Fircroft: North Sea oil firms need to think small to win big

Published: 12 Sep 2018 By Fircroft

Oil and Gas Sector

That’s the thinking behind an initiative which aims to create a new generation of small-scale oil production platforms that will be able to unlock hard-to-reach oil reserves across the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS).

At present there are 360 small pools (also referred to as marginal fields) off the coast of the UK which are estimated to hold 3.2 billion barrels of oil equivalent (BOE). Reaching these pools, in a way which makes financial sense, has proven to be a significant challenge for the Oil & Gas industry.

The NUI concept fills a gap between pure subsea developments and full sized floating production systems.
(Image via Crondall Energy).

But, Crondall Energy and the Oil & Gas Technology Centre (OGTC) believe they may have found a solution. Together with international oil and gas firms, the two organisations are exploring whether a compact, moveable and remotely operated buoy could be used to exploit these small, marginal resources- at a profit.

This floating Normally Unattended Installation (NUI) as its been named, has been developed as a floating production concept with new automation technology playing a central part in ensuring the facility is as efficient to run as possible. Crondall Energy state that this new type of production facility is ‘suitable for the development of small oil and gas accumulations in water depths where fixed facilities are not viable. Whilst exclusively leveraging proven technologies, the design of the facility features several (patented) innovations that differentiate it from other small production systems, in turn offering attractive benefits in capability, technical safety, capex, opex, installation and redeployment.’

The NUI concept, ‘fills a gap between pure subsea developments and full sized floating production systems, and can either operate as a stand-alone development with subsea wells or in support of longer and more complex subsea tie-backs. The compact nature of the facility delivers a low capex development solution, whilst the ‘not-normally-manned’ configuration drives low opex’.

The concept is now being studied in-depth by the Oil & Gas Technology Centre’s Facility of the Future programme with additional support being provided by Premier Oil, Total E&P UK, Lloyds Register, Siemens, BW Offshore and others. As part of this study, the project partners will evaluate a generic opportunity for a field in the Northern North Sea, in 150m water depth, producing 20,000 bopd of oil with a low to medium gas ratio.

Commenting on the study, Chris Pearson, Marginal Discoveries Solution Centre Manager at the Oil & Gas Technology Centre, said:

“New, smarter and more automated ways of developing oil and gas fields are required if we’re to fully unlock marginal discoveries and maximise economic recovery from the UKCS. The Facility of the Future initiative will help to significantly reduce life-cycle costs and strengthen the investment case for both marginal discoveries and more traditional reservoirs.”

“Oil & Gas is playing catch-up with many industries when it comes to automation and remote operations. We’re exploring how the combination of existing and new technology can be best used in the offshore environment to improve safety, reduce life cycle cost and increase efficiency”.

The new Normally Unmanned Installation will bring numerous behinds including savings on capex and opex.
(Image via Crondall Energy).

There’s a big future, in thinking small

As we’ve previously written here on EngineeringPro, as the UK Continental Shelf matures we are seeing the emergence of a new paradigm:

“We have observed how a new generation of independent operators are ‘taking the baton’ from the legacy oil majors, buying up their operational assets and seeking to produce oil in a leaner, more profitable way by pursuing marginal gains. Consider the example… of Chrysaor becoming the largest independent operator in the North Sea following their acquisition of £2.9 billion of North Sea assets from Shell. Other examples include Blackstone-backed Siccar purchasing £1bn worth of North Sea assets from Austria’s OMV and private-equity backed Neptune agreeing to buy a majority stake in Engie’s exploration and production business”.

With independents looking to profit from the North Sea’s oil reserves in a way that the oil majors haven’t, it’s clear that new technologies and concepts such as Crondall Energy’s Normally Unattended Installation (NUI) will play an important role in making this happen.

So, expect to see a wealth of new job types and disciplines cropping up over the coming decades as North Sea Oil & Gas companies begin to deploy new technologies that will help them profit from remaining reserves.

By thinking small, North Sea oil firms can win big.


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