Petroleum research

From the 472-metre, 656,000-tonne concrete towers of the Troll A platform – the largest structure ever moved by man – to the invisible subsea well heads now operating in the Snøhvit field in the Barents Sea, Norway’s history as a petroleum nation has been written in the pioneering new technologies that have been developed for the harsh environment of the Norwegian Continental Shelf.

 Those technologies have grown out of the country’s determined and comprehensive investment in petroleum research and development. By all accounts, it is research that has paid dividends: to date, nearly 60 oil and gas fields have produced more than 30 billion barrels of oil since the first drops of black gold were pumped from the depths of the Ekofisk field in June 1971. That’s enough oil to cover the entire country of Norway with a layer 15 cm thick.

These days, research and development efforts are focused not only on the better exploitation of existing fields, but on making Norway a world leader in environmentally friendly technologies, particularly in the capture and storage of CO2. The Stoltenberg government has committed Norway to developing CO2 management technologies to help address the problem of climate change.

“We’re talking about quite challenging technology projects that no one has succeeded with before. We have the political will, we have the money, but we don’t have all the technological solutions just yet. These we will manage to achieve,” said former Oil and Energy Minister Åslaug Haga in early 2008, when she initiated the government-sponsored Forum for CO2 Management, which involves industry leaders, research institutions and environmental groups.

 

The concrete towers of the Troll A platform were a technological marvel, the tallest structure ever moved by humans over the surface of the Earth. The concrete support section has been built for a producing life of 70 years, or the expected producing life of the Troll gas field.
© Marit Hommedal / StatoilHydro


Mastering CO2 Management
One of the most highly visible efforts to date is a NOK 300 million cooperative research effort to develop new, cost effective technology for CO2 capture launched in August 2008 by SINTEF, Scandinavia’s largest independent research organization, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and Aker Clean Carbon, an industrial technology company. The trio have committed to an 8-year programme called SOLVit.

The research will focus on capturing CO2 from the process industry and from coal- and gas-fired power stations, and is one of a number of efforts funded by Gassnova SF, the Norwegian Government’s programme for funding CO2 management projects. Gassnova has pledged NOK 34 million for the project’s first phase, which runs until the end of 2010.

“SOLVit makes SINTEF and NTNU able to consolidate their position as Europe’s leading science cluster for CO2 management. The programme includes building a large laboratory facility that will strengthen our standing in the international arena and improve our position in competition for financial support for scientific research from institutions such as the European Union,” said SINTEF’s Chief Executive Unni Steinsmo, when the programme was announced.

From Strategy to Solution
Norway’s public investments in petroleum research and development are both broad and deep. One of the most expansive programmes is called OG21, an effort initiated by the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy in 2001 to develop an integrated national effort for petroleum research and technology development. The effort involves representatives from all the major oil companies operating in Norway, along with the supplier industry, and the country’s research and public institutions, including the Research Council of Norway and the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate.

Eight technology target areas are currently being pursued: environmental technology for the future; exploration and reservoir characterization; enhanced recovery; cost-effective drilling and intervention; integrated operation and real time reservoir management; subsea processing and transportation; deep water and subsea production technology; and gas technology.

One of the funding mechanisms for bringing the technologies envisioned by OG21 to the market is called DEMO 2000. The programme is particularly focused on subsea processing, multiphase transport, improved reservoir control, better and cheaper wells, floater and subsea solutions for deep waters, and profitable in-field use of gas. Fully 166 projects with a project portfolio value of more than NOK 2 billion had been funded by DEMO 2000 by the end of 2007. Another 29 new projects were awarded grants in the 11th round of funding in June 2008, including a NOK 49.5 million project by WS Seabed Rig for the prototype test of a submerged fully automated drilling rig. DEMO 2000 provided NOK 5.9 million of the project’s budget.

Among the DEMO 2000 funding successes is ODIM, an international technology group that develops and sells automated handling solutions. DEMO 2000 support helped ODIM develop the handling of lightweight fibre rope with its patented CTCU™ technology, which enables new and more efficient handling solutions for such operations as deepwater installation and mooring. MPM AS also received funding from DEMO 2000, which enabled the company to develop a multiphase meter that is so precise that it can create a 3-D picture of the gas, oil and water stream travelling through a pipe. The instrument was tested at the Gullfaks field with great success.

 

The development of the Snøhvit gas field in the Barents Sea involved building the world’s northernmost liquefied natural gas facility on the island of Melkøya.
© Eiliv Leren / StatoilHydro


Intelligent Gel, Bacteria & Carwash Chemicals
While OG21 is focused on strategy, and programmes like DEMO 2000 bring technology to the market, the Research Council of Norway’s PETROMAKS programme fills another vitally important role of funding basic research and technological development. PETROMAKS is a 10-year effort begun in 2004 for the optimal management of petroleum resources. The programme has an average annual budget of NOK 250 million and commands the most funding of all of the research council’s large-scale programmes.

PETROMAKS funding has enabled companies like IOR Chemco develop an intelligent gel designed to plug the pores of a waterlogged oil well to keep the water out. IRIS, formerly Rogaland Research, has also developed a type of bacteria that could boost oil production, while researchers at the University of Bergen are studying carwash chemicals that might extend the lifetime of oil fields. “Enhanced recovery is one of the programme’s main focal points,” says Erik Skaug, PETROMAKS programme director. “We hope this research will help boost wealth creation on the Norwegian Continental Shelf.”

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