New opportunities for an old resource

A recent report by the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate estimates that there could still exist between 1.6 and 5.8 billion standard cubic metres (Sm³) of oil equivalents left to discover on the Norwegian shelf. The possibility is both tantalising and challenging for the Norwegian offshore industry.

In a sense, this is old news – overall estimates as to the total of undiscovered resources have not changed since 2003. However, one thing remains constant: oil and gas are resources that will not be around forever. For the Norwegian industry, easily attainable oil on the Norwegian Continental Shelf (NCS) is becoming scarcer. Consequently, subsea boosting technology, which allows marginal and mature fields to be exploited, is not simply an interesting alternative, but is increasingly an essential investment for the future of petroleum in Europe.
 
Speaking at the Offshore Europe Oil and Gas Conference in Aberdeen, September 2007, Malcolm Brinden, Executive Director of E&P, suggested that new technology could prolong the life of the North Sea fields and thus increase the potential of the area for international oil and gas companies. “If you look at the history, this industry has been incredibly successful at extending the life of the North Sea fields. In actual fact, when we first started in the late seventies, we thought we’d be out of here by 2000, rather than reaching a peak in production – and that was all about technology,” he said.
 
Technology is the key to the exploitation of marginal and mature fields. Investment throughout the nineties has brought with it the potential to extend the value of what remains. It is a key issue for the Norwegian government and industry. The fact must be faced that oil and gas are not renewable resources, and subsea boosting technology is the future. How long that future lasts will depend on how readily the opportunity to invest and utilise new technologies is embraced. Brinden admitted that steps must be taken in the next decade if they are to secure the resources whilst the infrastructure is available to do so. Time, like oil and gas, is not in endless supply, and Brinden explained that the fiscal and regulatory policies covering the industry must reflect the urgency of the situation.
 
Subsea boosting pumps and systems being manufactured in Norway are a key to the exploitation of these fields. The new technology additionally allows an optimistic view to be taken of potential oil discoveries in the Barents Sea. The NPD’s report, ‘Maintain Oil and Gas Estimates’ (24.9.07) predicts that around 30 percent of total petroleum volumes lie in the Barents Sea, 35 percent in the Norwegian Sea, and 35 percent in the North Sea. The report finds that “recent years’ exploration results in the Barents Sea have increased expectations for oil discoveries here, in part at the expense of expectations for gas.” Potential discoveries, combined with sensible investment and research in subsea boosting infrastructure, should prolong Norway’s position as a major petroleum power.
 
Malcolm Brinden, speaking to the Offshore Europe 2007 conference in Aberdeen, explained that steps must be taken in the next decade to secure resources through subsea boosting technology.

Market-Leading Subsea Boosting Technology
Norway’s pioneering status in the offshore industry has already naturally extended to subsea boosting technology, as efforts continue to exploit marginal and mature fields on its continental shelf. Framo Engineering and Aker Kværner are amongst those that can claim a worldwide market for their subsea boosting technology. “We have several products and solutions and we work worldwide. What we have is not just for Norway,” says Framo Engineering’s Helge Dale. “We have sold products on the Norwegian Continental Shelf, although that is not our main market,” he adds.
 
Bergen-based Framo Engineering, which was established in 1983, produces a range of products for the offshore industry, and works closely with oil and gas companies such as StatoilHydro, Shell and Mobil as it aims to provide total system solutions for the exploitation of marginal and mature fields. A healthy competition with Aker Kværner – the companies share a common Norwegian subsea academic research culture − has seen Framo excel in the production of Helicoaxial Multiphase Pumps, amongst other subsea technologies. The pumps are available in a number of configurations, but for subsea use, the pumps are generally vertically mounted with electric and hydraulic drive.
 
“We have industrial owners,” Dale explains. “We believe in having control over all stages of production and manufacturing all our own parts.” Framo thus offers complete systems, which are available to the market as inclusive packages, including subsea power and distribution systems, umbilical and topside power and control systems.
 
But, whilst the common perception of working in mature and marginal fields hardly inspires confidence in a long-term sales strategy, Dale is confident that in reality the opposite is the case. “It is definitely a long term market, and it is also a growing market. We too are expanding rapidly – in fact it is hard to expand ourselves as rapidly as the market is expanding,” he explains.
 
Not only is Framo Engineering producing quality technology, but they are part of an industry with years of experience. It is, in some ways, a race to produce pumps that prolong the life of an energy source that is, ultimately speaking, disappearing. “We have a long experience in the market. We started very early,” reflects Dale on the key to Framo’s success.
 
Framo is not the only Norwegian subsea company with international achievements. Aker Kværner is also a dominant player in the world market, boasting experience in design, manufacture and installation of subsea products stretching back more than forty years. Amongst Aker Kværner’s achievements are successful deepwater solutions, which have been demonstrated effective for Total in their Dalia development, in 1,500 metres in offshore Angola, and for Reliance’s K6-D6 deepwater gas development project in 1,200 metres in offshore East India. In both cases, Aker Kværner’s robust and reliable products have withstood the pressure in dangerous marine environments.
An exciting recent contract won by Aker Kværner will see them produce three subsea pumping systems for BP in the King Field, Gulf of Mexico. This ongoing project, due late 2007, is one of many firsts. At 29 kilometres from the host platform, it is the longest booster subsea tieback recorded. With five deepwater wells installed at an average depth of 1,700 metres, it is also the deepest installation of its type. Aker Kværner’s multi-phase pump system will attempt to increase production in the King Field, and, when two existing wells are fitted with the pumps, it will be the first commercial use of the innovation.
 
The pumps, known as MultiBoosters, won the Spotlight on New Technology Award at the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston. They are flexible in their usage, according to engineering manager Gunder Homstvedt, and can be used either early or late in a project. “By boosting pressure an operator can deliver added production from the outset of a project and help deplete a field quickly, reducing overall opex, or it can be applied later to defer initial capex and extend producing life. Either way it can be a winner,” he said (Offshore Engineer 12.07.2007).
 
The systems, to be manufactured by Aker Kværner in Tranby, Norway, are hoped to be a shining example of how subsea boosting technology – as showcased by Norway’s offshore equipment industry –
can significantly boost production and prolong the life of fields irrespective of difficult maritime environments.
 
Statoil used the services of drilling contractor Prosafe and manufacturer FMC Kongsberg Subsea to produce a cost-cutting solution allowing downhole tools to be used under pressure from the seabed at Statfjord.
© Øyvind Hagen/StatoilHydro

A Range of Subsea Technologies
Norway’s long experience as an oil nation has led to close cooperation between leading players in the maritime and petroleum industries, and between authorities and research institutions, such as the Centre for Integrated Petroleum Research (CIPR) in Bergen. Competition, such as that between Aker Kværner and Framo Engineering, has also allowed the industry to move forward because of a common understanding that “two heads are better than one”. It is evident that Norway’s mature attitude towards research explains its continuing success as a pioneer of innovative technologies.
 
One such technology is currently being utilized by StatoilHydro to cut costs in subsea intervention by up to a third. Before the recent merger, it was Statoil who employed the services of drilling contractor Prosafe and manufacturer FMC Kongsberg Subsea to produce a cost-cutting solution allowing downhole tools to be used under pressure from the seabed. The need for a drilling rig and riser is eliminated, and costs consequently cut drastically. Success on the Statfjord satellites and Visund in the North Sea, as well as Åsgard in the Norwegian Sea confirmed that the technology was a success.
 
An intelligent cost-cutting measure like this throws up endless possibilities for more efficient and expansive infrastructure usage and investment, which in turn makes dreams become realities in Norwegian subsea fields. StatoilHydro’s ambition to increase the average recovery in this area from 43 to 55 percent is built on the success of the new infrastructure. “That’ll help to cut operating costs, extend producing life and improve recovery from subsea fields. The resulting increase in activity will help to safeguard jobs for the future,” said Øivind Reinertsen, senior vice president for the North Sea Tampen area. (Cheaper Subsea Intervention, Statoil, 20.11.2003).
 
StatoilHydro has also been active in pursuing deals with FMC Technologies, Vetco Gray Scandinavia and Aker Kværner Subsea to produce additional subsea equipment over the next five years. StatoilHydro’s policy is to offer contracts to a number of suppliers, keeping abreast of as many subsea technologies as possible. Atle Rettedal, acting senior vice president of Technology and Projects (T&P), admitted that “The suppliers find it attractive working with Statoil because the company is leading in employing new technology,” (Frame Agreement for Subsea Equipment, Statoil, 24.08.2007).
 
Åstad. StatoilHydro’s extensive operations on the NCS are important for Norway’s economy. Investments in subsea boosting technology suggest that they are likely to continue
in the long-term.
© Heine Schølberg/StatoilHydro

The significance of these agreements is telling, especially since the merger between Statoil and Norsk Hydro created the biggest offshore oil company in the world. The continuing investment of such a world leader in new technology is not only a boost for the Norwegian subsea equipment industry, but is also a gesture of confidence. Continuing operations on the NCS are of paramount importance to Norway’s socio-economic health, and, despite the potential for greater foreign expansion, StatoilHydro is still a huge part of the future of the shelf. The North Sea, the Norwegian Sea and the Barents Sea are still rich in resources, but as time goes on, investment in subsea boosting technology is more and more important. The exploitation of marginal and mature fields here is the future, and, for the time being, StatoilHydro has declared itself a part of that future.
 
What Can Subsea Boosting Pumps Achieve?
The range of solutions that the Norwegian subsea industry provides is significant. There are a number of different pumps on the market, and whilst their structure and profile may vary, there is a common aim: to provide strength and maximum retrievability in one unit. Framo’s Multiphase pump, for example, is based on their existing architecture developed in worldwide waters since 1994 and on Poseidon helicon-axial technology developed by Statoil, IFP and Total. The multistage pump is fitted onto a stiff diameter shaft assembly. The patented Framo Flow Mixure creates a homogenous mixture to provide stable operating conditions and eliminates transients from slug flow. Other advantages provided by Framo include internally pressurised mechanical seals, which both protect the environment and enhance safety. The retrievable cartridges are built strong enough to withstand harsh environments. Deployment of multiphase booster pumps has resulted in total recovery rates and cost-effective operations that have paved the way for further deepwater field developments.
 
Simply put, a subsea boosting pump such as Framo’s Multiphase pump, or Aker Kværner’s MultiBooster, can mean the difference between success and failure in mature and marginal fields. B.P.’s investment in the MultiBooster could increase oil recovery by up to 20 percent, which means up to 6 million barrels per well in the US Gulf. It is an investment worth taking seriously, and Norway’s market advantages put them in a prime position to capitalise on an ever-growing need to efficiently recover oil in locations around the world.
 
For the oil companies operating on the NCS, subsea boosting pumps open up a wealth of heretofore untapped opportunities to extend the usefulness of fields that might, if not for sound investment and long-term planning on the part of the oil companies involved, be coming to the end of their commercial feasibility. The future, for the Norwegian petroleum industry, is allied to these pumps and subsea boosting technologies. “Today’s global energy sector is truly interconnected, with international oil companies making significant contributions to the development of national resources,” Chairman Robert Olsen of ExxonMobil International told the Offshore Europe Conference (4.09.2007). Norway has the advantage of having put that concept of interconnection to good use over a number of years, as the industry has worked together in researching and developing subsea infrastructure that has secured not only Norway’s immediate future as an oil nation with exploitable fields, but also as an international leader in a vital – and highly exportable – technology.

The North Sea Tampen area. Øivind Reinertsen, senior vice president for the area is confident that StatoilHydro’s plans to increase average recovery from 43 percent to 55 percent will result from the careful utilisation of subsea technology, and will help to cut costs.
© StatoilHydro

 

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