OTC ushers in new technology at new facility

This is the Offshore Technology Conference's first year in its new facilities at Reliant Center, in Houston.

This is the Offshore Technology Conference's first year in its new facilities at Reliant Center, in Houston. While the venue has changed, it can't hold a candle to the rapid evolution occurring in offshore technology. This year's line-up of general session, topical luncheons, and technical presentations reflects an industry that is both acting and responding to changes in the marketplace and the operating environment.

General sessions

The theme for this year's conference is "Deep into the Future." The general sessions reflect this theme by taking a practical look at the real-world considerations of exploring and developing deepwater fields over the long haul. For instance, the first of these general sessions addresses the critical question of gas development. Considered to date as little more than an expensive nuisance, associated and stranded gas reserves in isolated area will play a major role in the go-no go, decisions of future deepwater fields. If the industry is serious about deepwater, then it must address these issues to ensure smaller pockets of hydrocarbons can be safely and economically developed.

Another area of keen interest that often goes undiscussed is project execution. With the growing opportunities in deep and ultra deepwaters, independent operators are taking an aggressive stance on major development projects. As independents move into deepwater operations, there is a real need for information transfer. This could be a situation where the majors are willing to share best practices in what is an increasingly complex theater. For those companies already operating in the extreme offshore environments, issues including staff reductions and an increasing reliance on expertise from outside sources (read: service companies) make this an ever-evolving experience. To help participants over this learning curve, representatives from major operating companies as well as consultants and engineering firms will address key topics related to this issue at Wednesday's general session.

Topical Luncheons

The topical luncheon program has historically been a mixed bag. While many of the presentations were well worth the bus ride to the venue, some left attendees wondering why they bothered. While there is no guarantee some of this year's presentations won't be a little flat, they don't involve a bus ride away from the center. With OTC's new venue, the luncheons will be held at the same facility as the conference.

Highlights of this year's schedule include several presentations that should be well worth the delegate's time, and some that are sure to sell out quickly. Among the more obvious crowd pleasers is a presentation by Petrobras that covers actions that company has taken as a result of the P-36 investigation (12:15 May 8). Petrobras has been working diligently to develop a program to address safety concerns that resulted from this disaster. The newly unveiled Operational Excellence Program for Offshore Units will be outlined at a topical luncheon on Wednesday. The presentation will include updates on progress the company has made in implementing this program, which should be fully implemented by year's end. Another topic sure to be popular is a presentation by TotalFinaElf, on the company's global deep offshore strategy (12:15 May 8). While this topic may seem far from inspired, it is framed in the context of Girassol off Angola. This world-class subsea tieback has generated a lot of interest from all segments of the industry. The fact that TFE will discuss Girassol makes this luncheon a sure bet to sell out.

This year's dark horse may be the presentation by Ivan Kirschner, of Anteon. Kirschner will outline his work on supercavitation technology. The idea is that by creating a gas field around a submerged projectile, such as a torpedo, the object can travel much faster that conventionally thought. Typically 80 miles-per-hour is considered a good submerged speed, but with the proper technology, Kirschner anticipates a potential for moving these object near the speed of sound.

Assuming this will someday be possible, the question then becomes how does this apply to offshore E&P. Kirschner has a handful of potential applications, but says he is interested in the audience's ideas on this subject.

Technical program

There is something for everyone at the OTC technical presentations, and this year is no exception. Several stand-out topics deserve some extra attention. Shell's Brutus TLP will be highlighted the first day with a keynote address from Mahdi Hasan, Vice President for Development Execution at Shell International E&P. Brutus may prove to be a glimpse of things to come. Designed to anticipate, rather than react to, future tieback opportunities, Brutus expresses a wide range of hard learned lessons for Shell. There is stiff competition in this time slot from the FPSO Concepts presentation, especially in light of growing interest in the Gulf of Mexico; however, the Brutus session offers a broad base of technologies and best practices.

In the afternoon sessions, the nod goes to Flow Assurance Field Experiences. This is a topic that is not going away anytime soon. The twist is by presenting case studies the session cuts to the chase. Operators will be in the hot seat, explaining what is likely to happen and what can be done to both remediate and prevent this expensive and tenacious problem. New methods and technologies continue to improve flow assurance, and this valuable sharing of information is one of the best ways to benefit from the experience of others. Two other sessions of interests are Unmanned and Autonomous Solutions for Deepwater and Spoolable Composite Products. These are two areas where rapid advancements have been made in recent years, which always makes for interesting papers.

While the crowds will be at Accelerating the Commercialization of Deepwater Technology to hear the latest from DeepStar and ProCap 3000, Tuesday morning will also play host to a series of papers on the latest deepwater development solution, the Truss SPAR. This should be informative, although it will have stiff competition from Shell's session on Floating LNG Facilities (See article this issue), which may usher in a game-changing solution for deepwater.

The topics of the Shell presentation are a fitting prelude to the Gas Development General Session Tuesday afternoon. Design Strategies for Fire and Blast features a series of papers on topic no one likes to think about, but that are critical nonetheless.

Wednesday belongs to Girassol. The Girassol Development: The Deepest Field Development in West Africa I will occupy the morning with a broad range of papers covering this giant subsea tieback and the world's largest FPSO. The field is now on line and producing at target levels. These papers will cover the Girassol solutions, and some of the early production issues. The afternoon features Girassol II with a second battery of papers ranging from the suction anchors to the novel riser tower solution on this field.

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