilled to different stratigraphic formations and casing sizes, which provide clients with a variety of operating conditions. Both oil and water-based mud is available. Examples of testing include rotary-steerable tools, test loops, solids control, wire lines, bits, fishing tools, MWD’s and almost any downhole device.

The company’s engineering department oversees drilling operations, coiled tubing operations, an onsite mud laboratory, fabrication shops and a confidential customer data room where clients monitor testing.

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