By Neil Ritchie
AFTER decades of assisting oil and gas service companies to help drillers with their drilling programs, Taranaki businessman Geoff Murray and his company TD Tech are now doing it for themselves, offering new types of specialist subsurface tools direct to the world.
The establishment of TD Tech in late 2012 was the fulfillment of a dream for Mr Murray, who grew up on a Taranaki dairy farm but has been involved in energy service companies for decades.
He says his passion for improvement – “not being satisfied with the status quo, trying to find solutions, wanting to do things better and be more productive” – has been the motivation for establishing TD Tech (with TD being short for total depth).
And now, after almost two years, the TD Tech team has moved from the start-up phase of the company to being busy doing business in the drilling sectors of New Zealand, Australia and the United States.
“While we are concentrating on New Zealand initially, ultimately our aim is to have a global market,” he told Oil & Gas Australia recently.
At present about 90 per cent of TD Tech’s sales are in New Zealand, with the other 10% going to Australia and the US. But those ratios may change soon, with three original equipment manufacturing companies and three major service companies expressing interest in TD Tech and its products, including the specialist stabilisers, centralisers and drilling joint protection tools.
He hopes many of TD Tech’s products will become mainstream in the oil and gas industry as he believes they have great potential. “As a general rule these tools are cost effective. They pay for themselves easily,” he said.
Some of the ideas “have been in the pipeline for years” but it’s only been during the past two years that he and his fellow TD Tech colleagues have – with typical Taranaki tenacity – finished developing and are now manufacturing the downhole devices.
Almost 20 years ago Mr Murray was part of a group of businessmen which established, and owned shares in, Austoil Technology.
He was Austoil’s technical services manager and was involved in the development of friction-reducing technology that allowed highly deviated and horizontal wells to be drilled over greater distances.
Then, just a few years later, global energy giant Weatherford International bought Austoil and he did a three- year stint with the company at its Houston headquarters before returning to New Zealand in 2003.
Then, after some years working as a consultant, including three with energy company Mighty River Power in Rotorua, he returned to Taranaki.
He and five other shareholders then established TD Tech during September 2012.
Now the company develops technology, mostly drilling-related products, which are fabricated by Inglewood’s Falcon Engineering, owned by fellow TD Tech shareholder Greg Trowbridge.
Some lease operators active in Taranaki have already successfully trialled some TD Tech products and plan to use them in their extended reach wells.
Mr Murray added that some of TD Tech’s ideas seemed counter-intuitive, such as using specialist plastics in place of steel, to cover drill pipe and drill pipe tool joints.
“Using alloy steel as a hard banding to prevent wear on the drill pipe generates high torque and drag . . . and normally there is steel hard facing on the tool joints because if worn the whole connection is compromised and the drill string could break.”
But TD Tech has created a polymer plastic banding that dramatically reduces counter-face wear on the casing and avoids the occurence of heat checking.
Heat checking can occur in some wells, with temperatures of up to 700 degrees Celsius generated by friction heating the pipe inside the well bore if it comes into contact with the wall.
When the pipe comes away from the contact point it is quenched by the much cooler drilling mud, which can cause steel or the drill pipe tool joints to crack.
This is avoided with polymers, which do not encounter this problem.
Mr Trowbridge came up with the idea of injection moulding the specialist polymer banding directly onto the drill pipe tool joint in place of hard banding.
Soft banding applied directly to drill pipe will not damage the internal coating and, in the unlikely event a soft band comes off, it will grind up and circulate to surface.
Another polymer product, the Python, is named after the snake because it is moulded directly onto the drill pipe at about 300 degrees. When it cools it shrinks and it grips the pipe.
And the multi-purpose, rotating, stabiliser’s four-piece mould was primarily developed by Falcon Engineering employee Steve Holland using computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing software.
The shape of the Python means it acts like an Archimedes screw pump, rotating with the drill string, lifting mud and cuttings away from the drill head and back up the annulus. The Archimedes screw effect reduces ECD and the lower ECD may reduce mud losses. Well productivity may also be greater due to less invasion and/or skin damage.
Another benefit is the Python’s ability to reduce noise.
“These days, noise is quite a major issue and if we can have plastic on the drill pipe then we can reduce that noise quite substantially. Often when they’re tripping out of a hole and racking back the pipe it’s sort of ‘clang clang clang’ all night. For the neighbours it’s not much fun,” Mr Muray said.
Pythons can also keep the drill string off the well wall by putting more points of support along the pipe, therefore reducing the risk of vibration.
He says he and the others always work as a team. “It’s always a team effort, they all contribute.”
The team is currently working on about ten concepts, with three not fully developed. Most TD Tech products already have patents pending. “We have lots of other things we could work on but need to concentrate on what we’ve got.”
Mr Murray added that advances in specialist polymers over the years have enabled “simple and effective” ideas to become economic, whereas they would not be worthwhile with steel, principally because of prohibitively high costs.
“Polymers have moved on a lot in the past decades . . . if you spend enough money, up to two hundred dollars per kilogram, then you can get some pretty amazing ones, with some amazing properties.”
“We’ve got a pretty full order book at the moment . . . the company intends tackling the world market in a very focused way . . . we know where there are particular opportunities.
“And our slogan is ‘technology to get you there’, with ‘there’ being TD of course.”