There’s no easy answer. The industry must on one hand continue to develop state-of-the-art solutions for areas such as the Arctic and ultra-deepwater regions. That inevitably means the need to invest heavily in R&D to produce new technological advances, whether these are in subsea separation, metering, boosting, or multiphase flow assurance.

At the same time, the need to have good availability of standard kit for the development of smaller scale fields in more conventional water depths and mature producing areas remains crucial. In other words, there needs to be a shared agenda for both oil companies and the contractors when it comes to subsea technology.

The CEO of production technology company Proserv, David Lamont, noted the need for “leaner, meaner technology and common global practices” at a recent industry gathering in London. This was the very minimum required, he said, in order to ensure the subsea industry’s future sustainability.

“Technical advances in subsea technology have typically been not only more complex and heavier but expensive and less reliable too,” he said. “It is vital that we shift our focus to ensure a crucial upside to the industry because there is significant demand for fit-for-purpose systems and solutions that are reliable, efficient, and delivered in an ingeniously simple way.”

His point was that the development of technology incorporating off-the-shelf components and lighter, simplified designs is essential for faster and more cost-effective delivery, therefore improving production, reservoir management, and ultimately recovery rates.

Something very much along these lines was reiterated at a briefing by Aker Solutions and Statoil that I attended earlier this year. The standardization drum was beaten loudly by the North Sea-focused presenters as they discussed the smaller scale of subsea field developments on the Norwegian Shelf and the need to work from “standard catalogs.”

“There are not many Trolls around anymore,” said one. “Most fields are small compared to what is left in Troll now.”

This naturally leads to the perennial debate over what’s nice to have and what the industry needs to have, bearing in mind that smaller field volumes have higher unit costs. Reflecting Lamont’s view, it was again very much the Norwegians’ view that “standardization enables industrialization.”

image- underwater

Subsea startups are forecast to rise to circa 800 within five years from 300 or so at present, indicating a clear need for ‘off-the-shelf’ components to speed up supply and cut costs. (Image courtesy of Statoil)

Having fewer product changes, being able to buy in bulk, and having more efficient production mean reduced costs for operators and more fast-track projects for suppliers.

In summary, having a shared agenda can result in reduced costs and delivery times, and for mature regions that equates to more marginal projects being converted from opportunities to reality.

If the industry can manage to share the same agenda as it matures the more cutting-edge subsea technologies being pioneered in harsh and deepwater environments , then the same benefits of standardization will eventually be felt. But as always, the balancing act will be a delicate one.