LONDON—Aberdeen-based Oil & Gas Technology Centre (OGTC) is pushing an initiative called the Tie-back of the Future in hopes of slashing in half the cost and time to develop small pools offshore the U.K. and making an additional 400 MMbbl economic.

In turn, this could “generate US $4.15 billion [£3.0 billion] of additional value,” said the OGTC, which is a not-for-profit, industry-led technology R&D organization.

The U.K. Continental Shelf (UKCS) has about 10% of the world’s small pools. With 27 billion barrels in small pools globally, there is huge potential to take solutions developed here to other basins with marginal fields, driving international growth and export opportunities, the OGTC said.

Tieback of the Future

“Small pools represent a big prize for the U.K. economy but they each have their own challenges. The ‘Tie-back of the Future’ concept is making significant strides to making more of these fields economically viable,” Chris Pearson, small pools solution center manager for the OGTC, said in a news release.

He added that “some of the ideas and early-stage technologies out there are really interesting. We are seeing developments in mechanical hot taps, mechanically connected pipelines, multiuse pipelines, the integration of renewable energy systems and unmanned facilities. These solutions could transform the development of small pools and extend the economic life of the North Sea,” Pearson added.

The OGTC’s initiative, which brings together operators, supply chain companies and technology developers, aims to create a circular economy in which subsea equipment can be disassembled and reused, according to Pearson. The circular economy revolves around the interconnectivity between five factors: install, operate, disassemble, design and fabricate. The current related areas of study are: advanced flow management, safety zone, reusable pipelines, reusable control systems, remove/refurbish/reuse and plug-n-play.

Graeme Rogerson, project manager (small pools) at OGTC, gave Hart Energy some details on technology involved.

  • EC-OG’s Subsea PowerHub can provide remote electric power to subsea infrastructure from a vertical axis turbine;
  • Exnics’s A-EYE is a non-intrusive and retrofittable flow measurement tool that will show what is flowing through subsea pipes.
  • The Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC) at the University of Strathclyde is the first step in pulling together stakeholders to work up a mechanical hot tap fit for UKCS use.
  • Ocean Power Technology’s (OPT) wave buoy device is capable of generating electrical power for subsea kit and providing the communications and radar requirements to protect the subsea kit from fishing interaction.

Circular Economy

In terms of creating a circular economy where equipment is disassembled and reused, Rogerson said, “This is happening now but more on the drilling side where tubing and casing get re-used and subsea wellheads sometimes refurbished. Companies such as SEA are also looking at controls. In general subsea architecture hasn’t been designed for re-use, so it’s not happening. So when will such technology that can be disassembled and reused become widely used?

“I think the first step is to look at when would a development be designed, installed and operated in this way. For me a lot of technology is there for us to use so if the initiative gathers momentum in 2018 and we see some FEED on specific opportunities being work inline with the initiative then 2019 could see some Authorization For Expenditure (AFE) decisions being made to develop UKCS tiebacks this way,” Rogerson added.

If events unfold in such a way then first production from some projects could occur in the 2020-2021 timeframe, Rogerson noted.

“For widespread use I think some fundamental behavior changes need happen in the industry within operators and the supply chain. I think that would only come after the first few development plans are approved, so widespread use is five-plus years away,” he added.

Extending Life Of North Sea

Pearson noted that the estimated time impact is more than 25 years of extra life in the North Sea. Areas of further interest to drive down lifecycle costs and improve recovery factors are: mechanical hot taps, mechanically connected pipelines, advanced flow management, gas to wire technology and reusable pipelines plus the study areas related to the circular economy, he added.

“The industry has a fragmented approach to equipment re-use. We have demonstrated that by designing for disassembly not decommissioning we both reduce lifecycle cost and reflect the shorter production cycles for many of these smaller fields,” Pearson told Hart Energy. “We aspire to deliver many of the technology solutions discussed within three to five years.”

With regard to extending the economic life of the North Sea, how long could this life be extended and is more technology needed to follow on from the current work to achieve this?

“Some assumptions here but an ‘average’ operational life of a small pool, which is being considered for development as a tieback, would be five years. The details on the UKCS small pools suggest 200 to 250 may be developed as tiebacks,” Rogerson responded.

“If this initiative helps enable the development of such a volume of projects then you’re looking at quite a few years of development then operation. Say you managed 10 a year?” he said. “For technology development I could see us supporting around 20 different technologies that interact with each other to deliver the initiative,” he said. “Some 80% of this technology is around us.”

Discovering the same volumes that have been found already in small pools would require 500 wells and take 14 years at today’s exploration rates, according to Mhairidh Evans, principal analyst for Wood Mackenzie.

“As a mature basin, these barrels can no longer be ignored. As well as providing much-needed new investment, unlocking small pools is key to extending the life of existing infrastructure,” Evans said. “The U.K. industry, with the OGTC’s backing, is at the forefront of these new technologies. Approaches taken here will be much-watched and learned from around the globe.”