Evolving Subsea Technology Tackles Huge New Risks of Today's Projects
- Joel Parshall (JPT Features Editor)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- May 2008
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 40 - 47
- 2008. Copyright is held partially by SPE. Contact SPE for permission to use material from this document.
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As oil and gas development projects tackle some of the world’s most remote locations and extreme environments, pushing out into 8,000 ft water depths or beyond and going several hundred miles offshore, innovations in subsea technology will play a vitally important role in enabling the execution of these projects and will form the basis of future, even more-ambitious plans.
Subsea technology comprises wellhead and related production infrastructure placed on the seafloor, rather than on a conventional surface platform, a spar, or a semisubmersible or other floating production facility. Subsea wells and infrastructure are tied back by flowlines, risers, and umbilicals to surface producing facilities that may be directly overhead or many miles away, possibly even onshore.
While deploying subsea technology can be very expensive, as water depths increase, conditions grow harsher, and locations become more remote, the alternative of building a larger, heavier surface facility to hold the wellheads, pumps, separation equipment, and other infrastructure is often more expensive, sometimes prohibitively.
“There are two things that drive much of the move toward subsea,” said David Morgan, Director, Subsea Processing, Cameron. “One is cost, the other is the reservoir. Typically, you must have at least one surface facility for drilling, processing, or storage. But surface facilities are a huge expense, and reservoirs sometimes are very spread out, making it hard to drill from one surface facility. That starts to drive multiple drill centers or the move to subsea development. By minimizing the size and number of surface facilities, you can save your project a lot of money.”
On the one hand, when equipment is placed on a surface facility, maintenance and interventions typically are conducted from that facility, and costs are easier to project and control—compared with contracting costs for a rig or vessel to service subsea equipment. On the other hand, space is at a premium on any kind of floating facility, and the need for additional equipment (e.g., separation, water-handling, and compression facilities) as a project matures is difficult to accommodate by retrofitting late in field life. By installing the additional equipment subsea, the need for platform changes can be minimized.
“How effective we are at developing subsea technologies and evolving existing technologies is going to be an indication of how successful we are in recoverable reserves and maintaining our increasing production globally,” said Neil Holder, Vice President, Sales and Marketing, Aker Solutions. “More and more companies are looking at stranded gas, offshore oil, and resources in the Arctic with long tieback distances that without subsea technology can’t be accessed at all. So it becomes a facilitator.”
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