Building on success to new depths

Consider this. With a world population of about 7 billion people, our total energy consumption today is more than 500 quadrillion Btu-every barrel of oil produced meets the energy needs of 30 people for a day.

Consider this. With a world population of about 7 billion people, our total energy consumption today is more than 500 quadrillion Btu-every barrel of oil produced meets the energy needs of 30 people for a day. By 2040, our energy needs are projected to rise to more than 820 quadrillion Btu. Even accounting for renewable, nuclear energy, and coal, hydrocarbon liquids and natural gas will still account for half of the energy produced.

It is no surprise that increased need for energy has necessitated the trend toward looking for new energy sources in new basins. Emerging developments, likeStones in the Gulf of Mexico, are taking the industry forward into more than 2,000-m (6,500-ft) water depths, termed the "ultra-deepwater."

What were the elements leading to current successes in thedeepwater? How can industry continue these advances, implementing the results and building safe and successful operations which will also be applicable in the ultra-deepwater? Ultra-deepwater basins present different metocean environments, high-pressure/high-temperature reservoirs, and deep formations. As these ultra-deepwater basins may be located farther from currently established infrastructure, the industry continues to focus on technologies, approaches to work, and strategies that can be adapted to the expansion into these ultra-deepwater basins.

As industry continues its work to access newly discovered sources of hydrocarbons, success can be measured in many ways. For the moment let's focus on three:

  • Safety and environmental responsibilities
  • Technological innovation
  • Developing new talent.

Safety does not begin offshore. It starts in the office during the design process. Improvements in safety start by progressing what are currently accepted as sound, normal industry practices.

Continuous innovations in design not only keep all facilities operating safely; they also lead to improvements and even safer conditions. All potential risks must be constantly evaluated, and the technical community must continue improvements aimed at eliminating potential safety hazards.

The industry has applied, and should continue to apply, that same approach to managing potential environmental risks. What are the potential hazards and how should control barriers be designed to reduce or prevent a potential event? For example, the design of a passive hull with no exterior penetrations and no cross-flooding piping limits the possibility of water ingress and progressive flooding that could lead to stability problems. Advances in technology, once developed, should be adopted into practice. Our experience regularly shows that by thinking through the potential risks and exposures, design solutions can be developed that prevent bad outcomes, and in the end are far more affordable to build and operate.

Engineering and design innovations are a key component of success in ultra-deepwater environments. The industry has developed and is deploying engineering solutions and technology to address the high pressures and high temperatures which can be encountered at deeper depths, which in turn may increase the load on risers and mooring systems. Design engineers must continue to innovate in ultra-deepwater environments in ways that are not only increasingly safe and affordable but also offer the opportunity for standardization for engineering excellence in a constant, sustainable way.

The myriad of factors that are in play in the ultra-deepwater means that there are an equal variety of options and solutions to address the technological aspects of ultra-deepwater. For example, high pressures at deepwater depths could be a subsea solution, a topside solution, or a wells solution—or all three in combination. Interdisciplinary collaboration will increase the potential for the development of additional creative solutions.

Leveraging and training talent is essential to sustaining successful operations on all frontiers. Many of us, having been in the industry for 25 to 40 years, enjoy the mentoring and development process, and in due course look forward to the succeeding generations of offshore engineers and scientists. While we may initially seek the most experience for deepwater assignments, we also must leverage the experience of current staff along with fostering the talents of our bright but less experienced colleagues. That can translate into very basic strategies – like taking a new hire or less experienced associate along with you to a conference, or sitting down and reviewing someone's work. Giving time, guidance, support and coaching – especially at the most junior levels – will help these staff members and, ultimately, our projects succeed.

We also have to ask ourselves if we are continually alert to providing opportunities for hands-on experience for company staff and for suppliers and contractors. Offshore work provides some different logistical challenges in workforce training. Offshore operators must not only continually invest in training their technical personnel, consistent with best practices and resources available, but also assist in accommodating supplier and contractor training programs for newly hired or less experienced employees, including having them participate on major projects. It is important to involve the entire supply chain in designing and building systems in a responsible way—from the beginning and throughout the process.

Robert W. Patterson
EVP Project and Engineering Services
Shell Global Solutions

This page reflects viewpoints on the political, economic, cultural, technological, and environmental issues that shape the future of the petroleum industry. Offshore Magazine invites you to share your thoughts. Email your Beyond the Horizon manuscript to David Paganie

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