LIFE AFTER OFFSHORE EUROPE: PART II

When I gave the last blog this title, it did not occur to me that I would start stirring up memories, even if mostly very good ones.

What I received – a comment available for all to read – was a very heartfelt missive from the estimable Ian Ball. I think that whenever one decides to depart – whether a position or this earth – one has to mull over things from the past which are usually somewhat bittersweet. Fortunately, Ian is simply hanging up his ‘subsea’ boots to enjoy some time ‘up north’ without anymore biz trips to India or even to Aberdeen.

My entry into the subsea world (circa 1984) was post-UMC, so I did not know Ian during his early time with Shell. I first encountered him after he had been seconded to Norsk Hydro and was working on the TOGI team. What a great time that was. Operators, to be honest mostly Norwegians, had the time, money and enthusiasm to embark on epic projects without the expectation or assurance that the ideas would work. Just consider the challenges that confronted the Troll Oseberg Gas Injection project which aimed to bring gas from a reservoir on the western fringe of the giant Troll structure to support oil production from the main Oseberg reservoir. The water depth was just over 300m – there had been no production in the North Sea even beyond 200m at that time (Magnus at 185m?) – with a proposed tieback distance of 48km. These depths and distances are no longer seen as quite so daunting, but they were game-stoppers back then.

Just consider what had to be tested and proven before the project could even get started: installation of trees in North Sea conditions in waters beyond what had been done before; remote pull-in of the largest pipe (20in) installed to date in such waters; and the development and testing of a control system for the longest subsea tieback ever attempted, amongst other issues. It was a project that devoured money and engineering prowess for the better part of a decade before it came onstream in 1992. I know – because Ian told me – that probably the biggest disappointment of his career was not to be appointed project manager on TOGI – it had to be a Norwegian because that was the way things were.

Ian came back to the UK and there were more challenges to come. He got to be Shell’s man on Foinaven, in its own way a historic project even if there were some major screw-ups enroute – 400m water depth, special steel manifolds, an fpso that was cut in half with a new mid-section installed, et al, in an environment West of Shetlands that was more extreme than even the North Sea.

And then later, there was his relationships in India where he assisted Reliance in getting India’s first deepwater subsea system in the water. Quite a CV. Hey mate, the next pint is on me.

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Speaking of the North Sea and deepwater, things are moving on and down. In Norway, Equinor announced first production at Snefrid North, a subsea satellite to the Asta Hansteen gas production spar, in 1,309m.

Back over on our side of the median line, Siccar Point Energy is revving up the West of Shetlands Cambo prospect, inherited from OMV, in 1,100m. Singapore yard Sembcorp Marine which owns the intellectual rights to the Sevan Marine circular fpso designs has picked up the front-end work for the floater for this project and is said to be the favourite to build it as well. I think I saw that BHGE is doing the subsea side.

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So what came out of Offshore Europe, besides the introduction of the spanking new P&J Live events centre? At least there should be no more boiling hot tents or leaking roofs.

Let’s start with the lingo: if data and digital are not in your vocabulary, you might as well be using esperanto. It seems like the oil business is no longer about dirty hands and, who knows, it might never be again. To wit, how is AI going to change the offshore world? Robots plus drones plus digital tools will provide a new approach to inspection and equipment integrity. Look ma, no hands!

And how will this manifest itself? How about a digital twin? That is, a virtual model of a physical asset which evolves to reflect changes to the operational status and integrity of the equipment. Now this is interesting as it could result in a reliability approach suggested years ago, ie replace mean time to failure or between failures (MTTF/MTBF) to MFOP or maintenance free operating period which would allow equipment to be replaced before it fails. That is, unless whoever is in charge says ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t replace it.’ Hmm.

Is the oil biz filled with dinosaurs? It could be (see above) and Total headman Patrick Pouyanne fears it could get worse unless there is some new thinking very fast.

Question: what happens when you try to put one of the new generation super-heavy BOP stacks on a legacy wellhead? Could be ugly with all remaining fatigue life going in a flash. Trendsetter Vulcan Offshore has developed a Wellhead Fatigue Mitigation System based around a lightweight tethered BOP. It could be used for exploration wells, but more likely for re-entry and P&A work on older wells.

And what’s happening in the subsea world? It’s still about savings as it has been for more than four years now. Aker Solutions’ ‘intelligent subsea’ ( who ever said subsea was stupid?) aims to reduce engineering hours by 70% using automated designs. Sounds great for the client, not so good for the engineering personnel. As for BHGE’s Subsea Connect, it says it will reduce life of field development costs by 30% using its new Aptara line in equipment which includes a lightweight compact tree and compact block manifold.

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I just would like to apologise to anyone who hoped to see me last week in Aberdeen. Hoping to make some money next year which might get me to Stavanger or even to Houston for OTC. Taking a break now for a couple of weeks. Back in early October.

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