LSU petroleum engineering class performs drilling, well control simulations from home

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BATON ROUGE – The 2020 spring semester has been a challenging one for LSU Engineering students and faculty. Teaching classes online is hard enough, but the biggest challenge was determining how students would complete their lab studies. Luckily for LSU Petroleum Engineering Instructors Jonathan Knowles and Otto Santos, the company Drilling Systems helped ensure 72 of their students could perform their drilling simulation lab from home during the COVID-19 outbreak.

When Knowles first heard that all LSU classes were going online, he knew he would find a way to make his PETE 4060 lab work remotely; he just had no idea how.

“We didn’t know how serious this virus would be and that we would all be put in this lockdown,” Knowles said. “The university asked which courses could not be done remotely, and [LSU PETE Chair Karsten Thompson] thought ours was one of those.”

Knowles’ lab class usually requires students to train at the LSU Petroleum Engineering Research & Technology Laboratory, or PERTT Lab, which is an offsite industry-scale facility that students use to conduct research related to petroleum technology. The PERTT Lab consists of a few offices, a classroom, and a computer lab, which is where the students simulate oil drilling using a program called DrillSIM.

The program was created by leading simulator developer, Drilling Systems, part of the 3T Energy Group, which has several worldwide office locations in the United Kingdom, United States, and United Arab Emirates.

Knowles reached out to Drilling Systems’ technical support team to ask a question about one computer he was having issues with. The team responded by setting up the software so that every student could access the drilling simulation program from home. 

“The Drilling Systems’ support team was fundamental to building this network,” Knowles said. “Initially, we were going to record ourselves doing the simulation and put videos online for the students to watch. But watching someone in a video is not the same thing as actually doing it yourself.”

Now the students just log into the program and start drilling.

“The fact that we were able to be put into individual Zoom rooms with Mr. Knowles able to check in on us was great,” LSU PETE senior Talal Alhashmi said. “I truly felt like I was at the PERTT Lab, but virtually. The lab gave me so much joy that I forgot I was in quarantine. Those three hours were a great escape for me and I didn’t want the simulation to end. Mr. Knowles jumping in to fix our slow-circuiting rate was the highlight of my day, and the fact that I was able to have a Zoom meeting with Otto for him to explain what I did wrong without providing me the answers was great. It was an amazing experience.”

As anyone familiar with oil spills knows, safety in drilling is of the utmost importance.

“The simulation allows students to look for kick warning signs, an influx of gas into the well,” Knowles said. “If you don’t handle it properly, you have a situation like the Macondo Prospect.”

DrillSIM has several screens for the students to work with. The first key one is a choke panel screen that shows the drill pipe pressure and casing pressure gauges, both of which are used to maintain bottom hole pressure constants slightly greater than formation pressure. The second key screen is the driller’s console, where the students focus on ROP, or rate of penetration.

“Our new cloud-hosted iDrillSIM software is a game-changer for the oil and gas sector and will transform the way people learn well control and keep skills fresh,” Drilling Systems Chief Operating Officer Clive Battisby said. “Our software has been developed and fine-tuned over many years to create a highly realistic experience so that drilling crews can be fully prepared for real-life operations. Now the drilling and well control community will be able to access this learning online so they can practice drilling and well control operations from the comfort of their own home at a time that suits them.”

Knowles is just happy his students were able to continue their studies and really learn something, even if it had to be outside of the classroom.

“I think it’s our duty and important to the university that we educate our students at the highest level we can,” Knowles said. “I’m doing the best that I can for them.”

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