3 Steps To Outrageous Drilling Performance

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Some notes on this article:

  • I originally wrote this article on LinkedIn in June 2019, shortly after watching the interview of Professor Fred Dupriest.
  • I changed the title to “3 Steps…” instead of “3 Keys…” because I realized upon reflection that drilling performance is more like a journey than a treasure box. You don’t just insert these keys once and open the chest to get all the gold and jewelries. It’s more like you grow into the habit of identifying and redesigning your next limiter. You bring your team together on this journey and share this vision to inspire the same habit. The drilling performance is merely the magnificent scenery along the road.

I watched an interview of Professor Dupriest from Texas A&M a couple of weeks ago. He was on VDoor Locksmith, a LinkedIn Live Show hosted by David Gibson (see the embeded video at the end).

It completely blew my mind and some of the content was so good that I had to go back and listen more closely. With the buzzwords such as big data, AI, digital twins, etc. dominating the trend in this industry, what Professor Dupriest shared in that interview is refreshing and contrarian. It provides a lot of clarity and simplicity about how we should approach drilling performance.

Here are the three steps that will drive your drilling performance through the roof:

Step 1. Go physics-based

You really want your WOB applied in 30 seconds. Maybe 60.

I was greatly humbled when I heard this one because a) WOB is such a basic starting concept in drilling, b) I knew this was never in any of the drilling programs I have done or worked with.

Yet it was so simple and made so much sense once Professor Dupriest explained it. It went like this (I edited the auto-transcript from the interview):

“…so you know that example I use a lot because everyone’s so familiar with it. As we were all taught to put WOB slowly, patterning the bottom of the hole, break the bit in. Well, the bit is screwed on a sine wave. If you rotate your string, your BHA is just going to form a sine wave and the poor bit is being shaken all over the place, —they call it whirl or lateral vibration, —and you really want your WOB applied in 30 seconds. Maybe 60. Because by doing that you bury the cutting structure and now that BHA can’t waggle the bit around and damage it. And who knew that, right? For all my career we were taught to do the wrong thing.”

He went on to explain how the digital data, —commonly available nowadays on the rig site, —confirm the physics, mainly via plotting and monitoring the MSE (Mechanical Specific Energy).

Wow. How come I have never heard about that during my drilling career?

If you’re shocked to hear that as I did, go ahead and check your drilling program and operational data. You might get some instant improvement by tomorrow after the morning call with the rig.

But this WOB story is only the tip of the iceberg. Professor Dupriest gave this example to illustrate the power of a physics-based approach, meaning from an understanding of how things really work when you drill a well. Because once you get that fundamental knowledge, rather than just experience of certain practices, it’d be much easier to see what’s actually limiting your performance. And I have a feeling it’d be way more fun and rewarding, wouldn’t you say?

Step 2. Limiter Redesign Cycle

Once you go physics-based and commit yourself to understand how drilling really works. You need to establish a workflow that can create the performance. This is the concept of Limiter Redesign developed and implemented by Professor Dupriest back when he was working for Exxon Mobil, also known as “Fast Drill Process”.

The idea is simple to explain:

  1. Do step tests on the rig until something is limiting you from going faster. You can recognize that through the digital data because your physics-based framework allows you to know what to expect and to understand you see what you see.
  2. Identify what’s really limiting you: is it bit dysfunction? Is it borehole patterns? Is it your cutting transportation capacity? etc.
  3. Redesign your system to remove that limiter so that you can now continue to step up until you encounter the next limiter.
  4. Rince and repeat.

This is actually a logical development with the physics-based approach because a deeper level of cause and effect gets revealed between what you do and what you get as the performance.

Step 3. Create Organizational Change

Now that’s the big challenge in our industry at the moment. As Professor Dupriest has observed throughout his career, an individual can quickly grasp the significance in a physics-based approach and the limiter redesign cycle. This person can go back to his company and his rig and immediately see a bunch of limiters that are choking their drilling performance. But how does he persuade the whole team or the whole company to go in that direction, especially if he’s relatively young?

Well, there’s indeed no easy answer. But here are some points shared by Professor Dupriest to ponder upon:

  • Real change comes from the person on the brake handle or the joystick (aka the driller)

This is about understanding whom you need to serve. All the physics and concept in your head is useless unless you can find a way to help the driller understand and see the same picture and come to the same conclusion about the change you’re trying to make.

  • Don’t target cultural change.

What I understand by that is don’t go to the management and say “we need a cultural change in our company”. Instead, change mechanically the way people (that you can influence) are working day in and day out. Incorporate your physics-based approach in these changes and slowly and surely cultural change will follow.

  • Be who you are and be good at it.

Again this is about doing what you preach. You can identify right where you are, in your current business model, what’s the one thing that limits you. You will need to get an understanding of how things really work in your organization and work on changing that one thing that limits you.

  • Expect to lean into the headwind for several years.

This one is about perseverance and patience, and playing the long game. All truly good things take time. People are resistant to changes, companies are resistant to changes. That’s why the downturn and the lower oil price environment is actually a blessing in disguise. It creates fertile ground for performance-driven ideas and long-term thinking strategy. I look forward to seeing more companies go in this direction and become better stewards of these important natural resources.


I hope these 3 steps can provide you a new perspective on the topic of drilling performance. Currently, the industry is still largely experience-based and engineering is carried out more for feasibility than for performance.

But if this resonates with you and you want to go in that direction, Professor Dupriest’s content is a really great place to start.

Watch the interview at the end of this article or watch it on Youtube. You can also find many content sources that have been compiled in a list by the host David Gibson (Thanks David!)

Now, how about going out there and shoot down some limiters for fun AND profit?

Also some sound advice from Professor Dupriest for young professionals:

  • Commit yourself to understand the physics of things. Don’t just know the best practices, but understand why they are so.
  • Develop the ability to explain the physics to other people.

In short, you need to bring value and knowledge to the person on the field, who would actually create the change in performance by doing something different. You actually work for them, not the other way around.

Here’s the interview:

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