Signa Engineering Corp. - Litigation Support Disciplines

Litigation Discipline

Summary Paragraph

Casing Failures

Tubulars are the lifeline between your downhole resources and the surface. When casing or production strings are mishandled in the field, that lifeline can be severed. Other times, an improperly-drilled well can lead to premature parting. Or, if the tubulars weren’t manufactured up to spec, they can fail despite proper care. Signa engineers analyze the root cause behind casing failures, and then explain the fine details in an easy-to-understand report. Our expert witnesses provide testimony for their opinions in deposition and trial.

Personal Injury

The energy industry is composed of many moving parts. So when a worker’s health is compromised during an oilfield operation, it’s important to tell the entire story. You need to explain the details in a clear, concise manner to ensure a fair and honest judgment. Signa engineers determine the root cause that led to the death or injury, and then explain everything in an easy-to-understand report. Our expert witnesses provide testimony for their opinions in deposition and trial.  

Patent Infringement

Patents are what protect your unique contributions to the energy industry. Our patent expert engineers have extensive experience working with patent cases, and one of SIgna's experts (George Medley, PE) was named inventor on a patent. We understand the process from claim construction to claim limitation. Our experts have done prior art searches for numerous cases and understand how to prove invalidity, or to demonstrate that certain prior art is not applicable. Our expert witnesses have provided testimony in deposition and in the courtroom, including Markman hearings. Signa has experience with the Inter Partes Review process, having provided reports or expert witness testimony in several IPR cases.

Intellectual Property

Mr. Rick Stone, P.E., started Signa Engineering Corp. in 1992 and remains as Chairman/CEO. As such, he was involved in the startup of a globally recognized, registered, petroleum engineering company. This included the development (and subsequent protection) of intellectual property unique to Signa. Mr. Stone, along with Executive Vice-President George Medley, P.E., understand the importance of such property to a company’s success. Together, they have worked for numerous operators and service companies (such as Anadarko, Halliburton, and Schlumberger) with trade secrets that necessitate confidentiality agreements. Likewise, they have represented plaintiffs and defendants in multiple cases involving intellectual property, including expert reports, depositional testimony, and trial appearances.

Equipment Failures

Understanding oilfield equipment can be difficult, especially for those who haven’t operated any (or even seen it). Explaining how these tools work is vital for gaining an edge in the depositional and trial phases of a lawsuit. Since 1992, Signa engineers have designed the layouts for leading-edge technology, and operated equipment on location, around the globe. This experience allows our experts to explain the mechanisms to all legal stakeholders. The details are spelled out in a concise, easy-to-understand report, which utilizes elementary graphics to tell the entire story. Our expert witnesses also provide testimony for their opinions in deposition and trial.

Operational Errors

In the event of a catastrophic loss at the wellsite, there are often disagreements over which parties share in the liability. Signa has managed drilling projects for operators and vendors around the globe. We also provide onsite consultants who act as the operator’s representative. This gives us insight into their responsibilities and culpability during field operations. In legal cases, we determine all factors that contributed to the operational error, and then explain everything in an easy-to-understand report. Our expert witnesses provide testimony for opinions in deposition and trial.


Case Histories

Casing Failures

  • Signa has represented both plaintiffs and defendants for numerous recent failures of P-110 grade casing and connections. Some were due to manufacturing issues; however, our experts have shown that a high number of failures can be traced back to errors in hole design and operational misuse.

  • Signa proved an operator did not perform a formal casing design, but instead used a cookie-cutter casing design from an offset well without reevaluation. Through research and testimony, Signa proved P-110 was the incorrect grade for the downhole environment.
  • Our team of experts showed improper casing-running resulted in excessive stresses. In this case, the stresses caused cold-working of the steel, which led to premature failure. The operator was responsible for the excessive operational issues that damaged the casing.
  • A Signa expert witness testified that P-110 casing is highly susceptible to acid gases such as H2S and CO2. In this case, the operator improperly used high-strength casing in the sour gas environment. Using graphics and written verbiage, Signa explained the limited P-110 envelope in the presence of either CO2 or H2S.
  • Signa has shown (in reports and testimony) that P-110 casing and connection failures resulted from operational errors rather than manufacturing oversights.

Personal Injury

  • Our team represented a client in the Macondo blowout that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Signa was deposed and our client was dismissed as a defendant.
  • Signa demonstrated that a service company was not responsible (either by omission or commission) for a personal injury/fatality incurred by a third party.
  • Signa engineers demonstrated that an operator was not responsible for personal injury/fatality after a wellhead was damaged by forklift operator error.
  • Our team investigated casing that fell out of position during makeup. Signa demonstrated the derrick was not centered over the hole, making casing handling hazardous.
  • Signa showed how a failure in a BOP stack element occurred during Managed Pressure Drilling, resulting in a blowout, extensive property damage, and injuries to the crew.
  • Signa engineers testified at trial to demonstrate how an injury was not caused by the client or client’s equipment during tripping operations at the rigsite.

Patent Infringement

  • Signa showed that a number of downhole tool patents were infringed upon, and that a person of ordinary skill in the art (POSITA) would have understood the relevant technology in the accused’s submitted patents was infringing upon that technology.
  • Our team demonstrated the true inventor of an air drilling process after a patent was issued for that technique.
  • Signa's team of engineers and graphics specialists reviewed several multilateral drilling processes to determine if a patent had been infringed upon. Extensive application studies were conducted with an economist on economic projections (10-year span) to demonstrate the monetary setback suffered by the patent holder.
  • Signa engineers answered technical questions in a patent case involving the use of numerous patented well-treatment services. Signa analyzed well treatment service records to determine the patent had been infringed upon.

Intellectual Property

  • Signa experts provided research that showed theft of trade secrets regarding blowout preventer (BOP) technology.
  • A team of Signa engineers and graphics specialists reviewed several multilateral drilling processes to determine if a patent had been infringed upon. Extensive application studies were conducted with an economist on economic projections (10-year span) to demonstrate the monetary setback suffered by the patent holder.
  • Signa researched and answered technical questions involving the use of numerous patented well-treatment services. Experts analyzed well treatment service records to determine the patent had been infringed upon.

Equipment Failures

  • Signa testified for a case in which a blowout preventer (BOP) stack element failed during Managed Pressure Drilling (MPD), causing extensive property damage and injuries.
  • Signa testified as to the exact cause of a blowout and destruction of an oil well. Testimony involved clarifying drilling fluids, drillstring depth, downhole equipment, and illustrating the destructive elements that caused the fire.
  • Our team demonstrated that extensive surface damage and downhole damage to a well was caused by equipment failure, not improper operation.
  • Our engineers reviewed an HIS coupling failure and performed torque and drag analysis to show the root cause of the failure.
  • Signa analyzed a case in which a tubing part had occurred, but demonstrated that operational error had actually caused the loss of the well.
  • Signa demonstrated a section of the bottom hole assembly (drilling jars) failed and caused a profit loss for the turnkey contractor.

Operations Errors

  • Signa expert was deposed and testified at trial regarding regulatory changes in the wake of the Macondo blowout.
  • Signa conducted multiple research projects to clearly define industry-accepted practices with regards to operators in the oilfield.
  • Signa's team of experts investigated a contract lawsuit in which the operator had spent tens of millions of the client's money without performing the objectives in the development plan. Our engineer testified at trial to prove the operator had not performed according to operator standards as outlined in the contract.
  • Signa testified as to the exact cause of a blowout and destruction of an oil well. Testimony involved clarifying drilling fluids, drillstring depth, downhole equipment, and illustrating the destructive elements that caused the fire.
  • Signa investigated a groundwater and soil contamination case on a sensitive oil and gas operations site. Our team of engineers and writing/graphics specialists combined petroleum engineering, geology, environmental science and geo-hydrology to resolve the case.
  • Signa investigated a case regarding a defendant's right to dump waste in a specified area.
  • Our team analyzed a multi-well drilling operation in a severe sour gas field (H2S, CO2) to determine if the operator was performing the necessary safety initiatives required by law.

Well Control

  • Since 2011, Texas has experienced 78 blowouts and well control events, leading to at least 13 injuries and two deaths. In the Gulf of Mexico, 109 incidents were recorded from 1980-2011, the highest profile being the deadly Macondo disaster of April 2010. Well control events can also lead to equipment damage, environmental pollution, and loss of reserves.
  • Evaluation of well control events, blowouts in particular, requires a highly technical analysis to understand what happened, why it happened, and who is responsible. Signa Engineering Corp. has testified and provided litigation support for dozens of blowout cases over the past decade, including the Macondo disaster. Our expert witness capabilities are made possible by our engineering disciplines:
  • Signa routinely designs procedures and contingency plans for high-pressure, high-temperature (HPHT) wells. 
  • Signa engineers are pioneers in Underbalanced Drilling (UBD) and Managed Pressure Drilling (MPD), which requires continuous dynamic pressure manipulation to prevent loss of well control. 
  • Signa develops hydraulic softwares that guide the operator through problematic wells to avoid well control events.
  • Signa teaches a recognized MPD training course, which instructs students on equipment, processes, and techniques utilized to maintain dynamic well control. 

In most drilling operations, a well control incident is any unplanned circumstance where the drilling fluid no longer maintains the primary barrier containing formation pressure. Loss of well control can result in a “kick,” or net positive pressure at the surface, when the pressure exerted by the drilling mud is allowed to fall below reservoir pressure. Well control events require correctly trained personnel, properly maintained equipment, and frequently rehearsed procedures in order to safely regain primary control of the well. Failure in any part of the system can result in catastrophic consequences. 

Flame Retardant Clothing (FRC)

  • In the last two years, at least three multiple-fatality incidents have occurred at Texas oil and gas wellsites. In some cases, regulatory agencies have cited the operating company for not ensuring the use of fire-resistant clothing (FRC) by personnel.
  • The initial fine can be relatively small. However, the citation can set a precedent for subsequent litigation. Oilfield lawsuits involving personal injury or fatalities can easily reach into the tens of millions of dollars.
  • Signa Engineering Corp. has a history of representing clients with complex oilfield cases, specifically litigation that involves equipment failure, operational errors, and usage of FRC. Understanding these difficult concepts, and being able to explain them, is vital for the depositional and trial phases of the lawsuit.
  • Signa's team of litigation experts have managed projects for operators and vendors on drilling, workover and completion projects. We also provide onsite consultants who act as the operator’s representative, which gives us insight into their responsibilities and culpability during field operations.

Root Cause Analysis (RCA)

When an incident occurs in the oilfield, it can impact many lives, both physically and financially. The litigation process that follows is typically trying to resolve multiple issues: What happened, why, and who is ultimately responsible?

To answer these issues, it is imperative to identify the "root cause" of the incident, or why it occurred in the first place. A problem-solving method called Root Cause Analysis (RCA) can be used to determine the exact origin of a problem. RCA uses a step-by-step approach to find the individual cause-and-effect sequence of events leading up to an incident. 
root-cause1
From an engineering standpoint, it is important to identify all the events that preceded the incident. 
root-cause2
Signa Engineering Corp. uses RCA as a framework to assist attorneys in questioning witnesses and analyzing witness depositions. Frequently, there is a great deal of information that must be organized and cross-referenced. Signa uses the RCA event sequence as a basis for comparing individual witness statements. This helps to resolve conflicts by demonstrating which statements are supported by a preponderance of evidence.  The final result is a highly defensible engineering opinion, supported by both technical analysis and eyewitness accounts.

Contact

Signa represents both Plaintiffs and Defendants for onshore and offshore litigation cases. Our references and resumes are available by request. For more information, contact Randy Ireland, Senior Engineer, at 281-774-3124, or e-mail him at litigationsupport@signa.net

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