From the beginnings as an engineer-inventor
After obtaining my engineering degree, I joined the Compagnie Française des Pétroles au Sahara in February 1966. I did my "classes" in the field or more exactly on a drilling rig (called "RIG" in the jargon), because I had opted for the drilling activity. For more than a year, I worked as a surface worker, a floor worker, a rigger, a first mate, a master surveyor and a site foreman. The trade literally "entered" me by the feet. I then went on to manage drilling operations abroad in Abu Dhabi, then in Scotland, and from 1976 to 1980 I headed up the drilling business at the Paris head office as Total's worldwide Drilling Manager. In 1980, I moved to the management of exploration/production subsidiaries, such as China.
During those early years in drilling, I was able to satisfy my taste for inventing and developing new technologies because, at the time, we had our own drilling rigs, which made it possible to develop and test ideas on site.
From my first assignment, I was responsible for optimising the subsidiary's drilling performance. Together with my colleague Jacky Cortes, we became interested in diamond drilling tools. In cooperation with the Belgian company Diamant Boart, we developed in the 1960s the diamond blade tool marketed under the brand name LX and still in use in 2019. Whereas traditional three-cone tools wear out quickly and the drill string has to be raised and lowered every 10 hours or so, our diamond blade tool could drill longer, faster and with drill "passes" of more than 800 metres. Recently, I used a diamond tool of this type again in the Meuse, for a small oil company in which I have an interest.
Its success and numerous variations have generated substantial royalties for Total while optimizing drilling performance.
After starting at Hassi Messaoud as a technical drilling engineer in 1966 and the nationalization of CFP-A by the Algerian authorities in early 1971, I joined the Paris headquarters where, after relocating CFP(A) drilling personnel for whom the Group had no positions available, I coordinated the studies for the design and construction of a dynamically positioned drill ship under the name Pelican. A French technological first. Capable of moving quickly, this vessel, operational since 1972, was particularly well suited to drilling operations in difficult seas and at great water depths. The Pelican was thus capable of drilling under 300 metres of water to more than 7,000 metres, particularly in the Arctic. As for the Pilgrim, the next version, it could explore in more than 1,000 metres of water.
After the nationalisation of our Algerian activities and due to a lack of available positions in the Group, my management offered me the job of "Drilling Superintendent" within the Abu Dhabi Petroleum Company Ltd. On secondment from Total, I stayed there from 1971 to 1975, during which time I set up a drilling department and the activity went from 1 to 9 RIGs. In close cooperation with the French drilling company FOREX, I took part in the development of an optimized RIG moving system. Instead of completely dismantling the drilling rig and then reassembling it, it was transported in two or three blocks thanks to trailers equipped with 3.5 metre diameter wheels. From 7 days initially, its transfer took only 24 hours! This saved precious RIG "time".
These Saharan beginnings, largely occupied with the development of new techniques, were followed by 20 exciting years during which I, like so many others, carried the Total flag around the world, in Abu Dhabi, the North Sea, China and Argentina.