Technologies for Arctic Offshore Exploration and Development
- Dmitri Matskevitch (ExxonMobil Upstream Research Company)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- SPE Projects, Facilities & Construction
- Publication Date
- June 2007
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
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- 2007. Society of Petroleum Engineers
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Exploration and development of hydrocarbon reserves in the arctic seas are challenged by a harsh environment including the presence of ice and icebergs, permafrost, low temperatures, and extended periods of darkness. Remoteness and ecological considerations make activities in the arctic even more difficult. Advanced technologies, nontraditional technical solutions, and flawless execution are required to make any major project in the arctic a success.
Understanding the difficulties associated with implementing an offshore project in the arctic comes with experience. In ExxonMobil's case, this is a result of 40 years of arctic field operations and associated research. This paper discusses the arctic technologies developed to support ExxonMobil exploration and development activities in the Arctic seas.
ExxonMobil's Arctic offshore activity started in 1966 with the installation of the ice-resistant Granite Point offshore platform, which is still producing oil in Cook Inlet, Alaska. Since then, ExxonMobil has constructed and drilled from artificial islands in shallow-arctic waters; drilled in iceberg-prone regions off Greenland, Canada, and Norway; designed and installed the first iceberg-resistant gravity-based platform on the Grand Banks; installed an ice-resistant production platform and the first in-ice Single Point Mooring (SPM) offshore loading facility offshore Sakhalin Island; and continued to develop methodology to provide rational design criteria for ice-resistant production platforms. Development of design criteria and the selection of the most reliable and cost-effective technical solutions for arctic offshore projects required data from numerous field expeditions, model test programs, field measurements, and observations from existing offshore structures. These studies were carried out under the supervision of ExxonMobil research staff.
Arctic marine transportation systems are also an important element for many offshore and near-shore projects in remote areas where the construction of export pipelines is prohibitively expensive. The 1969-1970 Manhattan tanker trials in the US and Canadian arctic and the 2002 Primorye trials in the Tatar Strait have helped ExxonMobil develop safe and reliable technologies for hydrocarbon transportation in ice-infested waters.
The oil and gas industry has relatively little experience with exploring and developing hydrocarbon resources in cold, ice-covered offshore areas. This is mainly because conventional offshore technologies developed by the industry over the years for the ice-free seas have a limited application in the arctic seas. One can use conventional techniques to drill exploration and production wells or acquire seismic in arctic seas during the summer to fall ice-free season. However, in many areas of interest, such a season is fairly short (2 to 3 months or less). If the lease owners rely on conventional technologies only, the pace of arctic offshore exploration and development will be extremely slow, adversely affecting project economics. The ability to conduct year-round or nearly year-round operations in the arctic is thus essential to overall project success. To do this effectively, new technologies had to be developed and tested. The present paper discusses some of the ExxonMobil arctic technologies originally developed and used in the Beaufort Sea, which are technologies also applicable in similar environments elsewhere in the world, including Russia.
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