US20080302539A1 - Method and apparatus for lengthening a pipe string and installing a pipe string in a borehole - Google Patents

Method and apparatus for lengthening a pipe string and installing a pipe string in a borehole Download PDF

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Publication number
US20080302539A1
US20080302539A1 US11/761,185 US76118507A US2008302539A1 US 20080302539 A1 US20080302539 A1 US 20080302539A1 US 76118507 A US76118507 A US 76118507A US 2008302539 A1 US2008302539 A1 US 2008302539A1
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Prior art keywords
pipe
pipe string
string
segment
friction stir
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Abandoned
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US11/761,185
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Pradeep Kumar Mallenahalli
Brennan Scott Domec
Charles Michael Webre
Mark Alan Veverica
John Fletcher Wheeler
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Franks International LLC
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Franks International LLC
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Priority to US11/761,185 priority Critical patent/US20080302539A1/en
Assigned to FRANK'S INTERNATIONAL, INC. reassignment FRANK'S INTERNATIONAL, INC. ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST (SEE DOCUMENT FOR DETAILS). Assignors: DOMEC, BRENNAN SCOTT, MR., VEVERICA, MARK ALAN, MR., MALLENAHALLI, PRADEEP KUMAR, MR., WEBRE, CHARLES MICHAEL, MR., WHEELER, JOHN FLETCHER, III, MR.
Publication of US20080302539A1 publication Critical patent/US20080302539A1/en
Abandoned legal-status Critical Current

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    • EFIXED CONSTRUCTIONS
    • E21EARTH DRILLING; MINING
    • E21BEARTH DRILLING, e.g. DEEP DRILLING; OBTAINING OIL, GAS, WATER, SOLUBLE OR MELTABLE MATERIALS OR A SLURRY OF MINERALS FROM WELLS
    • E21B19/00Handling rods, casings, tubes or the like outside the borehole, e.g. in the derrick; Apparatus for feeding the rods or cables
    • E21B19/16Connecting or disconnecting pipe couplings or joints
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B23MACHINE TOOLS; METAL-WORKING NOT OTHERWISE PROVIDED FOR
    • B23KSOLDERING OR UNSOLDERING; WELDING; CLADDING OR PLATING BY SOLDERING OR WELDING; CUTTING BY APPLYING HEAT LOCALLY, e.g. FLAME CUTTING; WORKING BY LASER BEAM
    • B23K20/00Non-electric welding by applying impact or other pressure, with or without the application of heat, e.g. cladding or plating
    • B23K20/12Non-electric welding by applying impact or other pressure, with or without the application of heat, e.g. cladding or plating the heat being generated by friction; Friction welding
    • B23K20/122Non-electric welding by applying impact or other pressure, with or without the application of heat, e.g. cladding or plating the heat being generated by friction; Friction welding using a non-consumable tool, e.g. friction stir welding
    • B23K20/1225Particular aspects of welding with a non-consumable tool
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B23MACHINE TOOLS; METAL-WORKING NOT OTHERWISE PROVIDED FOR
    • B23KSOLDERING OR UNSOLDERING; WELDING; CLADDING OR PLATING BY SOLDERING OR WELDING; CUTTING BY APPLYING HEAT LOCALLY, e.g. FLAME CUTTING; WORKING BY LASER BEAM
    • B23K20/00Non-electric welding by applying impact or other pressure, with or without the application of heat, e.g. cladding or plating
    • B23K20/14Preventing or minimising gas access, or using protective gases or vacuum during welding
    • EFIXED CONSTRUCTIONS
    • E21EARTH DRILLING; MINING
    • E21BEARTH DRILLING, e.g. DEEP DRILLING; OBTAINING OIL, GAS, WATER, SOLUBLE OR MELTABLE MATERIALS OR A SLURRY OF MINERALS FROM WELLS
    • E21B43/00Methods or apparatus for obtaining oil, gas, water, soluble or meltable materials or a slurry of minerals from wells
    • E21B43/02Subsoil filtering
    • E21B43/10Setting of casings, screens, liners or the like in wells
    • EFIXED CONSTRUCTIONS
    • E21EARTH DRILLING; MINING
    • E21BEARTH DRILLING, e.g. DEEP DRILLING; OBTAINING OIL, GAS, WATER, SOLUBLE OR MELTABLE MATERIALS OR A SLURRY OF MINERALS FROM WELLS
    • E21B43/00Methods or apparatus for obtaining oil, gas, water, soluble or meltable materials or a slurry of minerals from wells
    • E21B43/02Subsoil filtering
    • E21B43/10Setting of casings, screens, liners or the like in wells
    • E21B43/103Setting of casings, screens, liners or the like in wells of expandable casings, screens, liners, or the like
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B23MACHINE TOOLS; METAL-WORKING NOT OTHERWISE PROVIDED FOR
    • B23KSOLDERING OR UNSOLDERING; WELDING; CLADDING OR PLATING BY SOLDERING OR WELDING; CUTTING BY APPLYING HEAT LOCALLY, e.g. FLAME CUTTING; WORKING BY LASER BEAM
    • B23K2101/00Articles made by soldering, welding or cutting
    • B23K2101/04Tubular or hollow articles
    • B23K2101/06Tubes
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B23MACHINE TOOLS; METAL-WORKING NOT OTHERWISE PROVIDED FOR
    • B23KSOLDERING OR UNSOLDERING; WELDING; CLADDING OR PLATING BY SOLDERING OR WELDING; CUTTING BY APPLYING HEAT LOCALLY, e.g. FLAME CUTTING; WORKING BY LASER BEAM
    • B23K2103/00Materials to be soldered, welded or cut
    • B23K2103/02Iron or ferrous alloys
    • B23K2103/04Steel or steel alloys

Abstract

The present invention generally relates to a method and an apparatus for connecting an add-on pipe segment to a pipe string to lengthen the pipe string using friction stir welding. The pipe string is suspended in a borehole using a spider or some other pipe suspending device, and the lower end of the pipe segment is brought into an abutting or nearly abutting relationship with the proximal end of the pipe string positioned above the pipe suspending device and above the rig floor. The friction stir welding machine is brought to well center to weld the abutment or gap between the pipe segment and the pipe string and join the pipe segment to the pipe string to lengthen the pipe string. In one aspect, the method includes friction stir welding an expandable pipe segment to an expandable pipe string to form a lengthened expandable pipe string. The pipe segment may be comprised of two or more pipe segments that have been friction stir welded or conventionally welded to form a pipe stand. After friction stir welding to lengthen the pipe string, the lengthened pipe string is lowered into the borehole and the proximal end of the lengthened pipe string is favorably positioned to abut or nearly abut a new add-on pipe segment for friction stir welding at the resulting abutment or gap. The friction stir welding process provides a highly reliable pipe joint for expansion.

Description

    BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
  • 1. Field of the Invention
  • The present invention relates to apparatus and methods for lengthening a pipe string using friction stir welding and for installing a friction stir welded pipe string in a borehole. Specifically, the present invention relates to using friction stir welding to join a pipe segment to a pipe string that is suspended from a rig by a suspending device such as a spider, a landing table, a collar load support device, or other devices known in the art for suspending a pipe string from a rig.
  • 2. Description of the Related Art
  • Conventional pipe strings that are installed in a borehole generally comprise pipe segments, typically 30 to 60 feet in length, threadedly connected to form a pipe string that can extend up to 10,000 feet or more. The pipe segments of conventional pipe strings are connected using threaded connections including an internally threaded sleeve that threadedly receives a first externally threaded pipe end into its first end and a second externally threaded pipe end into its second end to connect the two pipe ends together to form a pipe string. The pipe string is lowered through a rig floor into a borehole and suspended at the rig floor using a suspending device, such as a spider. The proximal end of the pipe string is positioned above the suspending device to facilitate the connection of additional (“add-on”) pipe segments to the pipe string, after which the lengthened pipe string is lowered further through the rig floor. This process is repeated until the pipe string reaches the desired length for being installed in a borehole and cemented into place, or otherwise applied for its purpose.
  • Except for drive pipe and conductor casing installed near the surface of a well, welding has not been practically used for forming long pipe strings for use in drilling, production or completion activities. Conventional welding, as that term is used herein, generally refers to those welding processes that can be referred to as fusion welding, such as electric arc welding. Conventional welding is an alternative method of connecting pipe segments to form a pipe string. For example, conventionally welded connections are used to connect pipe segments into pipe strings to form pipelines that can be used for transporting liquids or gas. Pipe segments are generally distributed along the route of the pipeline, and multiple conventional electrical arc welding machines are used to join the ends of adjacent pipe segments to form a continuous pipeline.
  • Conventional welding of long pipe strings suitable for use in connection with drilling, completion and production activities is not practical because the pipe string, which is generally vertically suspended at the suspending device, must be formed by joining one vertical add-on pipe segment (or stand) at a time to lengthen the pipe string, lowering the lengthened pipe string through the rig floor, and then repeating the process until the pipe string reaches its desired length. This process enables the positioning of the proximal end of the pipe string above the suspending device (such as a spider) that suspends the pipe string from the rig so that an add-on pipe segment can be welded to the proximal end of the pipe string to lengthen the pipe string. Conventional welding limits the rate of fabrication of a pipe string because, compared to assembling a pipe string using threaded connections, conventional welding is a slow process that may take up to 60 minutes or more to complete the weld required at each individual pipe joint, and also because the vertical orientation of the proximal end of the pipe string, and of the add-on pipe segment to be conventionally welded to the pipe string, allows welding of only one pipe joint at a time. Since a threaded pipe connection can be made-up much faster than a non-threaded connection can be conventionally welded, these limitations make the assembly and installation of a pipe string by conventional welding uneconomical. The opportunity cost of the rig makes using conventional threaded connections the far more attractive option, notwithstanding the higher cost of the materials used to form each threaded joint.
  • Another problem with the use of conventional welding for forming and installing a pipe string in a borehole is the difficulty in obtaining welded pipe connections that are free of weld defects and resistant to failure. Conventionally welded connections include heat-affected zones (“HAZ's”) that may, without proper stress relieving, adversely affect the strength and reliability of the welded joint. Although conventionally welded joints may be stress relieved to eliminate detrimental HAZ's, stress relieving would only increase the total amount of time consumed in forming each pipe joint.
  • However, connecting pipe segments to form a pipe string by welding remains desirable because the welded connection offers advantages over a threaded connection. A welded connection is not subject to the risk of unbucking (“backing off” by inadvertent rotation), the welded connection is generally as strong as or stronger than the pipe between the connections, a welded connection is better suited to contain internal pressure without leaking, and because the exterior of a welded pipe string does not have shoulders that can hang up on borehole irregularities, such as borehole protrusions and restrictions, and slow pipe string installation. It is desirable to have the internal diameter and the external diameter of the pipe joint as close as possible to the internal diameter and the external diameter of the pipe body between the pipe joints because this configuration uses less of the borehole diameter for the pipe string, and because it allows a larger section of the borehole to be drilled out through the pipe string. Conventional connections consume a substantial amount of radial space due to the radially overlapping configuration of threaded connections. Also, for expandable pipe strings, conventional threaded connections make expansion more difficult since threaded sleeve connections offer substantially more resistance to forced radial expansion than the portions of the pipe wall between the threaded ends of the pipe. Threaded connections that offer good sealing performance in their original state do not reliably maintain the seal after being forcibly expanded or after being installed in a high-temperature service environment. By contrast, welded connections generally have mechanical properties that are very close that those of the pipe material, and welded connections generally expand uniformly with the adjacent pipe wall, either from forcible expansion or from increased temperatures. As a result, pipe strings having welded connections are easier to install in a borehole through the bore of an existing pipe string, and then more reliably expanded to nearly the same diameter as the existing pipe string to form a “monobore” or a “nearly monobore” pipe string. Wells drilled using a monobore well casing construction approach offer a substantial cost savings over the conventional pipe string multiple diameter technique because they require substantially less pipe material and require substantially smaller diameter boreholes compared to the conventional multiple diameter casing string that requires a “telescoping” structure formed by installing and connecting numerous progressively smaller casing strings as the depth of the borehole increases. Monobore casing strings may provide a substantial savings in drilling and completion costs if welded pipe strings could be economically welded and installed.
  • The monobore pipe strings described above are the subject of several pending and issued patents. For example, international applications WO 93/25799 (U.S. Pat. No. 5,348,095), WO 98/00626 (U.S. patent application Ser. No. 08/891,318) and WO 99/35368 (U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/223,996), the contents of which are incorporated by reference, concern what is generally described in the industry as “expandable-tube” technology for well construction and borehole repair. Generally, expandable-tube technology enables a smaller diameter pipe string to be formed and installed in a borehole by passing it through the bore of an earlier-installed, larger diameter pipe string, and thereafter expanded to a larger diameter within the borehole. The expanded pipe string may serve as a casing string or as production tubing through which hydrocarbons are transported to the surface. Alternatively, the expandable pipe string may be expanded against the inner surface of an existing casing string to form a protective cladding for protecting the existing casing string against corrosive well fluids and from damage by tools that are lowered into the borehole for maintenance and work-over operations.
  • There are some reported methods of forming and installing expandable pipe strings using threaded connections, as opposed to welded connections, to form monobores. International application WO 93/25799 (U.S. Pat. No. 5,348,095) discloses the joining of expandable pipe strings having expandable threaded connections.
  • The advantage of using pipe strings made with threaded connections over these alternative methods is that the pipe string with threaded connections may be assembled on the rig to take any form or length desired simply by joining pipe segments or other devices on an as-needed basis. On the other hand, threaded connections may not provide a fluid-tight seal, especially after being expanded, and leaks at the joints may lead to undesirable consequences. Another drawback to using threaded connections to form and install expandable pipe strings involves the use of expansion tools to expand the pipe string within the borehole. The amount of force required to expand the threaded connection may be far more than the adjacent pipe wall is capable of handling without rupturing the pipe string. It would therefore be beneficial to achieve a method of joining pipe segments that is not hindered by threaded connections that expand differently than the adjacent portions of the pipe string. The method should be generally quick and safe to use on the rig floor, inexpensive to use, reliable, and avoid the limitations of conventional welding processes.
  • Many attempts have been made to adapt conventional welding to the formation of pipe strings in order to avoid the many complications and problems that come with the use of threaded connections. The difficulties presented by using conventional threaded connections for expandable pipe strings prompted some to experiment with different welding techniques for joining pipe segments to form a pipe string. Conventional welding techniques that have been considered are submerged arc welding, tungsten inert gas welding and gas metal arc welding, among others. However, safety does not generally permit conventional welding techniques requiring an open ignition source at or near the borehole where hydrocarbon gases could be ignited. For the same reasons, other newer forms of welding such as electrical resistance welding, radial friction welding, flash welding (U.S. Pat. No. 6,935,429), metallurgical bonding (U.S. Pat. No. 6,860,420), explosive welding (U.S. Pat. No. 6,953,141), amorphous bonding (U.S. Pat. No. 6,078,031), forge welding (U.S. Pat. No. 7,181,821) and laser welding (U.S. Pat. No. 7,150,328) are also generally unacceptable or impractical. These other newer forms of welding have individual drawbacks associated with each technique including, but not limited to, electrical spark generation, production of toxic fumes, visual limitations due to involved arc flash, other sources of ignition, workpiece pre-heating requirements, equipment limitations (cost, size, etc), environmental restrictions (rain, moisture, wind, humidity, etc.), lack of reliable weld quality, repeatability and speed of weld production. Therefore, these other newer forms of welding, like conventional welding techniques, are too risky to use near a borehole.
  • A need exists for a method and an apparatus that employs welding to connect pipe segments or stands together to form a pipe string. A need exists for a method and apparatus for forming and installing pipe strings that eliminates losses related to unbucking of threaded connections. A need exists for a method and an apparatus for joining pipe segments to pipe strings to form joints that are as strong as or stronger than the pipe adjacent to the pipe joint. A need exists for a method and an apparatus for forming pipe strings that are better suited for containing internal pressure, even after being expanded within a borehole. A need exists for a method and an apparatus for joining pipe segments to a pipe string on a rig that avoids the introduction of ignition sources near the borehole.
  • SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
  • The present invention satisfies one or all of the above-stated needs, and others. Aspects of the present invention provide an apparatus and a method of connecting pipe segments to form a pipe string using friction stir welding. Friction stir welding is described in U.S. Pat. No. 5,460,317, which is incorporated herein by reference.
  • The present invention relates to a method and an apparatus for lengthening a pipe string by using friction stir welding to join add-on pipe segments to the pipe string while it is supported within a borehole using a suspending device. The suspending device used to suspend the pipe string within the borehole may be a spider, a collar load support device, landing tables, a dual elevator system with landing tables, or any combination of these or other devices known in the art for suspending a pipe string from a rig.
  • The apparatus for joining add-on pipe segments to a pipe string comprises a friction stir welding machine having a rotatable probe for being forcibly inserted into an abutment between the lower end of the add-on pipe segment and the proximal end of the pipe string, or into a gap between the nearly abutting and adjacent ends of a pipe segment and a pipe string where the gap is substantially smaller than the rotatable friction stir welding probe. The friction stir welding machine further comprises an assembly for movably securing the friction stir welding machine into position for applying the force necessary to cause the rotating probe to be inserted into the abutment or the gap and to stir the material of the pipe segment and the pipe string immediately adjacent to the abutment or the gap. The assembly may include an internal clamp or an external clamp, or both, for gripping and restraining the abutment or the gap between the add-on pipe segment and the pipe string in a manner to oppose movement of the pipe segment and the pipe string away from the rotating probe during probe insertion. In one embodiment, the pipe segment and the pipe string are both aligned and secured in the abutting or nearly abutting position using an internal clamp that is inserted into, and later withdrawn from, the top end of the pipe segment and positioned at the abutment or gap between the two workpieces. In an alternate embodiment, the friction stir welding machine may comprise a clamp assembly that grips the exterior of the lower end of the add-on pipe segment using a superior (upper) clamp, and that grips the exterior of the pipe string under the proximal end of the pipe string using an inferior (lower) clamp that is generally aligned with the superior clamp. In one embodiment, a clamp assembly applies a restraining force to the pipe segment and the pipe string to maintain the abutment or the gap between the pipe string and the add-on pipe segment. The clamp assembly may operate, alone or in conjunction with other devices, to resist separation of the pipe segment from the pipe string at the abutment or gap upon forcible insertion of the rotating stir probe into the abutment or gap.
  • In another embodiment, the clamp positions the pipe segment to maintain a gap between the lower end of the pipe segment and the upper end of the pipe string that is substantially smaller than the rotatable pin, or probe, that engages and stirs the material of the pipe segment and the pipe string to create the joint. While there may be no specific advantage to creating a gap between the two workpieces, it should be recognized that friction stir welding, like some other methods of welding, does not necessarily require abutment of the workpieces in order to join the workpieces. In one embodiment, a spacer or insert may be used to establish or maintain the desired gap.
  • In another embodiment, an internal clamp may be used either in place of or with external clamps to align the pipe segment with the pipe string, either to form an abutment or to form a gap substantially smaller than the diameter of the rotating friction stir welding probe. The internal clamp may be inserted into the bore of the pipe segment and positioned to straddle the abutment or the gap between the lower end of the pipe string and the proximal end of the pipe segment. The internal clamp is expandable to grip the pipe string and the pipe segment to maintain the abutment or the gap and may also be designed to resist separation of the pipe segment from the pipe string during friction stir welding. An internal clamp may also be coupled to a source of inert gas for displacing air from the vicinity of the friction stir welded joint to prevent unwanted oxidation of the material that is heated by the friction stir welding process.
  • In another embodiment, an internal alignment device may be used to provide reinforcement to the wall of the pipe segment and the pipe string to resist deformation under the large forces applied by the friction stir welding probe as it is forcibly inserted into the abutment or the gap, and as it is forced into the abutment or the gap to join the pipe segment to the pipe string. The internal alignment device may also be coupled to a source of inert gas for displacing air from the vicinity of the friction stir welded joint to prevent oxidation of heated material. The internal alignment device may be especially useful in joining pipe segments and pipe strings having a thin pipe wall that might otherwise deform under the load applied by the friction stir welding machine.
  • In another embodiment of the method of the present invention, the lower end of the pipe segment and the proximal end of the pipe string may be formed for mating engagement to resist radial movement of one relative to the other during friction stir welding. For example, the weld bevels on the lower end of the pipe segment may be tapered to form the radially exterior surface of a truncated conical frustum, and the weld bevels on the proximal end of the pipe string may be reverse tapered to form the radially interior surface of a truncated conical frustum so that the lower end of the pipe segment may be received into the proximal end of the pipe string to form an interface that is not purely horizontal relative to the axis of the workpieces. This type of mating interface is generally self-aligning; that is, the interface tends to secure the pipe segment and the pipe string in the aligned condition.
  • The friction stir welding apparatus of the present invention may further comprise an orbital movement assembly that imparts controlled orbital movement of the rotatable probe about the abutment or the gap to provide a fully circumferential friction stir weld. The orbital movement assembly may be hydraulically, pneumatically or electrically-powered, or any combination thereof, to forcibly move the friction stir welding machine, including the rotatable stir probe, about the abutment or the gap. Similarly, the clamp assembly described above may be hydraulically, pneumatically or electrically-powered, or any combination thereof, to grip the lower end of the add-on pipe segment with the superior clamp and the proximal end of the pipe string with the inferior clamp. The friction stir welding machine may be hydraulically, pneumatically or electrically-powered, or any combination thereof, to rotate the stir probe within the abutment or the gap while the orbital movement assembly imparts orbital movement to move the rotating stir probe through the seam to friction stir weld the add-on pipe segment to the pipe string. In one embodiment, the orbital movement assembly cooperates with an external clamp assembly, and the superior clamp and the inferior clamp assist in supporting the friction stir welding machine and in securing the orbital movement assembly in position to forcibly impart the orbital movement to the friction stir welding machine.
  • In one embodiment of the method of the present invention, the pipe string lengthened using the method of the present invention is expanded after being installed in the borehole. There are several methods for expanding a pipe member after it is installed within a borehole. In one embodiment, the present invention provides an expansion mandrel for forcibly expanding the pipe string as the mandrel is axially forced to move through the bore of the lengthened pipe string. This method is described in U.S. Pat. No. 5,348,095, which is incorporated by reference herein. In another embodiment of the method of the present invention, the pipe string is expanded within the borehole using a rotary expansion device such as that described in U.S. Pat. No. 6,935,430. An expandable pipe string formed using the method and apparatus of the present invention may be expanded within the borehole while maintaining a fluid-tight seal at the expanded friction stir welded joints formed between adjacent pipe segments.
  • The joining of adjacent pipe segments utilizes a stir probe formed of a material that may be substantially harder than the material of the pipe segment and pipe string being joined, and by rotating and forcibly inserting the probe into an abutment between the pipe segment and the pipe string, or into a gap between the adjacent ends of the pipe segment and the pipe string, to plasticize and stir at least a portion of the material at the adjacent ends of each of the pipe segment and the pipe string to join the pipe segment and the pipe string into a lengthened pipe string. The stir probe used to make the friction stir weld between the pipe segment and the pipe string may be a tungsten-rhenium alloy, a polycrystalline cubic boron nitride, or some other material that is suitable for forcibly engaging and stirring steel, steel alloys and other metals that can be used to form pipes.
  • In a preferred embodiment, the friction stir welding machine cooperates with a clamp assembly to operatively secure the friction stir welding machine into position to be moved in an orbital path about the abutment or the gap between the lower end of the pipe segment and the proximal end of the pipe string. In one embodiment, the friction stir welding machine and the clamp assembly may together be disposed within a frame that can be controllably supported and moved on the rig floor, such as within a groove or on a track, toward well center to engage the pipe segment and the pipe string for joining them together, and later controllably moved away from well center to remove the friction stir welding machine and the clamp assembly, and to clear the rig floor for other activity. The frame may be adapted for automated repetitive movement to and from well center, and it may be remotely controlled.
  • In one embodiment, the friction stir welding machine may be disposed within the bore of the pipe segment and positioned at the abutment or the gap between the pipe segment and the pipe string to join the lower end of the pipe segment to the proximal end of the pipe string from the inside. This embodiment is more applicable to larger diameter pipe, and can be used with either internal clamps, external clamps, or a combination thereof, for gripping the pipe segment and the pipe string, and for maintaining the abutment or the gap between the pipe segment and the pipe string during the friction stir welding process.
  • The method of the present invention uses the friction stir welding process to provide a pipe string comprising a plurality of joined pipe segments, the pipe string having a generally uniform wall thickness at the welded connections that is substantially the same thickness as the adjacent pipe wall, and highly reliable for expansion, along with the non-welded portions of the pipe string, to form an expanded pipe string having a larger diameter.
  • In one embodiment of the present invention, the method for forming and installing a pipe string in a borehole using friction stir welding includes the step of joining a pipe segment to a pipe string by simultaneously using two or more friction stir welding probes distributed about the abutting seam or the gap formed between the lower end of the pipe segment and the proximal end of the pipe string. This method includes the step of distributing the rotatable friction stir welding probes about the abutting seam or the gap, and simultaneously engaging and welding the abutment or the gap using two or more rotating friction stir welding probes. In one embodiment, the distributed friction stir welding probes are distributed so as to generally balance the insertion forces imparted to the abutting or nearly abutting pipe segment and pipe string by the forcible insertion of the rotating probes to mechanically stir the material of the pipe segment and the pipe string adjacent to the abutting seam or the gap. Similarly, the corresponding apparatus of the present invention comprises two or more rotatable stir probes, each coupled to a press for forcibly disposing the probe into the abutting seam or gap between the pipe segment and the pipe string, and for controlled orbital rotation about the abutment or gap to join the pipe segment to the pipe string. The probes may be disposed and moved about the abutting seam or gap while generally opposed one to the other to offset the forces or, alternately, the probes may be staggered so that a first probe preconditions the workpieces at or near the abutment or gap to facilitate improved joining of the workpieces using the second, or trailing, probe.
  • The number of friction stir welding probes that can be simultaneously engaged with the workpieces may depend on the size of the pipe and size of the friction stir welding machines, the diameter of the weld being made and the desired proximity of the rotating friction stir welding probes one to the others. It should be noted, however, that two or more friction stir welding probes may require a substantially increased amount of force to controllably move the rotating probes through the abutting seam or gap to join the workpieces.
  • It will be understood by those skilled in the art that the methods and apparatus of the present invention are compatible with the use of fill-up and circulation tools for intermittently introducing fluid into the bore of the lengthened pipe string to generally maintain a hydrostatic balance between the bore of the lengthened pipe string and the annulus between the pipe string and the wall of the borehole over the length of the pipe string. It will also be understood by those skilled in the art that the present invention may be used and implemented on a conventional rig having a drawworks for supporting a block, and a string elevator supported from the block, a top drive, or any other rig having a vertically reciprocatable support for positioning a pipe segment or for suspending and lowering a pipe string into a borehole.
  • The use of friction stir welding with the present invention to join pipe segments to a pipe string offers many advantages that cannot be achieved by using conventional welding. Friction stir welding eliminates many safety hazards associated with conventional welding such as open ignition sources, toxic fumes, weld spatter, transportation of and connections to bottled or tanked industrial gasses, and visual sensitivity of humans to the arcs produced during conventional welding. Also, unlike with conventional welding, the entire length of the pipe string does not become a part of an electrical circuit with friction stir welding. Other costly and time-consuming activities associated with conventional welding are also eliminated, such as beveling of surfaces to be welded, weldor training and skills certifications, preheating of workpieces to a minimum temperature, and post-weld cooling of workpieces to a maximum temperature prior to loading.
  • So that the manner in which the above recited features of the present invention can be understood in detail, a more particular description of the invention, briefly summarized above, may be had by reference to embodiments, some of which are illustrated in the appended drawings. However, that the appended drawings illustrate only typical embodiments of this invention and are therefore not to be considered limiting of its scope, for the invention may admit to other equally effective embodiments.
  • BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
  • FIG. 1 is an elevation view of a rig floor supporting a spider that suspends a pipe string within a borehole and generally aligned with and beneath a pipe segment suspended over the rig floor. A power bundle having a first portion and a second portion is shown generally circumscribing the pipe string.
  • FIG. 2 is the elevation view of FIG. 1 after the string elevator is used to position the pipe segment to abut the proximal end of the pipe string suspended in the borehole by the spider.
  • FIG. 3 is the elevation view of FIG. 1 with an orbital friction stir welding machine positioned to join the pipe segment to the pipe string at the abutment to lengthen the pipe string. An externally gripping superior clamp and an externally gripping inferior clamp of the friction stir welding machine, along with a spider, are shown in cross-section.
  • FIG. 4 is the elevation view of FIG. 3 showing the orbital friction stir welding machine as it begins to join the pipe segment to the pipe string at the abutment to lengthen the pipe string.
  • FIG. 5A is an elevation view of the orbital friction stir welding machine as it begins to orbit the abutment between the pipe string and the pipe segment and progressively welds the abutment.
  • FIG. 5B is an elevation view of the orbital friction stir welding machine as it continues to orbit the abutment and to join the pipe segment to the pipe string as the slack is pulled from the power bundle to clear the rig floor.
  • FIG. 6 is an elevation view of the lengthened pipe string after the friction stir welding machine has completed the weld of the abutment and has been removed from well center. The lengthened pipe string is shown as it is lifted vertically to unload the spider.
  • FIG. 7 is an elevation view of the lengthened pipe string of FIG. 6 illustrating the location of the top of the pipe string and the location of the friction stir weld after the lengthened pipe string has been lowered into the borehole to position the top end of the lengthened pipe string for joining an additional add-on pipe segment.
  • FIG. 8 is an elevation view of one embodiment of an expansion mandrel for expanding a friction stir welded pipe string formed using the method or apparatus of the present invention.
  • FIG. 9 is a perspective exploded view of one embodiment of a rotary expansion tool that may be used to expand an expandable pipe string formed using the method or apparatus of the present invention.
  • DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENT
  • FIG. 1 is a partial cross-section view of a rig floor 14 supporting a spider 16 having slips 18 that engage and suspend a pipe string 20 within a borehole 6 beneath a generally linear pipe segment 22 that is suspended over the rig floor by an externally-gripping elevator 23. Power bundle 57, having a first portion 56 (that crosses in front of the spider 16 that is shown in cross-section) and a second portion 54, is shown generally circumscribing the pipe string 20. The string elevator 23 is suspended from a block (not shown in FIG. 1) using bails 17, and the string elevator 23 may be controllably raised and lowered using a drawworks (not shown in FIG. 1) that supports the block. The pipe segment 22 has an upper end 22 a positioned above the string elevator 23 and a lower end 22 b disposed toward the rig floor 14. The pipe segment 22 is generally positionable using the drawworks and the string elevator 23 for being abutted or nearly abutted against the proximal end 20 a of the pipe string 20 that extends above the spider 16. It should be understood that the pipe segment 22 and the pipe string 20 may each comprise a single pipe segment or a plurality of pipe segments coupled together to form a longer pipe segment. In one embodiment of the method of the present invention, pipe segments may first be joined, for example, using either friction stir welding, conventional welding, or any combination thereof, to form pipe stands that are then positioned above the rig floor 14 to abut or nearly abut the pipe string 20 and joined to the pipe string using friction stir welding to lengthen the pipe string. It should be understood that the pipe segment may be positionable using a top drive instead of the string elevator supported from a block.
  • FIG. 2 is a partial cross-section view of the pipe string 20 and the pipe segment 22 of FIG. 1 after the string elevator 23 is used to position the lower end 22 b of the pipe segment 22 to abut or nearly abut the proximal end 20 a of the pipe string 20 suspended in the borehole 6 by the spider 16. The resulting abutment 24 or gap is positioned at a desired distance above the rig floor 14 for being engaged and welded by a friction stir welding machine as described in more detail below. The power bundle 57 remains generally circumscribed about the pipe string 20 and unaffected by the alignment and abutment 24 or near abutment of the pipe segment 22 and the pipe string 20. In one embodiment of the present invention, the string elevator 23 may be accompanied by a body 25 also attached to the rig hook or top drive for being urged against the top end 22 a of the pipe segment 22 for resisting separation of the pipe segment 22 away from the pipe string 20. The resisting force applied by the body 25 to the pipe segment 22 may supplement the resistance applied by at least a portion of the weight of the pipe segment 22. In other embodiments, the resistance to separation may be provided using internal clamps or external clamps, or a combination of both.
  • FIG. 3 is a partial cross-sectional view of an orbital friction stir welding machine 40 brought to well center generally along the path 49 to engage the abutting or nearly abutting pipe segment 22 and pipe string 20 and to join the pipe segment to the pipe string at the abutment 24 or gap to lengthen the pipe string 20. The superior clamp 42 a and the inferior clamp 42 b of the clamp assembly are shown in cross-section to reveal the relationship to the abutment 24 or gap. The friction stir welding machine 40 comprises a motor 47 for rotating a stir probe 48, and a superior clamp 42 a and an inferior clamp 42 b for securing the pipe segment 22 and the pipe string 20 in a generally aligned and abutting or nearly abutting position, and also for movably securing the friction stir welding machine 40 to the pipe segment 22 and the pipe string 20, respectively, while maintaining the pipe segment and the pipe string in the generally aligned and abutting or nearly abutting position. The superior clamp 42 a and the inferior clamp 42 b comprise superior external gear 43 a and inferior external gear 43 b for engaging a superior orbital drive gear 46 a and an inferior orbital drive gear 46 b, respectively, for controllably moving the friction stir welding machine 40 about the abutment 24 or gap. The power bundle 57 terminates at the power supply terminus 52 to provide power to the friction stir welding machine 40. In another embodiment, the resistance to separation at the abutment or gap may be provided using an internal alignment clamp, such as the one described in U.S. Pat. No. 6,392,193, that not only aligns the lower end of the pipe segment with the proximal end of the pipe string, but can also grip and restrain these ends in position.
  • FIG. 4 is a partial cross-sectional view of the orbital friction stir welding machine 40 secured to the pipe segment 22 and to the pipe string 20 to begin joining the pipe segment to the pipe string at the abutment 24 or gap to lengthen the pipe string. The superior clamp 42 a and the inferior clamp 42 b are shown in their closed and clamping positions above and below the abutment 24 or gap, respectively. The superior clamp and the inferior clamp close on and grip the pipe segment and the pipe string, respectively, to restrain the pipe segment and the pipe string in their abutting or nearly abutting relationship and to oppose the forces imparted to these two abutting or nearly abutting pipe members by the forcible insertion of the rotating probe 48 into the abutment 24 or gap. The superior clamp and the inferior clamp also provide substantial torque resistance to the superior external gear 43 a and inferior external gear 43 b to enable the orbital movement of the friction stir welding machine 40 about the abutment 24 or gap and, more specifically, of the stir probe 48 through the generally circular seam that is the abutment 24 or gap by powered simultaneous rotation of the superior drive gear 46 a and the inferior drive gear 46 b that engage and rotate against the superior external gear 43 a and the inferior external gear 43 b on the exterior of the superior clamp 42 a and the inferior clamp 42 b, respectively.
  • The motor 47 shown in FIGS. 3 and 4 is preferably a hydraulically-powered motor that powers the rotation of the probe 48 as it stirs and plasticizes the material adjacent to the abutment 24 or gap to friction stir weld the pipe segment to the pipe string. The motor is driven to rotate using a supply of high pressure hydraulic fluid delivered to the motor by a hose within the power bundle 57. The fluid discharged form the motor 47 is returned to the fluid reservoir (not shown) using a second hose within the power bundle 57. The power needed to extend the probe 48 radially inwardly and to force insertion of the probe 48 into the abutting seam 24 or gap may be provided using a gear and rack assembly that extends, upon powered rotation of the gear, to force the probe 48 radially inwardly to engage and be inserted into the abutting seam 24 or gap. The extending gear and rack assembly for providing probe insertion into the abutment 24 or gap may be powered using the same source of high pressure hydraulic fluid used to drive the motor 47 that rotates the probe 48.
  • When closed, the superior clamp 42 a and inferior clamp 42 b prevent separation of the friction stir welding machine 40 from the abutment 24 or gap as the probe 48 is powered by the extending gear and rack assembly to penetrate the abutment 24 or gap and powered by the motor 47 to rotate and stir the material of the pipe segment and the pipe string. The powered rotation of the superior drive gear 46 a and the inferior drive gear 46 b against the superior external gear 43 a and the inferior external gear 43 b disposed on the external surfaces of the superior clamp 42 a and the inferior clamp 42 b, respectively, may be provided by one or more auxiliary motors that may be driven using the same high pressure hydraulic fluid supply provided to operate the motor to drive the probe. Alternately, the powered rotation of the superior drive gear 46 a and the inferior drive gear 46 b against the superior external gear 43 a and inferior external gear 43 b, respectively, disposed on the external surfaces of the superior clamp 42 a and the inferior clamp 42 b may be provided by a gear train driven by the motor 47. The power needed to forcibly close the superior clamp 42 a and the inferior clamp 42 b and to thereby forcibly grip the pipe segment 22 and the pipe string 20, respectively, may be provided from the same high pressure hydraulic fluid supply provided to drive the motor 47 to rotate the probe 48.
  • It should be understood that the closure of superior clamp and the inferior clamp to grip the pipe segment and pipe string, the rotation of the probe, and the rotation of the drive gears may be mechanically enabled using a variety of power sources, including hydraulic pressure, pneumatic pressure, electricity, mechanical linkages, etc. It is preferred that these devices be hydraulically-powered in order to eliminate spark-ignition sources from the near-borehole area and also due to the need to deliver generally high-density power to the friction stir welding machine. While pneumatically-powered devices generally avoid or minimize the potential for unwanted ignition sources, the motor and the cylinders would need to be substantially larger to use compressed air as the power fluid to generate the same clamping force, gear torque, motor torque and speed, etc. However, it should be recognized that modern intrinsically-safe or explosion-proof electrical devices may be adapted for powering the various devices of the apparatus of the present invention without introducing an ignition risk.
  • FIG. 5A is an elevation view of the pipe segment 22 and the pipe string 20 of FIGS. 1-4 illustrating the movement of the friction stir welding machine 40 as it progresses from its beginning position shown in FIG. 4 on its orbital movement about the circumference of the abutment 24 or gap. The movement is generally clockwise as viewed from the string elevator 23. The probe 48 forcibly inserts into the abutment 24 or gap, and is rotated by the motor 47 to friction stir weld the pipe segment 22 to the pipe string 20. The closed superior clamp 42 a and the inferior clamp 42 b are closed to grip the pipe segment 22 and the pipe string 20, respectively, to prevent separation of the probe 48 from the abutment 24 or gap. The powered rotation of the superior drive gear 46 a and of the inferior drive gear 46 b against the superior external gear 43 a and the inferior external gear 43 b, respectively, result in controlled orbital movement of the friction stir welding machine 40 about the abutment 24 or gap, and controlled movement of the probe 48 through the entire circular path of the abutment 24 or gap.
  • FIG. 5B is an elevation view of the pipe segment 22 and the pipe string 20 of FIGS. 1-5A illustrating the continued movement of the friction stir welding machine 40 as it progresses from its position shown in FIG. 5A on its orbital movement about the circumference of the abutment 24 or gap. FIG. 5B illustrates the modified appearance of the portion of the abutment 24 or gap that has been friction stir welded by rotation of the stir probe 48 as the friction stir welding machine 40 continues on its orbit about the abutment 24 or gap in the direction of the arrow 50′. The slack in the power bundle 57 is shown to have been removed as the friction stir welding machine 40 orbits the abutment 24 or gap.
  • FIG. 6 is an elevation view of the pipe string 20 (now including the pipe segment 22) after the friction stir weld has been completed and the pipe string and the pipe segment have been joined at the abutment 24 or gap to make a longer pipe string 20. The string elevator 23 grips the upper end 22 a of the pipe segment, now the new proximal end of the pipe string 20, and lifts the lengthened pipe string 20 in the direction of arrow 27 to unload the slips 18 of the spider 16 so that the slips 18 can move upwardly and outwardly to disengage and release the lengthened pipe string 20.
  • FIG. 7 is an elevation view of the pipe string 20 (now including the pipe segment 22) after it has been lowered further into the borehole 6 in the direction of the arrow 28. The now-welded abutment 24′ is shown below the level of the rig floor 14 and the spider 16 and within the borehole 6. The upper end of the pipe segment 22, now the proximal end of the now-lengthened pipe string 20, is positioned at a predetermined distance from the rig floor 14 and above the spider 16 for being abutted or nearly abutted to a new add-on pipe segment (not shown in FIG. 7) and then welded using the friction stir welding machine (not shown in FIG. 7) to further lengthen the pipe string.
  • In another aspect, the friction stir welding machine 40 may include a supply tube or hose within the power bundle 57 that supplies a stream of an inert gas to supplant or dilute the air in the immediate region of the FSW weld probe to decrease the possibility of oxide forming on the weld as a result of the high temperatures from friction between the probe and the workpieces. Impurities, such as oxide formed during the FSW process, are undesirable because they weaken the bond between the joined pipe members. In one embodiment, the inert gas stream may be delivered to the near-weld region through one or more ports formed in the friction stir welding machine 40 adjacent to the stir probe 48.
  • After additional add-on pipe segments have been welded to the pipe string and the desired length of the pipe string has been achieved, the pipe string may be lowered into the borehole and then radially expanded using an expander tool. Examples of expander tools include cone-shaped mandrels such as that shown in FIG. 8 and rotary expander tools such as the one shown in FIG. 9.
  • While the foregoing is directed to embodiments of the present invention, other and further embodiments of the invention may be devised without departing from the basic scope thereof, and the scope thereof is determined by the claims that follow.

Claims (22)

1. A method of lengthening a pipe string comprising the steps of:
suspending a pipe string from a rig using a pipe suspending device;
positioning a pipe segment having an upper end and a lower end to be generally aligned with and in close proximity to or abutting the proximal end of the pipe siring at its lower end;
securing the lower end of the pipe segment in close proximity to or abutting the proximal end of the pipe string; and
friction stir welding the pipe segment to the pipe string to lengthen the pipe string.
2. The method of claim 1 further comprising the step of installing the lengthened pipe string in a borehole and radially expanding at least a portion of the pipe string within the borehole.
3. The method of claim 1 further comprising the step of securing the pipe segment in its position in close proximity to or abutting the proximal end of the pipe string by disposing an alignment clamp to radially expand within a portion of the bore of the pipe segment and a portion of the bore of the pipe string to grip the adjacent ends of the pipe segment and the pipe string.
4. The method of claim 1 further comprising the step of securing the pipe segment in its position in close proximity to or abutting the proximal end of the pipe string by disposing a first external clamp to close on and grip the lower end of the pipe segment and disposing a second external clamp to close on and grip the proximal end of the pipe string.
5. The method of claim 3 further comprising the step of axially adducting a first gripping portion of the alignment clamp toward a second portion of the alignment clamp to apply a preload to the abutment between the pipe segment and the pipe string before friction stir welding the pipe segment to the pipe string.
6. The method of claim 4 further comprising the step of axially adducting a the first external clamp toward the second external clamp to apply a preload to the abutment between the pipe segment and the pipe string before friction stir welding the pipe segment to the pipe string.
7. The method of claim 2 further comprising forcing an expansion mandrel having a diameter greater than the interior bore of the pipe string through the bore of the pipe string to radially expand the pipe string within the borehole.
8. The method of claim 2 further comprising rotating a rotary expansion tool within the pipe string to expand the pipe string over a substantial portion of its length after the pipe string has been substantially installed within the borehole.
9. The method of claim 1 further comprising the step of forming the proximal end of the pipe string for mating engagement with the lower end of the pipe segment to resist radial movement of one relative to the other during friction stir welding.
10. The method of claim 1 further comprising the step of powering a friction stir welding machine using pressurized fluid.
11. The method of claim 1 further comprising the step of powering a friction stir welding machine using electricity.
12. The method of claim 1 further comprising the step of pre-assembling the pipe segment to be joined to the pipe string from a plurality of shorter pipe segments joined by a process selected from the group of consisting of conventionally welding the segments, friction stir welding the segments, or a combination of one or more of these processes.
13. The method of claim 1 wherein the pipe suspending device is selected from a group consisting of a spider, a set of landing tables, a collar load support device, a dual elevator system used in conjunction with landing tables, or some combination of these.
14. The method of claim 1 further comprising the step of repeating the first four steps until the pipe string achieves the desired length, installing the pipe string in a borehole, and securing the pipe string in place by circulating a cement slurry or a cement substitute into the annulus between the exterior surface of the pipe string and the wall of the borehole.
15. The method of claim 1 further comprising the step of introducing a volume of fluid into the lengthened pipe string to prevent collapse or damage to the lengthened pipe string as it is lowered into a borehole.
16. The method of claim 1 further comprising the step of providing a mating interface to the abutting ends of the pipe segment and the pipe string to resist radial movement of one relative to the other after an abutment is formed.
17. The method of claim 15 further comprising the step of circulating the introduced fluid through the borehole by imposing a seal between the fluid conduit and the interior wall of the lengthened pipe string.
18. An apparatus for joining a pipe segment to a pipe string comprising:
a clamping assembly having a first clamp for gripping a pipe segment and a second clamp for gripping a pipe string, the first clamp being generally aligned with the second clamp;
a friction stir welding machine coupled generally intermediate the first clamp and the second clamp for radially disposing a rotatable probe into an abutment or a gap between a lower end of the pipe segment and a proximal end of the pipe string; and
an orbital movement assembly for moving the rotatable friction stir welding probe in a generally orbital path through the abutment or gap to create a joint between the pipe string and the pipe segment to lengthen the pipe string.
19. The apparatus of claim 18 wherein the friction stir welding machine is movably suspended within a frame that can be moved to the pipe string and supported on a rig floor.
20. The apparatus of claim 19 wherein the friction stir welding machine is powered by a motor operated with pressurized fluid.
21. A method of joining a pipe segment to a pipe string on a rig comprising the steps of:
suspending a pipe string from the rig using a pipe suspending device, a proximal end of the pipe string protruding generally upwardly from the pipe suspending device;
positioning an add-on pipe segment into alignment with the pipe string;
abutting a lower end of the pipe segment against the proximal end of the pipe string;
clamping the pipe string and the pipe segment to restrain the pipe string and the pipe segment in the abutting position; and
friction stir welding the abutment formed between the pipe string and the pipe segment to lengthen the pipe string.
22. The method of claim 21 further comprising the steps of:
lifting the lengthened pipe string to unload the pipe suspending device;
lowering the lengthened pipe string from the rig; and
suspending the lengthened pipe string from the rig by reengaging the pipe suspending device.
US11/761,185 2007-06-11 2007-06-11 Method and apparatus for lengthening a pipe string and installing a pipe string in a borehole Abandoned US20080302539A1 (en)

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