With such issues to consider as drilling at ever-deeper levels, demand for greater recovery rates and environmental concerns, the upsteam oil and gas industry has become increasingly challenging. The need for innovative new technology has, therefore, become a key factor for those competing to stay ahead in the field.
In today's markets, however, it is no longer feasible to come up with an idea or even to go ahead and produce it. Customer confidence and trust has to be gained before any investment will be made. This means that companies must have the means to carry out field trials in realistic environments before being able to market any new products successfully. This can be a challenging demand for any company - especially one that is relatively small-scale or new to the industry.
Norway has benefited from being at the forefront of technology in several areas of the oil and gas industry since its entrance in the 1960s. Hence, in 1999, the Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy founded Demo 2000, a programme designed to accelerate the deployment of new technology from Norway into the market.
The initiative has received strong support from operators, the service industry and researchers alike. So far, public funding on the programme has reached US $35 million; including private leverage, this figure stands at around US $140 million.
A key objective for the Demo 2000 programme is to bring a systematic R&D effort through full-scale pilot tests before introducing them to the market. As with any research and development programme, patience and commitment are required if end results are to be successful. Four years into the project now, Demo 2000 and its participants are beginning to enjoy the fruits of their labour. Three of the most promising Demo 2000-sponsored projects are described in detail below.
The seabed seismic company SeaBed Geophysical AS has a rosy future ahead. It recently won a major contract from Mexico's national oil company, Pemex, to survey a 200 km2 sector of the Cantarell field - the largest oil field in one of the world's largest oil regions, the Gulf of Mexico. SeaBed now stands in a strong position to market its enterprise and win a substantial share of a growing market.
Since 1997, SeaBed has been working on developing a system for seabed seismic that makes it possible to survey vast areas quickly and efficiently. The system is based on a large number of listening nodes that are planted on the seabed using a remotely-operated vehicle (ROV). The nodes survey the substratum using both ordinary primary seismic waves (P-waves) and shear waves (S-waves). The unique feature of SeaBed's technology is that unlike traditional methods there are no cables connecting the nodes to each other or to a central unit.
This type of technology is especially well-suited for reservoir surveying and monitoring during production. "Characteristically, in a shear wave the direction of propagation is perpendicular to the direction of particle displacement. This actually gives far better results on the seabed than it does onshore," explains Eivind Berg, founder and Technical Director of SeaBed.
SeaBed's technology is also cost-effective. It makes it possible to cover large areas - up to 30 km2 - in a single layout operation. If a similar seismic survey was conducted using cable technology, the cables would have to be moved five or six times to cover an area of that size.
With the support of Demo 2000, SeaBed was able to conduct its first large-scale field study of the new system on the Volve field in the North Sea in 2002. The results from the test - which included Statoil, Total and Norsk Hydro as participating oil companies - played a major part for SeaBed during contract deliberation with Pemex. "From our point of view, it is especially important that we own the data from this offshore pilot test, and we will be drawing on the source for many years to come," says Berg.
Thanks to the Pemex contract, SeaBed is now enjoying a highly-accelerated market launch. The total world market for SeaBed is currently estimated at NOK 1 billion per year, but this is expected to rise dramatically. "Our ambition is to win at least one-quarter of this market," says Berg.
The World's Largest & Most Powerful Subsea Gas Compressor
Framo Engineering AS has successfully built the world's largest and most powerful wet gas compressor, the WGC 2000. The compressor can be used to pump unprocessed wellstreams over vast distances or to increase downhole pressure in wells approaching depletion. Both of these functions offer handsome financial returns for the operator.
The development of this compressor comes in light of the current technological trend away from large production platforms on the surface. Smart subsea systems can mean large financial savings during the field development phase and this compressor is designed for such systems. If a platform is not equipped to separate the wellstream before transport and landing, a compressor that can handle a mixture of gas and liquid is needed. "Today, compressors can tolerate about 0.5 % fluid volume before they collapse, but this compressor can operate on virtually any mixture," explains project manager Jorgen Eide.
Standard compressors are built to pump pure gas. Because liquid is much heavier than gas, too much fluid content will generally break the compressor blades. Framo's WGC2000 wet gas compressor is built around a central unit consisting of 20 solid impellers mounted on a series on a common shaft. The compressor unit is mounted between two contra-rotating electrical engines with a total output of 3.6 MW; this is on par with the latest Norwegian coastal streamer that carries 600 to 700 passengers at a speed of up to 18 knots.
The WGC 2000 was tested in-house at the Frank Mohn Fusa facility in Bergen in spring 2003. It was then installed at Statoil's wet gas test facility K-Lab at Kårstø and tested on live gas and condensate. The test met or exceeded all project goals.
Wet gas compressors can also be used to increase the pressure in a well approaching depletion. They increase gas recovery - and this means big financial incentives. "We've installed pumps that have enhanced production by as much as 15,000 barrels a day on the fields off the West Coast of Africa," says Framo Managing Director Ole Gams Steine. "These installations pay for themselves in just a few weeks."
Kvaerner Oilfield Products' latest subsea product, the MultiBooster, is now being installed on the Balmoral field on the UK Continental Shelf to enhance tail-end production and prolong field life.
The pump unit is based on the Bornemann twin-screw design - which has been well proven onshore - and has been modified for subsea use down to a water depth of 1500 metres. The pump is driven by an oil-filled Loher electric motor. The design allows for increased flexibility in operations covering all gas-liquid ratios, including tolerance for slug flow and sand. A special design feature is the twin-screw volumetric technology, which has the ability to maintain the pressure-boosting specification, independent of gas content. In other words, it can handle slug flow with gas void fractions (GVF) ranging from 0 % to 100 %. The booster pump may operate continuously with a gas void fraction of up to 98 %.
The MultiBooster was successfully tested in submerged conditions at Statoil's K-Lab test facility in Kårstø. Typical markets for the MultiBooster will be subsea tie-backs where well pressure is low or dropping to a level which needs pressure boosting in order to maintain profitable production, and new subsea developments and tie-backs up to 100 kilometres away from offshore or onshore host infrastructures. Until now, such distances have been considered too high a risk or too expensive to be developed with traditional technology.