PERTH, AUSTRALIA—Four of the biggest oil and gas operators in Australia have joined forces in an effort to combat an issue offshore Australia that is costing the industry hundreds of millions of dollars: replacing subsea equipment that fails prematurely.

Australia’s Woodside, Japan’s Inpex, Thailand’s national E&P PTTEP, and global supermajor Shell are seeing encouraging results from a joint industry project (JIP) initiative led by Wood Group. The JIP was launched to eradicate the swift degradation of subsea equipment in shallow, warm conditions stretching from the Northwest Shelf of Western Australia to the Timor Sea.

Collaboration and cost-cutting were key themes of this year’s Australian Oil and Gas Conference in Perth, where Australia’s ability to remain globally competitive was red-flagged in the post-LNG plant construction boom phase currently drawing to a close.

The JIP will soon launch a cloud-based reliability database of subsea equipment failures in Australian waters focusing primarily on control models, umbilicals and electrical cables, said Adriana Botto, principal engineer of subsea integrity for Wood Group.

“The end goal is to have a database which is reliable and represents the history and experience of equipment and also allows comparisons with different equipment and vendors,” Botto said during the conference. “The database will be analyzed by us to provide the operators with reliability data to facilitate lessons learned, what are the challenges, and the best ways to remediate.”

Christopher Merrick, senior subsea engineer at PTTEP, said new Australian offshore operators Shell (Prelude) and Inpex (Ichthys) were eagerly monitoring the JIP’s learnings.

“They are just about to start up and will be seeing very similar things by us,” Merrick explained.

Harvey Smith, subsea controls technical authority at Woodside, said subsea equipment was typically designed to last in fields for20 to 25 years; however, Australian operators were lucky if their equipment lasted nine to 10 years.

“Most of it seems to be temperature related, with average subsea electronics modules operating in internal temperatures of 42 to 43 degrees Celsius [C] (109 degrees Farenheit [F]),” Smith said. “But in our new [Greater Western Flank] Field we are now seeing new equipment at operational temperatures of 28 C (82 F), purely due to the design of the module itself.”

Every time Woodside retrieves one of the 75 control modules it has operating offshore, it costs the company about $1 million—more than the value of the equipment itself. PTTEP’s cost of retrieval for subsea electronic modules is about $2.5 million per unit.

Warm seas and shallow-water depths offshore Australia is fertile terrain for marine growth that, in one instance, shut down PTTEP’s Montara Field in the Timor Sea for two weeks due to a stuck valve clamped by calcareous deposits.

“We rotated it with an ROV tool and gave it maximum torque to try and turn this valve where the marine growth had penetrated. But we could not open that valve, so we could not produce from that well,” Merrick said. “That resulted in a two-week delay while the vessel was in the field trying a number of tools. So, to extrapolate: 20 guys onboard, tools flying back and forth, ROV operations and a vessel on the field. Those are all significant without integrated loss of production. And at Montara the sea temperature at the moment is 32 C [90 F], the hottest on the planet.”

—Dale Granger