The UK energy sector has come a long way over the last 50 years.
Since oil was first discovered in the UK North Sea, the industry has made a succession of technological leaps, many of which have spawned developments in other areas of everyday life.
Engineering, manufacturing, electronics, even apparently unconnected arenas such as fishing and motor sports: all have moved forward thanks in part to energy industry-inspired advances.
The last decade in particular has seen a spike in innovative solutions. These have been primarily focused on maximising recovery from the basin at minimum cost – and without compromising safety.
This technological push has been driven by dramatic fluctuations in oil price and uncertainty of supply. Regardless of how far technology can take us, these factors will remain in play.
It is this reality that has spurred operators on to take one of two business approaches: either be innovative in the proven, yet diminishing basin; or move overseas into new, undiscovered or undeveloped areas – areas which carry much potential but also greater insecurity.
In either case the cost exposure is a huge factor; whether it reflects the peril of launching a campaign in a new environment, hoping that the next wildcat will not run dry; or investing in technology that can reliably withstand the strains of high pressure, high temperature and highly corrosive environments.
The UK Continental Shelf
According to the findings of the 2014 Wood Review, supported by data compiled by industry body Oil & Gas UK, the equivalent of up to 24 billion barrels of oil may still lie in the UK Continental Shelf, on top of the 42 billion already produced. The report recognised, however, that a number of actions is required for this to happen; alongside regulatory and fiscal changes, the need for closer co-operation between operators and investment in improved oil recovery (IOR) was also raised.
“While ageing assets are a factor, there are strong signs that under-investment in assets and sufficient uptake of improved oil recovery (IOR) and enhanced oil recovery (EOR) techniques will have a significantly adverse effect on maximising economic recovery for the UK,” the report reads.
“It is acknowledged that some EOR schemes are costly and complex to operate, but industry must be encouraged to invest more in these schemes to avoid leaving significant value behind."
The difficulties faced by companies producing offshore are highly familiar to Maritime Developments, a UK supplier of back-deck equipment for the installation and retrieval of subsea umbilicals, risers and flowlines (SURF products) for some of the major global operators.
Cost-efficiency starting on deck
Hard oil exploration in challenging conditions translates into longer contracts, higher day rates and the need for more equipment on the back of a vessel; in all, a significant increase in costs. Based on the type of equipment repeatedly ordered by industry majors for projects in the North Sea as well as international basins, such as the Gulf of Mexico, Brazil’s deep waters or in the Indian Ocean, the company quickly learnt the premium value of the deck space available on a vessel.
“The back-deck is a highly valuable space, and has to be respected,” says Derek Smith, Maritime Developments’ Chief Executive.
“When you design a piece of equipment for a client to use on a vessel, you have to recognise you are not the only service supplier involved; most likely, there will be a dozen other companies supplying their own equipment to support the operator’s project.
“The footprint of this collective package decides what size of vessel the operator will require for the job; and – to take that one step further – the smaller the vessel, the lower the overall cost incurred.”
High performance pipelines
With that in mind, and following a series of meetings with energy service suppliers in the UK and overseas, the company decided to embrace the principles of the Wood Review into its own operations. It did so by entering into a partnership with a Portsmouth-based manufacturer of high performance pipelines, Magma Global.
Magma’s carbon fibre and PEEK polymer pipe, the m-pipe®, has the capacity to withstand high flow rates, pressures and temperatures thanks to its composite microstructure. In comparison to conventional steel, aluminium and titanium solutions, the m-pipe is significantly lighter, yet dramatically more resistant to highly corrosive and aggressive fluids. The micro-structure of the m-pipe allows for ultra-deepwater applications where conventional steel and non-bonded flexible risers have reached their operational limits.
All these attributes can potentially contribute to increased safety, reliability and viability of intervention operations.
The cost-saving benefits of the m-pipe extend even further, when considering the prerequisites for its deployment and retrieval using back-deck equipment.
“M-pipe has been designed to address ongoing challenges faced by oil and gas operators, including the need to maximise production from existing fields by more effective light well intervention,” says Steve Hatton, Magma’s Technical Director.
“The key to cost reduction it is to put it on a reeling system which allows us to deploy it fast and reliably for many years – over a period of up to 25 years, when normally the competing technology would be damaged or suffer from fatigue failures and need to be replaced.”
Emphasis on footprint
In order to maximise the potential return on investment for the operator who chooses to use Magma’s unique product, Maritime Developments has designed a compact back-deck solution, keeping the most efficient footprint at the forefront of the concept.
The integrated reeler and tensioner system can operate and store the pipe on a minimal footprint. Because of the light weight of the pipe and therefore low tension required to operate it, the structural design of the solution is much simpler than that designed for non-bonded and steel pipes.
“Our role in this partnership was to engineer a cost-effective and safe solution to optimise the use of the m-pipe,” Smith says.
“This project was perfectly suited for Maritime Developments, as it allowed us to marry our innovative approach to back-deck solutions with the vast variety of proven elements we have delivered in our systems over the years.
“To put a reeler and tensioner together in a concise package carried a few challenges, and the final design was the consequence of constructive communication between us, Magma and the end users to find the ideal solution for this special product.”
The design of the reeler complements the functionality of the pipe, allowing for a significant cost reduction for the duration of an offshore project, as Hatton explains: “This collaboration allows us to bring to the market two state-of-the-art products and integrate them into an efficient solution, which is the key to cost reduction.
“It allows the operator to opt for a small vessel with a low day rate and when it is offshore it can be handled in the most efficient manner, with a short delivery and retrieval time.”
However, the success of the collaborative approach between the two companies goes beyond the short-term benefits to the operators, as the joint venture targets the well intervention market as its first point of call.
“Our ongoing partnership with Maritime Developments facilitates a stepwise improvement in current intervention capabilities, combining a high specification pipe with an efficient on-deck delivery system,” Hatton says.
“If you can get back to doing light well intervention successfully and cheaply – which is what the industry wants to do – and get more oil from every well, there is a huge potential return from this solution.”
Magma recognises the m-pipe is a high end product, due to the materials used in its production; however, combined with Maritime Developments’ compact handling system, the solution offers one possible answer to the call for action in the Wood Review. With reduced operational risks when deployed in challenging conditions and a fatigue-resistant structure particularly suited for well intervention, prolonged field life and maximised recovery become a reality within reach – in which case return on investment becomes more than a material concept for individual parties.
Edited for web by Cecilia Rehn