Research and development in the oil and gas industry has a simple goal: increasing recovery. Given the size of the deposits on the Norwegian continental shelf (NCS), even a small boost to recovery can mean a huge difference to the nation's economy. A mere one-percent increase in the recovery rate on the NCS would have a value of approximately NOK 500 billion. With this in mind, the public sector has announced a renewed commitment towards funding the development of cutting-edge Norwegian technology designed to meet the needs of the oil and gas industry.
|The Roxar subsea multiphase meter negates the need for an expensive subsea test line.
Norwegian Petroleum and Energy Minister Thorhild Widvey announced a 60 percent increase in funding for oil and gas research and development for 2005. The funds include NOK 222.3 million in addition to the energy budget, which showed an increase of NOK 84.8 million over 2004, as well as an additional NOK 28 million from the Fund for Research and Innovation.
There is a much to be done with the new funds. Only 29 percent of the NCS's recoverable resources have been produced thus far. A key challenge to increasing recovery has been the lack of speed getting innovations from the drawing board to the field. A study by McKinsey showed that, on average, it takes the oil industry 30 years to implement new technology. For example, it took 30 years for it to adopt horizontal drilling, and 20 years for implementation of 3D seismic technology. By contrast, in consumer industry, the average is about 10 years, and the average in medicine is 12 years.
Three Programmes of Note
Three major initiatives - administered by such entities as the government-funded Research Council of Norway and the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy - have been launched to improve on this record and stimulate the service industries that support oil and gas exploration and production. Demo 2000, OG21, and PETROMAKS are solidly funded programmes that will play key roles in the effort to maintain Norway's position as the world's third-largest petroleum exporter.
The Demo 2000 initiative is designed to accelerate the commercialization of R&D in the oil and gas sector. As of June 2004, the program had total funding of $180 million, with $40 million coming from the Norwegian government and the remaining $140 million coming from private oil and gas contractors and operators. Demo 2000 has particular focus on subsurface technology with a goal of improved modelling, reservoir description, and control for increased recovery. Other programme focus areas include:
- Remote Processing - subsea, downhole and long-distance wellstream transfer
- Deepwater Technology - floaters, risers, mooring, station-keeping and intervention
- Gas Utilization - unlocking and valorizing gas fields.
OG21 is a national strategy for creating added value and ensuring a competitive advantage in the oil and gas industry. Initiated by the Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy in 2001, the programme aims to create a more coordinated and focused approach to research and development throughout the industry, resulting in greater international competitiveness through the development of new technology. Priority areas include the goal of zero harmful discharges to sea, reduced air emissions, enhanced recovery, cost-effective drilling, reservoir management, deepwater technology, transport of wellstream, downhole and seafloor processing, and a competitive natural gas chain.
The clamp-on, subsea acoustic sand detector by Roxar.
Petromaks is a new, large petroleum research and innovation program launched in 2004. The idea here is to combine long-term basic R&D and applied and industrial R&D into one thematic program. PETROMAKS has a funding target of 500-600 million NOK annually.
Already in the Pipeline
The public and private commitment to R&D is already producing results. Exciting new technology is being implemented on many installations in the NCS, and these may soon prove to have worldwide applications. Some of the ground-breaking technology projects developed through the aforementioned programs include the following:
Better Flow Measurement
Roxar Flow Measurement AS (RFM) has introduced new multiphase measurement technology whose goal is to ensure permanent measurement of each well as cost-effectively as possible. In the past, this has been done by large, permanently installed test separators. Roxar's alternative is only about one metre long and costs between $150,000 and $200,000. The company expects the next generation of the product to cost around $100,000. Roxar's products are substantially smaller and lighter than the norm and provide constantly updated data - all helping make production more efficient.
Also, RFM is developing new, improved sand gauges, to deal with the increasing sand content of aging wells. The new gauges measure the flow of sand in the pipe using an acoustic sensor mounted on the outside. RFM will be supplying gauges to the Snøhvit natural gas project.
A Sharp Eye for Pollution
The Optical Sensor by ProAnalysis AS is a laser-based monitoring system designed to provide continuous, accurate readings of oil content in production water from platforms and subsea installations. The Optical Sensor is a key tool in meeting stricter environmental standards in the industry, such as the zero emissions target for 2005-2006. ProAnalysis's probe can be located either inside the main pipeline or at separation stages. This is a robust piece of equipment (it can tolerate pressures of more than 300 bars), and is also very precise, able to measure oil concentrations down to nearly 0 ppm.
Boldly Drilling Where No Drill
One of the most exciting projects for the near future is being created by Badger Explorer AS. The company, a division of Rogaland Research, is developing a remote-controlled metal badger than can drill into the seabed without the support of a drilling rig, reducing exploration costs by up to 90 percent.
The "badger" is a 50-metre-long exploration drill. With a drill bit in front and spooling out a power supply cable behind, the badger works without drilling fluid. It also constantly fills the space behind the metal badger with cuttings, thus keeping the walls of the well bore from collapsing. One of the product's most innovative features is that it will also carry a sensor that can measure hydrocarbons in the sediments. The Badger is being constructed to drill down to at least 3,000 metres, and will be able to perform in any kind of weather.
Shaking Things Up for Better Surveys
GeoProbing Technology AS, a Trondheim-based firm, has created a pioneering new technique for producing detailed, close-up seismic surveys designed to optimize production. Traditionally, marine seismic surveys are conducted via pressure waves (P-waves). GeoProbing Technology has created VibroPile technology that instead acts on shear waves (S-waves), creating different properties that can be very useful for more detailed, close-up seismic surveys.
The VibroPile technology is inserted into the seabed, where it vibrates horizontally, generating S-waves. The source of the vibrations is a hydraulic device on the top of the pile. Since S-waves have a slower speed and shorter wave length than P-waves of the same frequency, they can make higher resolution images. The VibroPile technology has shown particular promise in being able to survey reservoirs under gas clouds, monitoring fracture development and performing further exploration in areas with existing infrastructure.
The Future of High-Pressure Gas Separation
The development of compact high-pressure separators has been a long-term goal of researchers in the industry for many years. Today's technology, such as gas scrubbers and separators, is effective only in the normal to medium-high pressure range. Now, a high-pressure gas separation project has been launched as a collaborative effort between the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and the industry sector, as well as The Research Council of Norway.
An increasing emphasis on seabed-placed facilities has made the need for high-pressure separators more apparent. Over the years, a great deal of expense has been put into replacing compressors that have broken down due to oil or water droplets in the gas. As a response, this project, known as HiPGaS, runs three test separators in an effort to understand the mechanics of high-pressure separation. And the results so far are encouraging. HiPGaS's most advanced separator is located on one of Statoil's high-pressure rigs, where it has been shown to handle pressures of up to 150 bars.
|ConWhyp solves the gas hydrate plug problem by using a pipe flow loop on the seabed. Mixing the reservoirs hot oil with a cold stream of dry hydrates, the loop creates finely grained hydrates which can be carried long distances by the highly flowable oil.
Illustration: J.H. Johansen, SINTEF Media
Eliminating Hydrate Clogs & Cutting Costs
Shutdowns of oil pipes from volatile gas hydrate clogs are an all-too-familiar problem. Today, researchers at SINTEF are working on a solution that may reduce the cost of subsea field development by up to 30 percent.
The ConWhyp Project uses a pipe flow loop on the seabed to avoid the creation of hydrate clogs. First, the wellstream is cut with a cold current which contains small hydrate particles. This creates a controlled growth of hydrates in the wellstream. Second, the cold stream is kept at a level strong enough to cool the wellstream, which reduces the window for hydrate formation. The result is a wellstream that is able to carry fine-grained dry hydrate particles over long distances using slurries.
The solution can reduce costs by eliminating the need to insulate pipes, for example. Also, this system would make it possible to transport unprocessed oil for 100 kilometres or even more, cutting down on the need for rigs and platforms. The ConWhyp project has already been tested at the SINTEF multiphase flow lab near Trondheim, with good results. Researchers hope to reach the commercial phase of development by 2007.