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Title:
METHOD OF REMOVING WELLHEAD ASSEMBLIES
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/1997/033066
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
The invention provides a method of cutting a well casing located beneath a subsea wellhead (1), the method comprising the steps of: running a cutting tool through the wellhead (1) into the casing; securing the position of a motor (7) relative to the wellhead (1) so as to transmit rotary reaction forces from the motor (7) to the wellhead (1) or a fixture secured relative to the wellhead; and operating the motor (7) so as to rotate the cutting tool and thereby effect cutting of the casing. The invention overcomes the problems associated with prior art techniques of requiring the use of explosive charges or a drilling rig located above the wellhead.

Inventors:
Mcgarian, Bruce
Application Number:
PCT/GB1997/000639
Publication Date:
September 12, 1997
Filing Date:
March 07, 1997
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
SMITH INTERNATIONAL, INC
Mcgarian, Bruce
International Classes:
E21B29/12; E21B33/035; (IPC1-7): E21B29/12; E21B33/035
Domestic Patent References:
1991-02-21
Foreign References:
US5318115A1994-06-07
US3052024A1962-09-04
GB2211446A1989-07-05
GB1184480A1970-03-18
US3308893A1967-03-14
US4703802A1987-11-03
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Claims:
CLAIMS:
1. A method of cutting a well casing located beneath a subsea wellhead, the method comprising the steps of: running a cutting tool through the wellhead into the casing; securing the position of a motor relative to the wellhead so as to transmit rotary reaction forces from the motor to the wellhead or a fixture secured relative to the wellhead; and operating the motor so as to rotate the cutting tool and thereby effect cutting of the casing.
2. A method of cutting a well casing as claimed in claim 1, wherein the additional steps of mounting a wellhead connector on the wellhead and securing the wellhead connector to the wellhead are undertaken prior to the step of running the cutting tool into the casing.
3. A method of cutting a well casing as claimed in claim 2, wherein the step of securing the position of the motor relative to the wellhead includes the clamping of a mounting device to which the motor is attached to the wellhead connector.
4. A method of cutting a well casing as claimed in any of the preceding claims, including the further step of driving cutting elements of the cutting tool into engagement with the well casing.
5. A method of cutting a well casing as claimed in claim 4, wherein the further step of driving the cutting elements includes supplying the cutting tool with hydraulic power.
6. A method of cutting a well casing as claimed in claim 5, wherein the hydraulic power is supplied by pressurised mud or water.
7. A method of cutting a well casing as claimed in any of the preceding claims, wherein the step of operating the motor includes supplying the motor with hydraulic power.
8. A method of cutting a well casing as claimed in claim 7, wherein the hydraulic power is supplied by pressurised hydraulic oil.
9. A method of cutting a well casing as claimed in any of claims 4 to 8, including the additional step of connecting the motor and/or the cutting tool to a supply of hydraulic power with a flexible connection.
10. A method of cutting a well casing as claimed in claim 9, wherein the hydraulic power is supplied from a Support Vessel.
11. A method of cutting a well casing as claimed in any preceding claim, wherein further steps are undertaken following the step of operating the motor, the further steps comprising: (a) ceasing the operation of the motor; (b) removing the cutting tool from the casing and the wellhead; (c) reconfiguring the cutting tool to cut an alternative well casing diameter and/or replacing worn cutting elements; (d) replacing the cutting tool within the casing; and (e) continuing the operation of the motor.
12. A cutting assembly for carrying out the method of claim 1, the cutting assembly comprising: a cutting tool; a motor for rotating the cutting tool; and means for securing the position of the motor relative to the wellhead.
13. A cutting assembly as claimed in claim 12, comprising means to supply seawater lying above the wellhead to the cutting tool within the casing when the motor is operated.
14. A cutting assembly as claimed in claim 12 or 13, wherein the motor is secured to a mounting device adapted for reception by a wellhead connector.
15. A cutting assembly as claimed in claim 13, wherein the mounting device defines at least one passage to allow a flow of seawater from the casing to seawater lying above the wellhead.
Description:
METHOD OF REMOVING WELLHEAD ASSEMBLIES

This invention relates to the removal of wellhead assemblies and, more particularly, to the cutting of well casing below a wellhead to enable removal of the wellhead.

When an oil or gas well is to be abandoned the usual procedure adopted is to plug the well with a suitable cement composition, test the integrity of the plug, and then remove the wellhead assembly. On land, the wellhead assembly can be removed by standard construction techniques and in general the casing immediately below the wellhead will be cut off several metres below ground level to allow reinstatement of the well site. This technique cannot satisfactorily be applied to subsea wells.

It is accordingly known, in the case of a subsea well, to plug the well bore with cement and then to detonate an explosive charge within the well casing slightly below the level of the wellhead proper in order to cut the casing at that point and free the wellhead assembly for removal. This technique is, however, unsatisfactory since the portions of the wellhead removed after explosive cutting are generally damaged and not suitable for re-use.

There is disclosed in EP-A-436706 a technique for cutting and removal of a wellhead by means of a rotating cutting tool mounted at the end of a drill string which is guided through the wellhead by means of a recovery tool. Because this solution requires the use of a drill string it is only applicable to wellheads which are located beneath an appropriate drilling rig. Although, in theory, this method

could be applied to a wellhead which is not located beneath a drilling rig by bringing a drilling barge over the wellhead and running the necessary drill string from the drilling barge, such a technique would be prohibitively expensive given the high cost of operating a drilling barge.

The present invention is accordingly concerned with a wellhead removal technique which can be used during abandonment of a subsea oil or gas well and which does not require the use of explosive charges or of a drilling rig located above the wellhead.

According to one aspect of the present invention there is provided a method of cutting a well casing located beneath a subsea wellhead, the method comprising the steps of running a cutting tool through the wellhead into the casing; securing the position of a motor relative to the wellhead so as to transmit rotary reaction forces from the motor to the wellhead or a fixture secured relative to the wellhead; and operating the motor so as to rotate the cutting tool and thereby effect cutting of the casing.

Because, in the case of the present invention, the reaction force from the motor driving the cutter is reacted on to the wellhead, no rigid coupling from the wellhead to the surface is required. All power required for operation of the cutting tool (including power required by the motor) can be delivered to the wellhead by flexible connections extending from a support vessel located on the surface of the sea close to the wellhead. After the casing has been cut conventional lifting equipment may be used to remove the wellhead assembly.

The invention will be better understood from the following description of a wellhead abandoned operation, particular reference being had to the drawing which shows a casing cutter which may be used in an embodiment of the invention.

The present invention provides a method for recovering the wellhead from a subsea well in a way which does not require the use of explosives nor the presence of a drill string extending from the wellhead to a surface rig. The invention may

be practised by use of a Multi-Functional Support Vessel (MSV) which can carry all the equipment and services required to effect abandonment of the well. In the alternative, abandonment may be completed using several vessels, for example one vessel responsible for initial cementing and testing of the well, one vessel for effecting the cutting of the casing, and a third vessel carrying appropriate lifting equipment for removal of the wellhead from the seabed.

In a particular embodiment of the present invention appropriate to abandonment of wellheads in the North Sea, for example in the North East Frig oil field, it is envisaged that all the services required to effect abandonment, save the final lifting of the wellhead assembly, will be completed from a single MSV. Such a vessel can be mobilised with all necessary equipment from a convenient port and can locate the required wellhead by a combination of navigation from GPS coordinates and sonar scanning. Typically, a submersible vehicle will be used for final wellhead identification and to carry out a survey of the wellhead site prior to commencement of the abandonment operation.

Once on location a bell will be deployed enabling a diver to prepare the well head for the abandonment operation. Such preparation will typically include the removal of a corrosion cap by means of the main MSV crane.

The vessel will then be positioned to allow guidelines to run from the working moonpool to the PGB guideposts of the wellhead.

A subsea wireline lubricator complete with tubing stinger will then be deployed to depth clamping the hydraulic control umbilicals to a pod line when approximately 6m above the wellhead. The passive compensator will be opened and pressurised to operating tension, under appropriate monitoring. The subsea wireline lubricator will be fully functioned and pressure tested and cement hoses will be run from the MSV by means of a utility crane. Divers will connect hoses to the crossover valves and appropriate cementing operations will be completed. The actual nature of the cementing operation is not critical to the present invention. The object of the cementing operation is to cement the well bore and pressure test

the resultant plug to ensure that the well is sealed when the wellhead and the few meters of casing immediately below the wellhead have been completely removed. Once cementing has been completed all cement equipment together with the guidelines can be removed to clear the wellhead. The abandonment operation on the particular wellhead cemented may then be performed. In the alternative, the vessel may complete cementing operations on several wellheads before returning to the first wellhead to continue with the abandonment procedure.

The next stage in the abandonment procedure comprises removal of any seal assembly blocking access to the well bore. The seal assembly may be removed by any conventional technique.

Next, a cutting assembly according to the present invention is deployed. The cutting assembly comprises a mechanical cutter for cutting at least the innermost casing of the well some few (2-3 typically) metres below the wellhead. Typically, such a tool would comprise radially expandable blades which, in use of the tool, are forced radially outwardly into engagement by the casing by means of hydraulic pressure. A typical embodiment of cutting apparatus, deployed on a wellhead, is shown in the drawing. The actual casing cutter is not illustrated in the drawing but will, in practice, be located at the lower end of the tubing string 8. The exact design of cutter is not critical to the present invention and any appropriate design of rotary cutter having expandable cutters for cutting well casing etc may be used.

The wellhead 1 is shown schematically in the drawing. The exact configuration of the wellhead is not critical, and the present invention may be operated for a wide range of commercially available wellhead profiles. In order to mount the present invention atop the wellhead a suitable wellhead connector 2 is mounted atop and secured to the wellhead by conventional means. As illustrated, the wellhead connector 2 is a ABB Vetco Grey type H4 connector.

The mounting of the wellhead connector 2 onto the wellhead 1 prevents rotation of the connector 2 relative to the wellhead. Accordingly, torque applied to

the connector 2 will be transmitted to the wellhead and from the wellhead to the casing or a guide base. Furthermore, torque arms may be used which extend from the connector 2 or another part of the cutting assembly to the guideposts or other suitable fixtures.

The upper end of the wellhead connector 2 terminates in a connection flange 3 to which is secured a mounting flange 4 of a mounting device 5. The flanges 3, 4 may be secured together by any appropriate means, for example by bolts, studs or clamps. In the illustrated embodiment of the invention the flange 4 is an API specification hub and is clamped to the flange 3 by appropriate clamp members.

The mounting device 5 includes a top plate 6 to which is secured a hydraulic motor 7. The hydraulic motor is provided for the purpose of rotating a short string 8 to the lower end of which is connected an appropriate casing cutter. The exact design of the cutter is not relevant to the present invention. The cutter is of a type which includes radially expandable cutting elements which, in use, are driven radially outwardly into engagement with the casing by hydraulic pressure applied via the central bore 9 of the string. Hydraulic pressure, for example pressurised water, is applied to the bore 9 via a rotary union 10. Preferably, water from the bore 9 is used to cool the cutting blades of the cutting device and to flush debris away from the blades. Water and debris exiting the cutting tool will flow upwardly via the annulus 11 between the string 9 and the casing and will pass through bores 12 provided in the flange 4 and then radially outwardly through passages 13 provided in the body of the mounting device 5.

The motor 7 can be of any convenient type, for example it may be a hydraulic motor operated by hydraulic power supplied from the MSV.

Because the motor 7 is mounted on the plate 6 which forms part of the mounting device 5 which is itself secured to the flange 3, reaction force generated on the body of the motor 7 during rotation of the string 6 will be applied to the connector 2 and then to the wellhead 1. Accordingly, connections to the assembly

illustrated in the drawing may be made entirely by flexible connections, and no member extending from the surface to the wellhead need react any torque forces generated during the cutting operation.

Depending on the exact nature of the cutter provided, and depending on the number and diameter of the casings located in the cutting zone, it may be necessary to remove the cutting tool periodically and reconfigure it to cut progressively larger diameters. When such reconfiguring takes place the cutting elements of the cutting tool may also be replaced if worn. Recovery of the cutting assembly for the purpose of changing the cutting elements or reconfiguring the cutting arrangement can readily be effected by releasing the flange 3 from the flange 4 and withdrawing the entire assembly to surface. Guidelines may be used to assist re-deployment of the assembly.

On completion of the cutting of the casing a mechanical cutting system may be used to cut the four 30" piles.

As the multi string cutting operation proceeds the completed wellhead may be surveyed to confirm full severance for casing strings. This can be achieved using a remote video camera to carry out internal surveys of the mechanical cut, a mechanical survey tool, or an appropriate logging tool. Once full cutting of the casing and piles have been completed the wellhead may be removed. If the wellhead can be broken free from the ocean floor relatively easily recovery may be affected using the MSV main crane. In the alternative, the MSV may be cleared from the site and a heavy lifting barge deployed to apply the necessary vertical lift to the wellhead assembly.

It should be noted that as an alternative to the fixed motor described above an appropriate mud motor may be incorporated in the drill string. In this case, the rotational force generated by the mud motor will again be reacted onto the wellhead via a mounting device so that the requirement for a rotation resisting drill string extending from the wellhead to the surface will be removed.

As compared with the prior art, the invention offers a number of significant

advantages as will be appreciated by those skilled in the art. One particular advantage of the present invention is that the overall assembly can be manufactured in a relatively compact manner so that the distance from the top of the wellhead to the cutter is relatively small. This will enable severance of the casing closer to the wellhead and assist in subsequent removal of the wellhead assembly.




 
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