Drill Well On Paper (DWOP) – The Gift of Foresight

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Jason Lavis
Jason Lavishttps://ootbinnovations.com
Serial Energy Entrepreneur. Webmaster at drillers.com. Founder of Out of the Box Innovations Ltd. Co-Founder of Natural Resource Professionals Ltd. Traveller and Outdoorsman, Husband, Father. Technology/Internet Geek.


Before rigs and crews are moved into place to start drilling, the management and planning people will perform a ‘Drill Well On Paper’ (DWOP). All of the technical decision-makers and stakeholders get together to brainstorm and anticipate the future well drilling and completion. Attendees will represent at least ten different companies, agencies and government/regulatory bodies. All of these people will have unique knowledge and insights and will see potential pitfalls and design choices that affect efficiency.

The oil company will already have drilling research, plans and a strategy. The rig contractor will also know how to do their job. The same applies to all of the people that are involved in exploration and production.

The plans that the oil or drilling company have, do not represent a DWOP. Drilling the well on paper means that all of the high-level decision-makers get around a table and conduct a detailed review of the current plans. The team creates a comprehensive set of policies and procedures for use on the rig, with implementation procedures, and potential contingency action points.

The stakeholders will analyse each step of the well construction, and come up with ideas on how to improve. The focus will be on cost reduction, efficiency, and reduced well times – while maintaining the highest levels of safety.

The history, until the present:

Increased performance is a priority for all companies, all companies pay lip service to efficiency, but few turn the pursuit into a science. The target for every DWOP is to create a roadmap for the perfect well. Perfection gets measured in days, cost and lack of incidents.

The process used as a backdrop for every workshop is the Technical Limit methodology, which was born out of the LEAN manufacturing revolution. (Henry Ford and Toyota were LEAN pioneers, and their work has helped all heavy industries evolve).

The oil and gas version of technical limit is traced back to Woodside Petroleum in the mid-1990s. Like all step changes, other companies adopted the methodology reasonably quickly after they heard about it. Shell created Drill The Limit (DTL) before renaming it Delivering The Limit because the process involves much more than just drilling. British Gas (BG) called it Total Value Drilling (TVD). British Petroleum (BP) called it ‘Tech Limits’ or ‘Tech Limit’. TOTAL’s version of the programme is called the Drilling Improvement Process (DIP).

More recently, to push the boundaries of efficiency even further, oil companies realised the benefits of an external facilitator. All large industrial and manufacturing companies tend to find the same problems with meetings, seminars and workshops:

  • Meetings can become routine, boring and then unlikely to be energising and productive.
  • A few ‘strong personalities’ tend to dominate all proceedings.
  • Key team members start to miss meetings.
  • In-house company facilitators/organisers start to resent the extra time and effort required to organise the meetings. They already have a full workload.
  • Meeting outcomes aren’t always adequately captured, and action points are not allocated to actors so aren’t closed out efficiently, if at all.

Specialist performance companies that facilitate DWOPs allocate facilitators who have worked inside the drilling teams of these majors. They tend to have at least 15-20 years in high-level engineering positions before they work as consultant facilitators.

When an oil company brings in an independent facilitator, they get someone who is just as capable as an in-house person from a technical perspective. There are also considerable additional advantages:

An external DWOP facilitator will come to the workshop with fresh eyes and fresh ideas. The injection of a new high-level mind naturally gets the existing team on their best behaviour and gets competitive juices flowing. Who doesn’t want to be one of the smartest people in a room of high-level experts?

They only have ONE JOB TO DO, which is to make the next workshop the best one that they’ve ever done. If sufficient additional value isn’t created, the next DWOP might be conducted by a ‘company person’. They can focus on the process, and not have a hundred other work issues at the back of their mind.

Each workshop performance is like an athletic event. If a company person does the workshop, and it is lacklustre, they’ll keep their regular job. If a specialist comes in and drops the ball, that might be the last time that they’re invited.

An external facilitator isn’t involved in office politics. They don’t know which team member is a newbie, who’s an aggressive debater, and who’s on their last warning. They’re blind to favouritism and pecking order and treat ideas on their merit. An empowering environment gets created – where anyone can be a company hero.

There are other benefits to having an external company run your performance workshops. I don’t want to steal ALL their thunder or let any ‘secret sauce’ slip out.


It just so happens 🙂 that Dave Taylor, the owner of drillers.com, also owns Relentless Pursuit of Perfection Ltd. (also known as rp²). Dave ‘walked the walk’ in performance relevant roles at Chevron, Shell, Amerada Hess, and BP. rp² has and continues to perform DWOPs for some of the largest and most successful oil companies in the world, including the companies he worked at 15-30+ years ago.

The importance:

Planning is needed for any commercial or infrastructure project. An oil and gas project is more demanding than most similar types of endeavours because:

  1. It’s not one company doing the work, its a group of companies, contractors and agencies.
  2. In addition to industry best practices, there’s always a unique set of circumstances for each project. For example, there may be environmental, cultural, political or local regulatory considerations that might get missed.
  3. Most E&P projects get done internationally, where workers come from dozens of countries and cultures, even on a single project. Rules and regulations aside, everyone needs to work in synergy.
  4. An accident has implications that can spread for hundreds of miles and last for years.
  5. Mistakes on a single project can result in companies going bankrupt.
  6. The level of technical capability, ability and competence is exceptionally high, putting massive stress on both people and equipment.

The beauty of a DWOP is that these expert insights will be about different aspects of the future process. A drilling engineer might have successfully drilled similar wells in other parts of the world, but may have no understanding of the local culture. The local rig crew agency might have no idea about how to drill a well, but they’ll know how their domestic workers need to be treated to get the best out of them.

When a new oil and gas exploration project has been decided upon, and lease rights purchased, the planning process begins. Rigs and drilling crews need to be booked in advance, and the correct set of equipment must be sourced. Some types of rigs are in short supply and might be essential for the project to be a success. The same applies to world-renowned experts and consultants for specialist situations.

Improved performance, reduced cost

Before discussing reduced cost, here’s a lesson from the Formula 1 industry about performance. If you’ve been around a while, you might have seen this analogy of ever-increasing efficiency and marginal gains. Whether you’re aware of how performance boundaries can be pushed, or not – this particular compilation is one of the best around:


When a group of people spend time in a workshop, away from the usual daily routine, individual concentration and focus are amplified. Also, shared experience in a relaxed environment allows a mastermind mentality to flow between attendees. This peak state of group mental activity creates a fertile environment for insight and inspiration. Every step of the process of drilling and completion is dissected for risk and opportunity.

How many times in life to we make huge mistakes or miss signs of danger? At these times we might churlishly joke about, or cite ‘the gift of hindsight’ to justify the blunder. Drilling the well on paper, in an intellectually charged atmosphere creates the ‘gift of foresight’.

For each job role or piece of equipment, there will be multiple choices, and some will be more reliable and efficient than others. At two extremes, the ultimate costs are miles apart. One set of human and mechanical resources will produce a fast, clean, incident-free completion in record time. At the other extreme, the combination won’t be suitable for the job at hand, leading to an abandoned well, or perhaps a severe incident.

It’s highly unlikely that all of the wrong choices will ever be made on the same project. Everyone involved in the planning and execution of a new oil well will be highly experienced, skilled and qualified. The elite of the engineering, geology and logistics communities form the drilling team management. Very few industries have the high stakes that are involved in the upstream oil and gas industry.

The set of challenges faced are unique, and the costs of a mishap can be astronomical, financially, environmentally, and in human terms.
The benefits of a DWOP

We’ve mentioned different benefits earlier in the article, but for clarity, here’s a list:

  1. There’s increasing scrutiny from regulatory bodies. A comprehensive DWOP shows the operators commitment to due diligence.
  2. Most oil companies’ well delivery-assurance processes require DWOPs.
  3. Potential exposures are identified in advance so that they don’t turn into actual losses.
  4. With hundreds of years of experience in one room, the fresher experts can learn from those that have ‘seen everything’.
  5. Lessons learned from a wide variety of experiences get shared in the context of the current project.
  6. Opportunities to avoid non-productive time (NPT) are identified.
  7. The sheer number of years of experience between delegates will include first-hand advice about most well control and production situations.
  8. The act of a dry run with the same people that you’ll be dealing with in stress situations aids mental preparation and helps you to understand the personality mix.
  9. New experts and advisors can be brought in to cover specific concerns in advance, rather than once a challenge presents itself in the field.
  10. Decisions get made with the luxury of time and thought through without fear of consequences; this is different from a real-time decision on the rig.
  11. Ground rules and understandings are implemented for improved communication flow and decision-making hierarchy between different companies on different payrolls.
The workshop

As previously mentioned, the decision-makers and stakeholders from the operator, drilling contractor, service contractors and equipment providers all join together in one room but initially stay in groups. Each team independently goes over the steps of the drill plan. They identify areas for improvement and further discussion. They also set targets and goals measures in both financial and time measurements.

Then, all groups join together to share their findings and goals. There are always dozens of ideas, grey areas and potential challenges, none of which are identified by all groups. Together, new steps and solutions are formulated, which result in a goal setting and target consensus.

Sometimes, two separate steps can be combined to increase efficiency substantially. Other times failure points get identified in original plans, that would have a high probability of a critical incident. Occasionally, an entirely different type of rig or drilling process gets chosen.

The primary measure of performance is the number of days to get to each stage of the well. After all, by far the most significant cost involved is the daily cost of the rig and crew. Together, the group estimates the technical limit, which is the theoretical amount of time to create the ‘perfect well.’ Then, based on previous experience in the shortfall between ‘actual’ and ‘perfect’, a benchmark is established, perhaps at 80% of the technical limit. Now, everyone concerned knows what they need to achieve to be at the pinnacle of the industry, with one eye on perfection.



  1. It is tempting to mention what kind of accidents and disasters that lack of proper DWOPs and risk assessments, AND communication of such during the operations, has lead to. Macondo is just one of countless examples.


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