Not long ago the petroleum age was supposed to be ending - giving way, that is, to a pollution-free era of bits and bytes. But a funny thing happened on the way to the future. Information technology actually extended the oil industry's reign as the biggest business in the world. Thanks to computers, cars and power plants have become more efficient. Just as importantly, oil has become easier to find, cheaper to lift and safer to transport. New offshore production technology, much of it Norwegian, has revalidated oil's role as the prime motor for economic growth. We may well end up driving hydrogen-powered cars and tapping the sun for electricity, but until then the world will run on fossil fuels.
Norway-based supply and contracting companies have developed technology and services for low-cost, high-safety exploration and production in any offshore environment. The companies profiled in this publication are determined to build a clean and secure hydrocarbon bridge to the future.
Norway's technology companies are involved in oil exploration and production across the globe, from West Africa to North America, from Asia to South America, and from the Caspian Basin to the tiny Faroe Islands. Their business portfolios reflect a commitment to "game-changing" technological scenarios that have led to a fundamental shift in oilfield economics. Examples include the development of subsea-to-shore field development concepts and highly intelligent well completions. These companies adapt to the cultures and cost structures of host countries while working towards three overriding goals: narrowing the cost gap between onshore and offshore production, maximizing recovery, and helping develop resources hidden in waters up to 4,000 metres deep. "Technology and know-how are advancing faster than ever before," comments Rune Strömquist, senior vice president of ABB Oil, Gas and Petrochemicals. "The challenge is to put the technology to use as effectively as possible."
Best on Price
First-generation North Sea oil platforms - such as the gravity-based Statfjord and Gullfaks structures - continue to rank among the most ambitious and profitable engineering feats in industrial history. Norway's think-big era peaked in 1995 with the installation of the Troll A gas platform, the largest ever. For generations to come it will remain the most important single source of gas for Europe. Yet even as the 472-metre-high concrete wellhead structure was being built, its designers had shifted their focus to floating and subsea configurations that were smaller, lighter and cheaper. The latter led to a 60 per cent cut in the costs associated with field development in the second half of the 1990s. Costs fell in other countries, too, but Norway's progress erased forever a reputation for high costs stemming from the early days of North Sea activity.
Some Norwegian offshore contractors and suppliers claim that development costs can be cut a further 50 per cent, and operating costs even more. In addition to complete field-development concepts and structures, Norwegian companies also offer drilling equipment, subsea production and processing gear, advanced downhole monitoring and control systems, multiphase metering devices and seismic service - to name but a few.
Some of the most renowned names include Aker Maritime, Kvaerner Oil & Gas and ABB Oil, Gas & Petrochemicals. As everyone in the oil business knows, these companies compete in every market in the world and provide a vast array of systems and services. Other major players include FMC Kongsberg Subsea in subsea systems, Petroleum Geo-Services (PGS) in seismic services, Kongsberg Simrad in dynamic positioning and Smedvig in well construction.
As Norway's continental shelf has matured from an offshore boom area to a laboratory for exportable technology, hundreds of additional Norwegian companies and institutions have fanned out around the world offering price-competitive niche services. These range from Reservoir Laboratories, which uses nuclear magnetic resonance to analyze core samples, to FRAS, which develops technology for extending the time span between fluid changes in hydraulic machinery.
Exploring for Profits
As the steward of the world's richest offshore oil province, Norway learned early to map every promising cranny and capstone below its seabed so that oil companies could go to work in a rational way. For the past decade, Norwegian seismic and geophysical specialists have applied this knowledge all over the world. With its fleet of V-shaped Ramform vessels and other streamer ships equipped with electronic equipment, PGS is a global leader in 2D and 3D multi-component seismic surveys. It performs them on either a multi-client or contract basis. In September 2001, PGS's Victory deployed a record-breaking 16-streamer configuration while conducting the industry's largest-ever single-source, high-density 3D (HD3D) seismic survey. The survey of some 2,500 square kilometres was shot in only four months in the Flotta Catchment Area in the UK sector of the North Sea.
Victory's UK project followed previous assignments carried out by the ship in West Africa and Brazil. "The introduction of such groundbreaking technology is a great step forward for marine seismic operations," says Anthony "Diz" Mackewn, president of PGS Geophysical. Less expensive 2D surveys are often the technology of choice for early reconnaissance in new-frontier basins. Expectations were high in 2001 when Multiwave Geophysical Co. of Bergen began the first major survey of the deepwater Taranaki Basin off northwest New Zealand. The New Zealand job was done under contract with Norway's TGS-NOPEC, a leading global provider of non-exclusive seismic data. Among TGS-NOPEC's accomplishments is one of the largest single 2D surveys ever recorded, covering 160,000 square kilometres in the deepwater region of the Gulf of Mexico.
For oil companies the real costs start to flow when drilling starts. Ocean Rig, Smedvig and Fred. Olsen Energy are among the global drilling contractors that offer solutions for staunching the flow of costs. Norwegian-owned drilling rigs are to be found in every offshore province on earth, and are expertly served by Norwegian equipment suppliers. One such example is National Oilwell's Norwegian subsidiary, formerly named Hitec. The company supplies innovative drilling systems, including cabins and complete drilling packages. Another is Maritime Hydraulics, whose revolutionary RamRig design saves space and lightens the load on deck. Kongsberg Simrad has dominated the global market for global positioning systems since the late 1970s and recently installed its trademark Integrated Automation System aboard several Pathfinder-class drilling vessels developed for R&B Falcon and Conoco. The system includes a Class 3 DP array, thruster controls and complete vessel automation and safety systems.
Norway's key supply companies are constantly reinventing their renowned floating production and FPSO concepts. Aker Maritime and ABB are the top designers of tension-leg platforms (TLPs) worldwide, while designs by Aker account for 20 per cent of the semisubmersible hulls ever constructed. The most advanced natural gas platform ever conceived - Åsgard B for Statoil - was Kvaerner's. A number of futuristic floater concepts are on the drawing board. ABB, Aker Maritime and Kvaerner are also developing new families of lightweight composite and titanium risers. Kvaerner Oilfield Products has developed a revolutionary Integrated Production Umbilical that provides fully integrated transportation and temperature control of multiphase well fluids while simultaneously conducting electric power, communications signals and hydraulic or injection fluids.
Quantum Leap Down
In the otherworldly environment 2,000 metres below the ocean surface, equipment repairs and adjustments are cost-prohibitive. Subsea production systems designed in Norway are therefore modular and virtually indestructible. An example is FMC Kongsberg Subsea's Integrated Subsea System (ISS), a novel drill-through well system with traditional tree and manifold functions combined in a retrievable Well Barrier Module (WBM). The system is designed for water depths down to 4,000 metres. "It's no coincidence that three of the four major subsea suppliers in the world have their main offices and development divisions in Norway," says a pleased Morten Wiencke, director of the Demo 2000 technology development programme. "They are ABB Offshore Systems, FMC Kongsberg Subsea and Kvaerner Oilfield Products."
These sometime competitors and sometime partners have much in common, one aspect being their commitment to boosting the profitability of small or marginal fields. A favoured technique is to install remote-controlled subsea production units with long tie-backs to existing infrastructure. Norwegian advances in subsea processing, power distribution and multiphase transportation have dramatically increased the potential length of tie-backs and will soon permit oil and gas from distant, deepwater fields to flow directly to relatively cheap facilities ashore.
Proven, standardized equipment enables Norwegian contractors to be aggressive in reducing a field operator's time to first oil - as when FMC Kongsberg Subsea installed a fast-track early production system in the ultra-deep Roncador Field for Brazil's Petrobras. Oil started flowing in January 1999, only seven months after the contract was signed. A high-tech gambit with immediate industry-wide repercussions was Norsk Hydro's installation of the world's first subsea separation and injection system. Called SUBSIS, the ABB prototype has worked like a charm, removing almost every drop of water from a 24 000 b/d wellstream and pumping it back into the Troll oil reservoir to boost pressure. Now ABB and Kvaerner have teamed up to further develop the SUBSIS concept on assignment for BP and Chevron.
In the ultradeep, where riser weight and platform capacity are major issues, the ability to shed produced water at the mudline could turn otherwise non-commercial fields into money-makers. ABB's subsea power distribution system, SEPDIS, is equally promising. Developed in concert with Framo Engineering as well as Shell, Statoil and Norsk Hydro, it eliminates one more platform function by distributing high-voltage electrical power to widely dispersed systems on the seabed.
Down the Hole
Some of the most productive recent advances in technology have taken place far below the seabed in the hellish confines of the well itself. Kvaerner Oilfield Products and Weir Pumps have developed the first downhole gravity separator, dubbed H-Sep. It uses a hydraulic pump employing gravity to separate oil and water in a horizontal portion of the well bore close to the reservoir, where high temperature and pressure help with the job. Norway's READ Process Engineering offers its own downhole separation system that solves the problem of unwanted gas production. It uses a patented process to separate and reinject both water and gas simultaneously (SWAG). By eliminating a host of flow-assurance problems, such systems promise huge cost savings. Reservoir description, interpretation and monitoring are well-researched in Norway.
Progress has been fast and furious as companies compete to provide smart completions, allowing operators to isolate and control reservoir zones in response to sensor information. Integrated 4C/4D seismic services - including seismic measurement while drilling (MWD) to improve geosteering - have begun to play an important role in maximizing production rates.
A Seismic Shift
Both PGS and Multiwave Geophysical Co. perform 4C/4D operations. PGS also operates two of the five "bottom cable" crews in the world. They lay cables directly on the seabed to obtain highly detailed reservoir descriptions using shear waves as well as conventional pressure waves. The READ Group has introduced permanent downhole sensor technology that monitors 4C/4D operations as well as the highly informative seismic signals generated by the reservoir structure itself as it trembles and cracks during years of drainage. Statoil and Norsk Hydro have built large virtual-reality centres that allow geophysicists to "wander through" complex structures in search of the best well locations. In the future, drill string operators will be able to sit in such facilities, hundreds of miles from the action, and direct a drill bit through pocket after pocket of very real oil.
Using reservoir-description techniques available today, DNO, a small Norwegian oil company, found untapped oil in fault blocks on the northern edge of its declining Heather Field in the UK, enabling the company to double daily production to a level last recorded in 1993. Another important player in reservoir management is Roxar, whose PROMAC system allows zone selection for production or injection through hydraulically operated downhole chokes. Able to monitor pressure, temperature, flow, water cut and sand volumes, the PROMAC system is a complete downhole production monitoring and control solution. Roxar recently expanded its capabilities by purchasing Fluenta, a Norwegian specialist in topside and subsea multiphase metering. In August 2001, Roxar won a contract to supply metering systems for BP's Nakika development in a part of the Gulf of Mexico where water depths reach 2 133 metres. "This is an important step towards a wider acceptance and use of multiphase metering technology in deepwater developments worldwide," says former Roxar CEO Torkell Gjerstad. It's another small step, that is, toward a cleaner and brighter oil future.