DeepStar evolves to meet new deepwater challenges

The DeepStar program, a joint industry consortium which has been in continuous operations since 1992, has become one of the offshore industry's primary means of moving today's technology into the future.

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Consortium continues to help operators, vendors leverage resources

Bruce Beaubouef

Managing Editor

The DeepStar program, a joint industry consortium which has been in continuous operations since 1992, has become one of the offshore industry’s primary means of moving today’s technology into the future. As it approaches its 25th anniversary, DeepStar officials remain committed to the goal of identifying and developing economically viable, safe, low-risk methods and technologies to produce hydrocarbons from deepwater fields.

DeepStar’s vision for the development of deepwater technology is closely tied to the concept of cooperation and evolution of a synergistic relationship among the members of the oil community. Since 1992, operating companies, vendors, regulators, academia, and research institutions working in multidisciplinary technology areas have collaborated through DeepStar to develop the technologies needed to tackle deepwater challenges.

Through this shared effort, DeepStar members have been able to minimize the cost while mitigating the risk of technology development in order to maximize the organization’s particular technology achievements. In short, DeepStar officials say that the consortium offers members the opportunity to significantly leverage their technology investment.

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For almost 25 years, DeepStar has worked to improve the profitability, reliability, and safety of deepwater production systems. (Courtesy DeepStar)

DeepStar has also established a working relationship with the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and US Coast Guard to resolve regulatory issues which potentially affect safety aspects of design, implementation, and operation of future deepwater drilling and production systems.

The organization not only reaches out to the traditional mix of US-based operating companies, vendors, and suppliers, but also openly extends the invitation for membership to international oil companies alike. Yet, DeepStar officials do concede the need for the consortium to grow its ranks, which have been winnowed by mergers and acquisitions over the years.

Recently,Offshoremet with Chevron Energy Technology Company’s Dr. Greg Kusinski, who serves as DeepStar Director and is Chevron’s Senior Advisor to that group. Dr. Kusinski joined Chevron in 2008, and has served in the capacity as DeepStar Director for the past four years. Chevron Energy Technology Co. is a division of Chevron USA Inc., and administers the DeepStar program.

He was joined by John Allen, a strategic business advisor with INTECSEA, who is also a co-chair of the DeepStar Contributors Committee. Allen has been engaged in all the DeepStar subcommittees over the last 20 years.

Dr. Kusinski and Allen spoke withOffshoreat length about DeepStar’s latest activities, recent accomplishments, and goals for the upcoming year and beyond.

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Offshore: The DeepStar program is approaching its 25th anniversary. How have the challenges changed over time, as the industry has gone into even deeper water?

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Greg Kusinki, DeepStar Director, Chevron Energy Technology Co.

Dr. Kusinski: The DeepStar mission is to improve profitability, and enhance the availability, flexibility, reliability, and safety of deepwater production systems. Our mission stays constant, but our activities to support that mission change.

In the oil and gas industry, technological advances are needed to sustain well performance and develop new assets. Thus, a program such as DeepStar is imperative since it is the most effective way to share technical knowledge, experience, and leverage joint resources industry wide while enabling and enhancing technologies. Although we are not an advocacy group, periodically there is a need to have a healthy dialogue with regulators. Sometimes that regulatory component changes; we do a little bit more at times, maybe a little less at other times. Again, the DeepStar mission is continuous as it evolves in order to keep ahead of industry advancements.

Offshore: Can you speak generally about the value proposition that DeepStar offers?

Dr. Kusinski: From the operator perspective, one of the key values has been about the ability to define the target. One of the primary reasons that operators are so willing to collaborate is because of what being a part of DeepStar offers, with the statement that competitive advantage comes not from what the technology is, but how you use it. Operating companies are not in the business of making gizmos, but rather understanding the conditions and integrating the technologies; shedding insight industry wide on how to use it. It’s for this reason that this type of collaboration is desirable to operators. With DeepStar, operators can leverage their technical and physical resources. I’m a big believer that two SMEs (subject matter experts) working together are better than three working independently. We foster that one-plus-one-equals-three type of synergy. That’s the value to operators.

Think about it. If ten of us put our thoughts together, we go ten times as far; versus all of us spending time, money, and resources on the same stuff independently. At the end of the day you can go further, while significantly reducing the bottom line. If I have a dollar here from him, a dollar from somebody else, the next thing you know, I now have two dollars. What can be done with two dollars is of far greater value than two people each having one dollars’ worth of value. Well guess what? If I have ten people with a dollar, the multiplier is even better.

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John Allen, Strategic Business Advisor, INTECSEA, Inc.

Allen: The vendor perspective is also important. Many operating companies have their own specifications. There is a move in the industry to look at standardization. It’s very hard, because we’ve got so many buyers. A common set of specifications is hugely valuable to the vendor community. Very often, in the past, vendors have been faced with 50 or more specifications. At DeepStar, we get a more consolidated view from the operator, which is a bit like standardization. We here can understand better what the drivers are, and what the industry needs. So having a common set of needs and drivers is very valuable. It enables vendors to get a better understanding of what areas they should invest in.

Dr. Kusinski: To a vendor it is tremendously valuable to understand the disagreements among operators, or if there is a certain diversion of vision among them. As a vendor, you will draw different conclusions if there is a consensus among operators, or if there is a divergence between them. You will react differently to different scenarios. Moreover, that intelligence is vital to development of technologies that will have field applications. A lot of magic happens within DeepStar, and it is not because DeepStar funds a project, but often just because we were discussing a topic. We don’t have the budget to fund or advance every idea. If in principle we can signal to the marketplace that something is needed, and the marketplace sees the prize, they will solve it. We do a lot of projects that signal the goal to the technology developers. That’s why we spend a lot of money on lower technology readiness level concepts. Nevertheless, these concepts are still tested in the context of value creation and at the end of the day it’s all about the kind of value as defined by operators.

Offshore: Obviously, industry collaboration is a key component of the DeepStar program. Yet it is still a competitive industry. Is it a challenge to strike that balance?

Dr. Kusinski: Yes. It is not trivial to define an acceptable program. For this reason, it is important to discuss value drivers and technical topics that bring value from implementation. In today’s environment, we have an additional challenge. It’s always tough to do things when everyone’s being more pressured for resources. I believe collaboration is one of the answers to those problems. As we think about the future, we will be spending more time to precisely define the value for each member, and how those benefits are divided. Ultimately, one of the values for the industry is to develop better technologies by effectively leveraging resources. Technology in itself is useless, if it is inefficiently utilized. The true value comes when you efficiently put that technology to use.

Offshore: What are the key technologies being developed by DeepStar today, and what are the key areas of industry concern today and going forward?

Dr. Kusinski: There are several big themes that are supported by the 50-plus projects that DeepStar is currently executing. Standardization is one key “technology” for all themes. If we can bring a greater level of standardization to the offshore arena - in the context of development, qualification, and individual technologies - the cost of deepwater development might be reduced. For example, within the realm of reservoir engineering, we have been looking at enhanced oil recovery methods. Now of course, this is a very competitive area. DeepStar is still working in this area as well. We all know the movie with Brad Pitt - Money Ball, right? That movie examined how one can do analytics to understand why certain players are better, even though they lower cost. By doing a lot of analytics of many older wells, we have created a database of many of the shallow, mid-shallow, mid-deep, and deepwater wells. That analysis will give us a better understanding of why certain wells are more productive than others. Substantiating certain rules of practice and industry with this data can lead to things like better completion design.

For example, I might have two similar reservoirs that were completed differently, and produced different results. One was better than the other because the control parameter (completion) was different. This knowledge will allow operators to improve their processes. At DeepStar, we are funding a program to verify the API TR8 [American Petroleum Institute] approach to the 20 ksi design. We are doing this by performing certain numerical finite element analysis. It’s a project to verify that the industry’s approaches to 20 ksi design are conservative. In the subsea arena, there’s work going on within DeepStar with regard to flow assurance and long-distance tie backs.

The industry has had these technologies for years, but can we understand these systems better? Is a 50-mile tieback feasible, and can an all-electric enable that? These are some of the issues we are examining in the subsea committee. In floating systems, one topic that has come up a lot lately is continued service of floating production systems. Why? It is because we are seeing the first generation of floating infrastructure approaching their original design life. For this reason, DeepStar has funded work to develop a draft document that will be offered to API, a document which will define a process and guidance for continued service of floating offshore structures.

We have also been examining mooring systems integrity, and that work is being guided toward adoption as an API Recommended Practice. Another example is technology for harsh marine conditions, specifically steel lazy wave risers.

Offshore: As the industry moves into ultra-deepwater, do you think we will be seeing any new production platform designs, perhaps with regard to hulls or mooring concepts?

Dr. Kusinski: DeepStar has done quite a bit of work on semisubmersible platform concepts for ultra-deepwater. In terms of mooring, polyester and hybrid systems are maturing. I think these concepts are pretty much ready for ultra-deepwater, with the caveat that there is a need to always try to understand more. We have also been doing some studies on marginal fields. We are asking the question “How do you do a cost-effective floater?” in these situations. We have analyzed twelve independent concepts from twelve independent concept owners. We have been giving them feedback, but we are also trying to develop certain guidelines for operators.

Offshore: As you mentioned, maintaining the integrity of moorings for floating production units has been another area of focus for DeepStar. Could you update us on this effort?

Dr. Kusinski: DeepStar finished a project and developed a draft document on best practices for risk-based mooring integrity management. Our members have access to this process, but we also have begun a process to donate this work to API. DeepStar is not a standard-setting organization, hence our partnership with API. The relevant API committee has had great interest in incorporating our unified perspective contained within this document into industry standards, which is why the legal teams at API and DeepStar have developed a framework for this knowledge transfer. It is expected that the DeepStar draft document will have to go through the API committee due process before it can become an API standard. However, we think that our work will be a great starting point for the volunteer-based API committee. It will be easier for the API committee to perhaps modify the draft document that was vetted by our DeepStar Floating Systems Committee, than to start from scratch.

Offshore: DeepStar has launched a new study, led by INTECSEA, involving long subsea tiebacks. How much growth, if any at all, do you expect to see in the usage of long-distance subsea tiebacks in the GoM in the near- and long-term future?

Allen: The real question is why we’re doing the tieback study. Of course tiebacks are not new, and the industry has taken tiebacks out to longer distances. We’re examining the flow assurance challenges of long tiebacks. The reason is that we are looking for ways to reduce the cost of field development. If you are looking to save money by reducing a project scope, you can potentially save anywhere from 5 to 10%, maybe as much as 20%.

Although, we are looking for a paradigm shift of how we do field development, one known way we can do that is through tiebacks, because it moves the local host. We even talked about what that host should look like. The study findings may recommend minimizing that host. It’s potentially a huge cost savings. That’s why we’re looking at this now.

What we are ultimately trying to do is to foster the development of an all-subsea system. That would involve sophisticated, long-distance electrical power lines and a fiber-optic data lines, with many more data collection points. At DeepStar, we believe in having a lot of data, to maintain integrity and manage flow. We’re looking at an electrical power and fiber-optic umbilical and single flowline, and that’s it, with everything subsea. We can then tieback to an existing (depleting) platform in a distant field or install a minimum facility (power) platform servicing multiple fields.

Dr. Kusinski: Think about it - what is “long”? Tiebacks already exist right? As you go out further, with a longer radius, it could become too expensive. You do need to think about flow assurance. The more we understand about the fundamentals of flow, the better off we are, because one can better understand the point at which hydrates are likely to form. Another important question is: Do I really need to be dumping so much methanol into the system as a way to prevent hydrates? That’s a long-term vision that DeepStar is pursuing, and we are advancing it progressively by better understanding hydrate formation.

Offshore: The first HIPPS (high integrity pressure protection system) is about to be deployed in the GoM. Can you talk about DeepStar’s role in advancing this technology?

Dr. Kusinski: DeepStar was involved in the initial studies that examined bringing HIPPS to the Gulf of Mexico. Even as recently as two years ago, we had completed a study, on the Wilcox reservoir, for example. We examined the response time needed for a HIPPS in a context of a low-permeability reservoir. We asked, how fast will the pressure build-up happen? We have developed an integrated reservoir and subsea facility model to study various hypothetical blockage and pressure build up scenarios. As we look back further, there have been six or seven various studies, over last decade plus, that DeepStar has done on HIPPS. Furthermore, DeepStar SMEs had a series of meetings with BSEE on it, to help promote it and get it accepted.

Allen: DeepStar spent a lot of time working within our Subsea Technical Committee, looking at the HIPPS concept. We had workshops on HIPPS all over the world. We got the relevant federal regulatory agencies involved. We had a regulatory committee, which met in Metairie, Louisiana, regularly. We worked over an extended period of time, bringing them different aspects of it - what the technology is, how it works. Basically getting towards a good understanding of what the technology does. This was a complex system issue, looking at where to locate a HIPPS system and what the reinforced zone philosophy was for specific applications. Then we transferred that knowledge to the API. It took a while for it to actually happen, in the Gulf of Mexico. The HIPPS concept and knowledge was really forged by DeepStar in the early days, then it was accepted by the API, and is about to be deployed in the Gulf of Mexico.

Offshore: What are your goals and objectives for DeepStar in 2016?

Dr. Kusinski: The big one obviously is to maintain a certain core, and continue to stay relevant to our members from a technology perspective. We will continue with our existing ongoing projects, but we will also examine how DeepStar can continue to be relevant for its members and for the industry. We will be looking at ways in which we can contribute to the development of technologies that bring value and lower cost through both standardization and unification.

We have been the pre-eminent offshore global technology development consortium. In order to maintain that status, we must constantly keep innovating. We hope to attract more national oil companies and international oil companies this year, and in the future. It would be good for everybody to continue to hear, and understand, and contribute to overall improvement of deepwater development. That’s our mission for next year and beyond.

Allen: We are trying to do things that can make field development more cost effective in an environment of low oil price. Obviously the stronger the membership, the more effective that is. I think we’re going to make sure that it’s clear that DeepStar has that value proposition. That will reinforce the goal, which is to make the pie bigger in this particular environment. That is the focus of our next phase. When the oil prices go back up we’ll have another phase. However, we would have gone through that efficiency phase, which is what we will be focusing on in the near term. With the current low oil price and cost conscious environment, we will be more motivated to adopt technologies that can do things more efficiently and lower the cost of development, so as Greg pointed out earlier, this is a time for innovation.

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