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PBL sub reliability
06 February 2011
I have seen a lot of BHAs pulled out of hole because of PBL sub malfunction. We (Baker Hughes) started an in house request for a multiple crculation sub - but unfortunately it was not developed.
The email I got back from Germany yesterday was advising to use the MI Well Commander , everything down to 6 3/4" is reliable from their operational experience - For the 4 3/4" Subs they got 5 runs and 5 x malfunction in the last months in Germany.

Because we do not track reliability of 3rd party tools in our system I cannot run a statistic on PBL subs or well commander - maybe I can get numbers for reliability from the operator side in this discussion group.

Peter-Joern Palten
Drilling Engr
Baker Hughes
13 answer(s)
Tech Sales Manager
Churchill Drilling Tools Ltd
Total Posts: 3
Join Date: 01/08/11
Well Hi everyone, bit of a late response but lots of "interesting" comments on the go out there.

Just getting settled into a new business, but will respond in kind at a later date ref circ rates & pressure loss applications etc.

Dave S
Project Engineer
Total Posts: 2
Join Date: 26/10/11
The 5 failures of our tools Germany were on the CCV, NOT the Well Commander and were part of field trials on the tool. The 5" Well Commander is as reliable as the other sizes.

More information can be provided if you would like.

Mike Brzezinski
Project Engineer
Reservoir Drill-in Fluids, Breakers, Completion Fluids, Specialized Tools
Consultant [retired Shell staff]
Total Posts: 240
Join Date: 02/09/05
Apart from my early comments only add two more Operational things to consider :
1) The PBL ball catcher sub will sit on top of the directional stack; if that is not anticipated, you can't drop an EMS anymore.
2) To recover the balls - once operated - you need to break PBL´s top connection ; this slows the round trip.
Total Posts: 1
Join Date: 08/02/11
Mr Da Mota's comments of 12th Feb 11 on this subject might perhaps be clarified somewhat:
the SPS tool(CCV) with Ball Bypass Ball Catcher is in fact the precursor to the Well Commander tool(originally mentioned by Mr Palten) he lists later (both designed by Mr George Telfer)

Iain Whyte
Business Development Mgr
operatons manager
Total Posts: 2
Join Date: 13/02/11

Appreciate if you could elaborate on these PBL failures as we have run and represented DSI pbl since 2000 with few if any failures, Can you pinpoint failure cause ie operator error, pressure test, ball seat, debris in subs etc

Most all of our problems were due to wrong ball drop sequences or debris in tool

Mark Souders
ps we are running PBL through BHI in Jkt for MSEC consortium at present
Consultant [retired Shell staff]
Total Posts: 240
Join Date: 02/09/05
Canadian PBL tool (Paul B. Lee) is widely used.
PBL Drilling Tools Ltd's Paul B. Lee, Canada Ph (403) 264 3903 Fax 233 2506 Mobile (403) 551 7425
It started in Canada under the auspices of CFER - Canadian Frontier Energy Research - as a JIP.
Agip/Congo - thru Weatherford; Gufco/Egypt and Statoil/DK were the first users of either the Annular Control Tool (ACT) or of the Hydro-Mechanical Casing Circulating Device.
The PBL tool - if not properly maintained - lacks reliability: leaking, failing to open, failing to close. I wonder if that plus lack of understanding of the tool are the root cause of problems reported
PBL/Cansco UK introduced improvements 1996
+ Boronization + Tungsten Coating for extra erosion/corrosion resistance
+ Steering Stabiliser
+ weight set tools (Pump Pressure Differential)
+ the use of PBL subs was common for allowing displacements, cleanups etc, as it allowed much faster flowrates by bypassing the turbine/MWD.
+ To avoid hole problems, the circ sub was never used until back at the casing shoe.
+ The PBL tool was used for cleaning up the build sections of its horizontal wells.
- When pipe is not clean after a cement job - cement residue is present in the pipe, PBL sub can give problems.
- When using the PBL sub be aware that the operating balls can overtake one each other in the 5" and 5 1/2" drillpipe.
- In horizontal holes high-vis sweeps might be required to move the balls over the internal upsets in the drillpipe.
- no square shoulders tolerated inside the string; taper maximum angle around 60 degrees
1. Eastman Circulating Sub - the first sliding sleeve, ball operated to allow displacing LCM without plugging the mud motors.
This valve was made redundant because of failures. The idea of this valve was to pull a dry string. Unfortunately this valve was sometimes stuck open and the string had to be pulled.
It will give you better triptank volume control in HPHT drilling when the gel strength of the mud is not too high.
2. SPS' circulating subs:

3. Smith/RED BARON Multi Circulation Bypass Valve (3 cycles) CAU/S712
4. Weatherford/Enterra (will have some thing

5. UWG FACT(Flow Actuated Circulating Tool)

6. DSI - Drilling Sysems International introduces the Booster Bypass System reliable tool for increasing BHA circulating area "by simply cycling the pumps".

7. Smith Red Baron

8. Churchill Instant Bypass Tool (IBT)
Churchill Drilling Tools. [email protected]

9. SPS Centurion Circulating Valve with Wireline Access-Type Ball Catcher
Derek [email protected]

10. Hamdeen Steelhead variation to their Steelhead Downhole Drilling Circulation Valve.
Rory [email protected]

11. Drilling Systems International Multiple Activation Bypass System

12. Optiflo(tm) Annular Booster Valve
Smith Services in Houston

13. Andergauge Circulating Sub

14. Never heard of MI Well Commander (,

Augusto Carmona da Mota
Shell (retired)
Drilling Supervisor
Total Posts: 55
Join Date: 11/09/10
Pilot Drilling Control of Gt Yarmouth (England) do a tool called 'FACT' (Flow Activated Circulation Tool). I have never ran this tool, but I'd like to give it a go.

I think PDC have been bought out by Franks Casing, but operate under their own name. There's a website ( go to with a calculator spreadsheet etc.


Neil Guthrie
Drilling Supv
Business Development Manager
Downhole Products
Total Posts: 3
Join Date: 07/02/11
Hi Peter-Joern,

It does not sound like you have heard of our Dart Activated Valve (DAV). This has been on the market here in the UK for nearly two years. We are very pleased to say it has an extremely high reliability.

There is far too much info to give it out on this forum, so I´d just like to raise some awareness about the alternative that Churchill Drilling Tools offers:

There has only ever been one malfunction with the DAV where it was very difficult to close (The LCM had been successfully spotted at his point). This issue was quickly identified and resolved.
Furthermore, we have had no issues with ”˜non-arrival´ as well having a 100% record with our 4 ¾” tool. Our tools have never ”˜part-cycled´, and to date, there has been no connection failures within any DAV either. We´ve also solved the piston flutter problem too.

All of our darts come well labeled and the instructions are clear and tool/size specific.

The darts give lots of technical advantages over balls too, which we can let you know about.

If you would like any more information, then don´t hesitate to get in touch.


Churchill Drilling Tools
Well Control Specialist - Senior Drilling Supervisor
Total Posts: 31
Join Date: 04/11/07
Like Neil, I too would like an alternative to the PBL Sub, however not because of unreliability issues. I have only had one failure using a PBL Sub due to a piece of wood (possibly from the set back area) wedging in the seat.

I would like a reliable pressure activated sub to be used while drilling to save the time it takes to pump the two ball sets down.

Wellbore Intervention Ltd in Aberdeen have the PACS tool used mainly for wellbore cleanups and coil tubing applications. Barry Webster is current contact.

The largest PACS tool available at the moment is 3 3/8” OD. This tool has been run on jointed pipe and is currently being run in south America on a thru-tubing drilling project on 2 7/8” pipe. These tools have 2 3/8” PAC DSI connections but could be provided with alternative connections if required. There are currently 2 x 3 3/8” rental tools available.

An 8” OD tool is under development and is expected to be completed by the end of April. This is being designed with 6 5/8” Regular connections. A 6 "” OD tool with 4 "” IF connections is planned following completion of the 8” tool so this would be about 8 weeks later, around end of June before it was available.

Does anyone in the forum know of a similar tool that has already been field tested? Failing that, it would be nice to get feedback from anyone that uses the tools mentioned above.

Tom MacRae
Senior Drilling Supv
Documents uploaded by user:
3.38 PACS Tool WBI.pdf
Central Sales Manager
Total Posts: 5
Join Date: 10/02/09
In general, my opinion is that the reliability of drilling valves has increased over the past 2-3 years. So too has their flexibility of function (eg. ability to lock open without relying on flow / By-pass ball catchers to permit function of ball operated tools below- or even wireline access/ flow splitting while drilling).

The potential for problems are greater in harsher environments such as deeper and longer reach wells, so in my experience there tends to be more issues with the smaller tool sizes. It should be noted however that there can be varying levels of issues and not all result in significant NPT.

As with everything, information on the reliability of these types of tools is crucial when considering which valves to use. This type of information should be readily available from the service provider.

If you require any specific information on reliability of the Well Commander in Germany please contact me direct and I will forward on to my colleagues who can address your concerns.

Mark Temple
QA/QC Subsea Wellhead Specialist
Total Posts: 87
Join Date: 06/05/09
Peter - We ran PBL's in all of our BHA's for 22 wells (~15,000 MD) off of two platforms, and had but a single failure (the tool wouldn't close).

RCFA led us to believe the cause was a failure to service the tool before sending it to our operations, and this was following that tool's multiple trips (two or three via workboat) throughout the Arabian Gulf.

James Drouin
Central Sales Manager
Total Posts: 5
Join Date: 10/02/09
You firstly have to decide what is a malfunction.

Did the tool cycle?
Did the tool part cycle?
Was the malfunction operator error?
Was the tool functioned within advised operating parameters.

I would check the failure categories, from experience most issues I´ve seen with drop ball circulation vales is the ball not getting to the point of activation and operator error, pumping the ball at too high pump rate.

George Stewart
Central Sales Mgr
Drilling Supervisor
Total Posts: 55
Join Date: 11/09/10

I don't have any hard facts for you, but...

I too would like an alternative to the PBL sub. I have used it sucessfully several times, but in my experience the sub is generally pulled (having never been functioned downhole) because:
1. The subs begins to leak at the ports.
2. The connection between the circ sub and the ball catcher does not have a pin cut with a stress relieving groove - I have seen several washouts at this connection.

I have also seen the tool used incorrectly, which results in a trip OOH:
1. Operator error - wrong ball dropped, or poor operating practices.
2. Wrong procedures used - whenever the sub arrives on the rig, the paperwork you get is very general and covers all the sizes and types of PBL subs that they have ever made.
3. With the ball on seat, the pump rate selected is not high enough to ensure that the spring remains fully compressed, the sleeve traveled the complete distance and the ports are fully open. The sleeve then cylces open and closed and the SPP is seen to surge.


Neil Guthrie
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