When you want performance from your perforating charges, go to the people who wrote the book on making holes in tough targets.

Knocking out enemy tanks in combat is a tough job. There's no room for error. If your first shot isn't successful, the enemy tank usually gets you before you can fire a second. Of course, timing and a good aiming system play key roles, but as has been proved many times, just hitting the target isn't enough. With several inches of hardened armor, the modern battle tank can withstand a direct hit, unless the charge is designed for maximum penetration.

QinetiQ is a spin-off from the British Defence Ministry, and is staffed with scientists and engineers formerly responsible for military engineering, including high-performance weapons design. Recently, with its government's blessing, QinetiQ started researching civilian applications for some of the military's neatest toys. And shaped charge anti-tank weapons seemed a perfect fit for the oil and gas industry. If you compare the explosive charge from an anti-tank projectile with an oilwell perforator, the similarities are obvious. Both must produce maximum penetrating power from a small package. Both must operate reliably, because there's no second chance. And both must be able to maintain their potency in harsh environments or after long periods of storage.

But oilfield perforators have even more stringent constraints. They must be able to focus their penetrating jets on the target, in this case multiple casing/cement sheaths and hard rock formations, with precise orientation and with no collateral damage to the perforating gun carrier. And they must operate under environmental conditions not found on even the harshest battlefield - temperatures 400?F (204?C) and 25,000 psi pressures.

Faced with these additional challenges, QinetiQ, encouraged by Shell UK Exploration and Production (Shell Expro), formed a partnership with Jet Research Center (JRC), Halliburton's perforating design and manufacturing subsidiary. Previously, Shell had announced first oil had begun to flow from the company's Penguins field in the UK North Sea. Penguins' wells offered the toughest of targets. Shell wanted a slim, ultra-high-performance jet perforator to complete the difficult Penguins wells with maximum penetration, a clean, uniform perforation tunnel and high perforation flow efficiency.

Matching its scientific and technical knowledge with JRC's extensive oilfield experience, QinetiQ used its high-fidelity hydrocode modeling capability to predict the shaped charge jet characteristics of the then industry-leading JRC 33/8-in. Millennium perforating charge. This allowed improvements to be proposed and solutions to be designed to meet Shell's requirement. Using its proprietary desktop analytical model "JetSuite," the company produced a predictive capability to assess shaped charge performance under a variety of downhole conditions. In addition, hydrocode modeling was used to analyze the explosion-imposed stress fields in the gun carriers, also under downhole conditions, so a viable and reliable charge/carrier combination could be designed. The scientific approach to perforator design was called PerfECT - Perforator Enhanced Completion Technology.

Following an intense, 3-month research and design phase by QinetiQ and JRC, prototype designs for a new perforating charge were built and tested. Testing was conducted under API 19B, Section 4, flow test conditions. The result was two new designs: the Enhanced Millennium perforator and the Dominator perforator. The latter penetrates an average 13-in. of tight Berea sandstone under typical downhole conditions. According to QinetiQ, the Dominator currently outperforms all other perforators in its class.
Notwithstanding the impressive lab penetration tests of the new charge, Shell naturally wanted to see what it could do under field conditions. The 33/8-in. Dominator charge routinely produced 13-in. of clean perforation tunnels in underbalanced conditions, resulting in a 21% penetration increase over the previously published record. It also delivered 12% greater well productivity index.

Even old tank veterans would be impressed with Dominator's performance, but of course they would temper their enthusiasm by observing, "Very nice, but let's see what you can do with a moving target that is shooting back at you!"