PERTT Lab Offers One of a Kind, Hands-On Training at LSU

There is only one university in North America where future petroleum engineers can get hands-on training in well control by working at a full-scale well control research and training facility, and that university is LSU.

The Petroleum Engineering Research & Technology Transfer, or PERTT, Laboratory – also commonly referred to as the Well Facility – is an industrial-scale facility with full-scale equipment and instrumentation for conducting training and research related to borehole technology.

“We believe it’s a really important and unique resource that we have here at LSU,” said John Rogers Smith, associate professor of petroleum engineering and holder of the Campanile Charities Professorship of Offshore Mining and Petroleum Engineering. “We’re the only school in the United States that offers and requires hands-on training in well control and understanding hydrostatics and pressure control in wells using actual wells.”

The lab, run by the Craft and Hawkins Department of Petroleum Engineering in the LSU College of Engineering, was commissioned in the early 1980s. Since then, it has been utilized as a training facility for both students and industry professionals.

The PERTT Lab has many examples of full-scale industry equipment, including the blowout preventer pictured here.

“They’re learning from the real behavior of real fluids – mud and natural gas – in real wells using real equipment so the behaviors that they see are not just theoretical or something that’s generated from a training simulator,” Smith said. “The confidence that they get from working on real equipment – operating real pumps and real chokes – we feel gives our students a unique experience while they’re here.”

When the PERTT Lab was developed, much of this equipment was assembled to support past research and training activities in the area of blowout prevention. Now the lab is utilized to provide a versatile research environment for performing multiphase flow experiments on field scale tubulars at high pressures.

“This facility is a full-scale facility that provides some very unique learning opportunities for our engineering students, not only in terms of the classes they can take here, but we do have a rather large part-time student staff that helps maintain it, so they actually get to reduce a lot of what they are learning in class into practice,” said Darryl Bourgoyne, PERTT Lab director. “It helps them understand the work that they’re going into. They are actually exposed to it, and the full-time staff out here can take time to work much more one-on-one with students in a real application setting and work on the skills to implement and work as a team.”

Smith and Bourgoyne bring years of industry experience and knowledge as drilling engineers to the classroom and hope to be able to pass that experience on to their students.

“We both continue to be involved with research and help our industry colleagues as we develop new techniques, and we develop new equipment,” Smith said. “We try to take advantage of what we’ve learned, what we know has been important to us in our careers in terms of what we try to deliver to the students, and we also try to take advantage of new knowledge that has been developed to improve what the students are learning.”

Smith said that they focus on fundamental concepts and techniques that students can use in multiple ways to tackle the problems they may encounter in the field. The teaching of fundamentals and being able to adapt those ideas is important for preparing students for the workforce.

“I definitely feel ready for the workforce,” said Brandon Hartmann of Metairie, La., a recent petroleum engineering graduate. “One of the best things that this department does is make sure that all the students get work experience. This is the real practice of learning and seeing hands-on, being able to use the equipment that is used in the field in such great detail. I think it’s unparalleled and from having spoken with other students from other universities at internships and summer jobs, it’s definitely above and beyond what anyone else does.”

Smith said that industry recognizes LSU as one of the best petroleum engineering schools in the country and that makes its graduates more desirable to companies.

At the LSU PERTT Lab, students get hands-on experience with the real equipment that ties back to the theories and concepts they learn in the classroom.

“The fact that LSU has this long tradition of generating engineers that are ready to go to work when they graduate has helped maintain the quality and the magnitude of the recruiting that’s done at LSU by major companies,” he said. “It has contributed to this high employment rate that our new graduates have and helped them to take advantage of the high starting salaries that engineering graduates have nationwide as a profession.”

In addition to training with real equipment at the PERTT Lab, students also get training on computer simulators that are designed for well control. Students take a one-semester course at the PERTT Lab where they complete a number of exercises on learning to operate equipment, such as pump startup and shutdown, and simulations of real operations from the field, such as pressure testing casing and pressure testing on formations, which are simulated full-scale. Other exercises include circulating fluid through pipes to see how pressure changes, simple fluid mechanics and controlling pressure on the well after taking a kick.

“We try to give the students a good combination of the hands-on experience with the real equipment,” Smith said, “and tie in back to the theories that they’re learning so that they’ll be able to then go apply the theories and concepts in the field to situations that they’re going to encounter that will be different than the ones we’ve shown them.”

Training in the PERTT Lab provides student with practical information that they wouldn’t necessarily get from a textbook or classroom setting.

“Classroom learning is where things start, but everybody learns differently,” Bourgoyne said. “They learn a lot of the things you wouldn’t necessarily cover in the classroom – how to stay safe in an industrial environment, a lot of the practices we use to communicate and transfer responsibility from one person to another for essential operations – a lot of these logistical problems that are not necessarily technically challenging but nonetheless are very important and required.”

With the Deepwater Horizon disaster and Gulf oil spill, the faculty and staff at the LSU PERTT Lab have been looked upon by media nationwide to provide perspective and information on everything from blowout prevention to drilling techniques and oilfield history.

On June 4, the lab opened its doors to media for a demonstration of a well control exercise and to discuss blowout prevention. The demonstration, which was handled by Smith, Bourgoyne and LSU students, was attended by media from around the country including CNN, an NBC affiliate from Los Angeles, The Advocate, Times Picayune, Gannett Newspapers, The Reveille, WBRZ, WAFB and the Baton Rouge Business Report.

The LSU test well was configured to represent a deep water well in 3,000 feet of water. That's the only configuration like that that's ever existed in the world.

Media attending the event were shown the facility, which includes a 800-bbl. capacity drilling fluid circulating system; a high-pressure choke manifold and process control system; a 2,787-foot model well for floating drilling operations; a 5,884-foot model well for bottom supported drilling operations; a high pressure underground gas formation simulator; a full-scale model well diverter system; a 9,600-foot drill pipe flow loop; and a 100-foot derrick and 45-foot inclined wellbore analog. In addition, the Discovery Channel and the Los Angeles Times have visited the facility recently.

As evidenced by the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, there are still many challenges in drilling and operating deepwater wells.

“Deep water is obviously a focus today,” Smith said. “We’re finding there are still challenges that we’re not as prepared we’d like to be. Originally, the LSU model well for floating drilling operations was configured to represent a 6,000 foot well in 3,000 feet of water with the equipment in the well being very representative of the geometries that we would have in a deep-water well in 3,000 feet of water to do well control research and training. That allowed realistic research and training that was not available anywhere else and helped establish the basis for the methods taught and used today. The well has since been reconfigured, still as a model well for floating drilling, but with flexibility for a bigger range of research.”

The PERTT Lab was established at LSU by Ted Bourgoyne, professor emeritus of petroleum engineering, and several other faculty members in the early 1980s with funding from the U.S. Minerals Management Service, or MMS; industry; and LSU. Much of their research, and especially Ted Bourgoyne’s work, continues to be relevant and useful today.

“The well that we’re working with today was subsequently drilled in the mid-1980s as an industry-funded research well,” Smith said. “Dr. Bourgoyne, our staff and students, including Dr. Allen Kelly, and industry researchers conducted the experiments. The research and the results of the experiments that were done with the well are still the most valuable set of well control data from real experience with a variety of conditions and mud types that exists. We’re still using that data in our research today. We’re still providing it to other people as a unique resource that doesn’t exist anywhere else.”

In addition to training students and industry, the PERTT Lab is a place where new technologies can be safely tested before they are launched in the field.

“The LSU well facility, with 30 years of history, continues to be a unique resource for the industry and our profession,” Smith said. “This is a place where we can come safely try out new ideas, new equipment, find what works, and find how to make them better, before we take those new technologies to the field.”

Ernie Ballard | Editor | Office of Communications & University Relations
June 2010