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Tying back to the future - part one

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Oilfield Technology,

In the first part of a two-part article, Svein Strømberg, Baker Hughes, explores how investment emphasis in subsea projects has shifted from high-profile standalone developments to exploitation of existing discoveries.

Lower costs, improved productivity and increased yield. These have always been the goals of the global energy industry. However, after the exceptionally difficult business conditions of the past five years and current market volatility, this mantra has become more meaningful than ever. It is now the driver of significant advances in technology, design methodologies and integrated implementation processes.

The past few years have re-shaped the energy industry and locked in a new way of doing things. For example, the industry has made solid progress when it comes to reducing the average costs of subsea projects. Indeed, offshore tie-backs to existing hosts can now be considered competitive with certain onshore basins, such as some shale production.

Investment emphasis has also moved away from high-profile standalone developments, which have potential for big rewards but come with higher risk of cost overruns and delayed returns. Instead the focus is now on more tactical exploitation of existing discoveries, converting contingent resources to reserves. Priorities are now shorter cycle: adding cost-effective capacity to existing pumping processes, for example, or maximising extraction at lower lifting cost.

The significance of small differences

In these circumstances, increasing margins is not just a question of increasing capacity. Instead, it is about creating significant impact from small differences across the entire value chain and developing the capability of identifying where those small changes can be most effectively made.

Baker Hughes believes there are significant volumes of contingent resources that can be made economic by adopting a new approach to product development and supply (Rystad data indicates this volume could be as much as 16 billion boe). Research by Baker Hugjes suggests that the economic development point of subsea projects can be reduced by an average of 30%.

Nonetheless, these small changes do require a big shift in mindset. It requires meaningful partnerships between suppliers and operators at a much earlier stage in the design and development process. Digital tools, planning and risk management are central to that process. To reach the economic target, it is imperative to design flexibility and modularity into subsea technology.

The potential of tie-back capabilities

Developments in tie-back technology are just one illustration of the value that can be created. The industry has come a long way since tie-back connections of 2 – 3 km were considered extraordinary and has continued to push the boundaries of technical capability to tie-back fields. From fibre optic cabling to vessel size, all have expanded aggressively – as have the number of potential reservoirs that could be exploited in a financially viable way.

Today, we are looking at tie-back distances of more than 100 km. Fields in the Gulf of Mexico that have been producing since the 1970s and have reached what was considered to be end-of-life, can now realistically increase their capacity by using tie-back technology to keep pipelines running.

By having advanced technology in terms of tie-back capabilities, another shift is under way as firms like Baker Hughes endeavour to extract redundant costs through improved design.

As with the components of the company's Aptara TOTEX-lite subsea system, Baker Hughes has been re-thinking its tie-back technologies to make them modular, structured, compact and more responsive to changing conditions across the life of field.

That means looking at materials in a new way, for example, by bringing in composite materials from the aerospace industry to create pipes that are vastly lighter than traditional products. That can achieve significant cost savings: there may be initial front-loaded expenditure, but eventually fewer materials means fewer costs and less impact on the environment.

Although making things less expensive and lighter weight is essential, re-thinking design goes beyond that. The fundamental design can present further opportunities to remove costs that have traditionally been overlooked. In this case, the company has re-designed the flow path of the Aptara tree, which means they require fewer valves and smaller valve blocks. Fewer components means lower costs, and less risk.

Part two of this article is available to read here:

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Subsea news Digital oilfield news