Subsea Tieback Forum spreads industry optimism to record crowds

The 2013 Subsea Tieback Forum in San Antonio, Texas, kicked off the morning of Wednesday, March 6, with addresses from Nigel Smith, president of development for BHP Billiton Petroleum, and Tyler Schilling, president and co-founder of Schilling Robotics.

Offshore staff

SAN ANTONIO –The 2013 Subsea Tieback Forum in San Antonio, Texas, kicked off the morning of Wednesday, March 6, with addresses from Nigel Smith, president of development for BHP Billiton Petroleum, and Tyler Schilling, president and co-founder of Schilling Robotics.

The annual PennWell Corp. event, sponsored byOffshore magazine, was on target to exceed last year’s record attendance of more than 2,700 visitors. On Tuesday evening, many of those visitors met on the exhibition floor for a networking reception. Some 215 exhibiting companies presented the latest in subsea technology and offshore services.

Keen interest among engineers and exhibitors alike are signs of a booming offshore industry. But somefamiliar challenges remain, as Smith pointed out in the keynote address. Most significant are the rapidly accelerating costs of exploration and project development, along with slimmer success rates, that have made it more difficult to achieve commercial and technical success in deepwater.

The rapid rise of unconventional gas in the US has had a profound effect on the industry, Smith noted, as a number of major operators expand their shale gas portfolios. BHP Billiton is among them, having shored up extensive holdings in the Eagle Ford and Permian basin shale plays in Texas, among others. But the company is also seeking growth offshore, with the Shenzi and Neptune developments in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico, and the Macedon gas project offshore Western Australia, a $1.5-billion, 200-MMcf/d capacity development scheduled for first production later this year.

Smith cited an average two-year wait for delivery of subsea equipment as one factor that makes it difficult for operators to reach target dates. And he called for a greater emphasis on quality and “repeatability” among suppliers to help the industry achieve production goals.

Schilling, in keeping with this year’s conference theme, “Take it to the Limit,” gave several examples of how innovation has helped overcome technology barriers, often in a startlingly short time: the development of artificial lighting from candles to energy-saving bulbs, for example, or the dramatic cut in auto emissions over the past few decades. Productivity over the last century, too, has fueled unprecedented growth, he said.

Schilling Robotics, now a division of FMC Technologies, is developing ROV manipulator arms that extend the use of station-keeping technology to all aspects of the device. Early next year, the company plans to introduce new technology that will allow a manipulator to grasp a tool on command, and research is under way to enable the manipulator arm to track a moving object and orient itself automatically, freeing the ROV operator to concentrate on the task at hand and the “four degrees of freedom” used to navigate the ROV. The goal, he said, is a system so simplified and automated that one day many subsea ROV operations will require only basic training and skills.

Three technical sessions rounded out the first day of the conference and included presentations covering subsea systems, inspection, maintenance and repair; subsea boosting and processing; and lessons learned from recent offshore projects. Both the opening addresses and the first technical session, which included a presentation on Petrobras’ Cascade-Chinook project, drew audiences of more than 500, setting new records for the event.

The Subsea Tieback Forum continued Thursday, March 7, with sessions on well containment and flowlines, risers and umbilicals, and wrapped up with a series of presentations on recent subsea innovations.

This year’s event included workshops on Tuesday, March 5, presented by the Society for Underwater Technology and ASME.

3/08/2013

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