Survey examines Arctic challenges, solutions

In 2011, INTECSEA summarized the growing body of international Arctic field development knowledge in an Arctic technology poster.

Duane DeGeer
Mike Paulin
Glenn Lanan

Latest technologies added to this year's Arctic technology poster

In 2011, INTECSEA summarized the growing body of international Arctic field development knowledge in an Arctic technology poster. Following on the success of the inaugural poster, the company has updated the poster for this month's edition ofOffshore magazine. Numerous individuals and organizations have provided input to update the survey of offshore Arctic technology challenges and solutions; please see the Acknowledgements section on the poster for a listing of contributors.

Environmental conditions and field development requirements vary greatly within the Arctic and for other cold regions, so the poster attempts to provide a balanced overview of the major technical challenges and available solutions. It presents a summary of current geographical sea ice coverage, estimated hydrocarbon reserves in place, existing Arctic production facilities, field development strategies, concept selection alternatives, export solutions and future challenges for Arctic and cold regions production.

The increasing number of offshore Arctic fields being safely and economically produced demonstrates that technical solutions are available to develop these valuable hydrocarbon reserves. Expanding international knowledge about Arctic conditions, improvements in material behavior, advances in analytical techniques, wider acceptance of progressive design philosophies, and implementation of reliable Arctic operational strategies are enabling additional offshore Arctic prospects to be developed.

Local sea ice conditions such as seasonal first-year ice, multi-year ice, and/or iceberg intrusions are among the major differentiating factors for development schemes being used on existing and planned offshore fields. Jacket structures are suitable for relatively benign first-year sea ice environments. Gravel island structures can be used to resist multi-year sea ice loads in water depths up to approximately 15 m. Gravity-based structures (GBS) can be used in greater water depths to resist multi-year ice and limited iceberg loads. In deeper waters, FPSOs and other floating structure concepts may be preferred along with extensive ice management support and potentially allowing emergency disconnection in the event of extreme ice loads. These varied development schemes may also be applicable for the existing oil and gas lease areas and prospective geologic basins in the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica.

The poster has been enhanced with updated shuttle tanker information and the identification of export options to existing routes and facilities. Icebreaking shuttle tanker designs and year-round tanker loading terminal operations have shown significant advances in recent years.

Recent advances

Technological advancements for offshore Arctic field development have been made by research and development organizations and through joint industry projects. The Centre for Arctic Resource Development (CARD) brings together industry, academic, and technology partners to conduct medium- to long-term R&D focused on improving Canada's capacity and capability to support safe, responsible, cost-effective, and sustainable hydrocarbon development in Arctic and other ice prone regions. CARD's recently completed Arctic Development Roadmap identified, organized and prioritized key R&D topics for advancing required knowledge, technology, methodology and training. A high level overview of the project has been included in this year's Arctic Poster.

As identified in the Arctic Development Roadmap, one of the technology gaps is trenching for offshore pipeline protection in ice prone waters. As developments are proposed for areas that experience relatively deep ice gouging, burial depth requirements will exceed the capabilities of current pipeline burial technologies.

A number of JIPs are addressing the technological advancements needed to safely, efficiently, and economically proceed with hydrocarbon exploration and development in the Arctic. These include (but are not limited to) the JIPs described below.

Subsea processing technology continues to be viewed as a future key enabler for the Arctic. A JIP is ongoing that looks at Subsea Active Production Technology (SAPT) elements such as separation, boosting, compression, and direct electric heating that are suitable for typical stranded and existing field developments, along with the power and controls required to implement the technologies.

Another JIP aims to develop a trenching and burial system for harsh environments capable of trenching to depths greater than current industry norms in highly variable soil conditions and in water depths beyond most conventional trenching requirements.

A JIP for Arctic Oil Spill Response Technology has also been initiated that will concentrate on minimizing the risk of offshore spills where sea ice is present. Oil spill response technology will be developed and tested for application in the Arctic where, depending on the season, sea ice, darkness, and extreme temperatures can affect operations.

Future directions

The world demand for oil and gas will continue to drive Arctic and cold region development, which will in turn seek solutions for some of the unique technical issues and logistical impediments to Arctic hydrocarbon recovery. As technology advances, other Arctic development concepts are becoming feasible. Subsea tiebacks, now exceeding 100 km, offer the possibility of Arctic subsea completions without a permanent host structure. All-electric subsea control technology, full subsea separation and water reinjection, seafloor chemical storage and injection, and gas reinjection technical advancements have made possible the concept of full subsea completions in the Arctic. Research into improved leak detection systems continues to advance the ability to detect potential leaks and is supporting the development of new systems for use in the Arctic.

Arctic offshore design, subsea equipment technology, operating strategies, and our understanding of Arctic environmental conditions will continue to advance and, as a result, the options available for Arctic and cold regions field development will grow. It is important to note that all aspects must be considered integrally in any Arctic development plans. The design philosophy must provide the framework necessary to logically incorporate the elements of Arctic development in one overall life-cycle system design.

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