The market downturn has forced the entire oil and gas industry to rethink the way that it operates. Service providers and operators have had to find ways to perform their work more efficiently with fewer people, while reducing costs and delivering results with faster turnaround.
The impact of the downturn on the deepwater market has been especially severe. Over the past couple of years we have seen a decline in the number of drilling projects, and those already under way continue to face stiff financial challenges. Even before the downturn, deepwater operations were economically challenging. According to Douglas-Westwood’s World Deepwater Market Forecast for 2015-2019, between 2000 and 2013 deepwater oil production grew 14% and gas production 40%, while capex during this period grew 374% - that’s an unsustainable trend.
Deepwater exploration, development, and production is commonly considered the riskiest and most expensive oil and gas venture. Nevertheless, the sheer quantity of recoverable reserves ensures the industry’s continued presence in this area; the growing energy needs of the world simply dictate it.
To address the challenges of deepwater, operators have been revising their business models to emphasize collaboration among the various players as well as optimization of services and technologies for maximum efficiency. These improved models are primarily built around sustainable methods that maximize asset value while ensuring the safety of personnel and protection of the environment.
To remain competitive and aligned to operators, service providers are being challenged to think more creatively as well, to improve existing technologies, develop new ones, and leverage advances in other fields generally viewed as outside the industry. There are a number of innovations that can now be deployed to fine tune logistics, optimize drilling timelines, reduce costs, and operate more efficiently in deepwater.
For example, the industry can use “big data” analytics to collect information and monitor the status and operation of equipment, the volume of materials, and the transit of personnel to and from the rigs.
The industry is also bringing more automation to the cementing process, and is working to reduce the equipment footprint on the rig. The development of a modular cementing skid represents a new technology breakthrough on this front. The unit’s compact size reduces its footprint more than 45%, facilitates quicker installation, and contributes to overall safety on the rig. It is also built to withstand the severity of the deepwater and ultra-deepwater environment.
The modular unit automates the concentration of liquid additives, and mixes slurries on location with additives designed to reduce contingency waste. Its integrated diagnostics provide constant checks, generate maintenance data, and communicate alerts to help mitigate the potential for equipment failure during critical operations. Should control communication be lost, the unit immediately shifts to neutral to avoid nonproductive time and safety risks, further optimizing operations and the cost structure.
The modular cementing unit can be operated remotely from a separate control room or even from onshore offices. Remote operations include video monitors and centralized, intuitive controls for all functions. The efficiencies gained from remote pumping are extensive, and environmental benefits can be realized through the use of non-radioactive density meters, lower hydraulic fluid levels, dust extractors that capture bulk cement particles, and acoustic enclosures around engines to reduce noise and vibration.
In drilling fluid operations, the industry now has technologies to drill safer and faster with automated testing and data visualization of density and rheology, two crucial fluid properties. Density can be measured every 1-2 minutes and rheology every 10-20 minutes, frequent measurements that facilitate assurance of well integrity. The data can also be used in real-time hydraulics models that, when combined with real-time parameters from the rig, provide optimized run rates for drilling and tripping as well as predictive analytics for incident avoidance.
Rethinking the way we test offshore safety systems like blowout preventers is another way to optimize deepwater development. The industry now has digital technology to obtain test results without human interpretation, automatically generate regulatory compliant reports, and reduce testing time by 33-75% - much faster than typical circular chart methods and without the element of human error.
In the long term, deepwater reserves will continue to play a vital role in the world’s future energy needs. To sustain and grow our business in this key market, the industry will need to continue making big changes to offshore operations, especially when the economic climate is as challenging as it is today.
The catalysts for these big changes will be better collaboration and the innovation of technologies, especially automation, modularity, remote operation, and digitization. Adoption and use of these technologies will only make offshore operations more efficient, safer, and stronger.