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The re-launched National Subsea Research Initiative (NSRI) is making swift progress on the challenge to facilitate the recovery of small discoveries set by the Oil and Gas Technology Leadership Board. An initial study revealed the significance of the prize if the industry can come together in a cluster approach as well as implementing new, disruptive technologies to exploit these small pools.
As the “go to” advisory body and knowledge centre for subsea technology, NSRI is in prime position to understand the needs of industry and match them with the development teams best placed to discover and then apply the solution, working closely with all the relevant bodies to oversee maximum impact and no duplication of effort.
Small pools are oil and gas reserves of less than 15 million barrels of oil equivalent. There are currently 210 small pools with more than 3 billion boe in the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS). This represents 5% of the UK’s reserves.
If the subsea industry and academia, led by NSRI, can rise to the challenge of economically tapping into these pools, the North Sea could have a whole new lease of life. Technology is only part of the solution, the industry must be much more receptive to innovation – there must be a willingness to work more collaboratively on multi-field applications and on access to infrastructure. Even with new technological applications, operators may still have to form clusters to work on small pools to achieve the economies of scale required to shift them from marginal to economical.
What currently holds back these pools?
To unlock these small pools we require highly disruptive technology that radically changes the way in which subsea field developments are presently executed. For Maximising Economic Recovery (MER) to occur with respect to small pools there is an industry structural problem that needs to be addressed as it presents a huge barrier for implementing technical solutions.
Without some form of intervention, small pools will remain locked-in and MER in its truest sense will not be realised. Small pools have a national importance in terms of achieving MER and they must be considered as an industry asset if they are to be capitalised upon. Leadership must be exhibited and driven by the industry bodies acting as a catalyst to small pools development and being aware of the nation’s interest in an environment where conventional market dynamics have failed.
It is clear that companies must change the way in which they deliver projects in the long term – there must be a willingness to work more collaboratively on multi-field applications to explore and speed up the development of near to market technologies to extend the life of the UKCS and maximise economic recovery.
Have there been any breakthroughs to help tap small pools?
NSRI has been working closely with subsea companies across the UK to help identify the challenges associated with unlocking small pools, debate how they could be addressed and the technology required to shift them from marginal to economical.
A series of workshop events – known as hackathons – took place in Aberdeen and London to brainstorm new approaches to tackling these hard to reach reserves. The findings have revealed that there is a need for standardisation of subsea components and hardware and to allow for less rigorous specifications in order to meet the shorter design lives of small reservoirs. Near to market technologies for floating production units and offshore production buoys have been identified as areas which need to be further explored.
Where do you see the greatest potential in terms of technology development to unlock these pools?
The technologies that present the biggest enablers to unlocking small stranded fields are:
Enabling technologies which attain access to existing infrastructure such as hot taps and self-sufficient hook up modules
Subsea production facilities including boosting, processing and subsea storage
In this low oil price environment there is pressure to embrace change and to adopt new technology. Companies are becoming much more receptive to new techniques and innovations that enhance performance and offer significant cost savings.
Small pools exploitation will also be dependent upon the success of the Technology Leadership Board’s mission to reduce well costs by 50%.
Is there anything that can be done on a regulatory/fiscal level to help develop small pools?
Exploiting small pools is a challenge that the UKCS is facing because it is one of the most mature oil and gas basins in the world. It is clear that if small pools developments are to be exploited, there is a greater need for more meaningful engagement between the Government, industry and academia to help stimulate investment and increase subsea related research in the UK.
Solving the small pools challenge would perhaps yield a reward potentially greater than predicted with regards to the domestic market. It would enable the already capable UK supply chain to export its knowledge, products and services to international markets, thus safeguarding jobs, revenue and maximising economic recovery from the North Sea.
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