The following interview with Patrick Pouyanné, senior vice president, strategy business development, engineering R&D, Total Exploration and Production, was conducted during CERA Week. The interview was conducted by E&P Editor in Chief Bill Pike and Senior Editor Kevin Parker. E&P: What drives Total’s commitment to advanced technologies for subsea and in other areas? Pouyanné: Technology is the story of the group. A large part of the development of Total has been based on offshore developments in the North Sea and the Gulf of Guinea. We implemented the first subsea well in Gabon, for example. We went to Angola where we discovered Girassol. Its development was a huge achievement. And from Angola we went to Nigeria, where we launched Akpo. It’s quite a long history, and we continue to explore for offshore opportunities. We are there because we’ve been successful. We developed the appropriate technologies because it was a necessity. Total is a company of engineers. It’s part of our history, and we continue to believe as a company that technology is key. If we’re not advanced in terms of technology, we will be dead. That doesn’t mean developing things just in R&D or laboratories. For Total it means implementing the technology within projects. One example will be the subsea gas–liquid separation we will implement in Pazflor, it will be the first one that will be done at the seabed. Is the need for new technologies exacerbated by competition with the national oil companies (NOC) for access to available petroleum resources? The majors have been pushed by the NOCs to develop the more complex, more unconventional resources, including deepwater. It’s part of the business model of what the major oil companies bring to the table. We bring finance, we bring project management, but technology is the key to success here too. You have national companies that are going outside their own borders. Of course, when we partner with the NOCs, such as with the Chinese in Nigeria on Akpo, they are learning from us, and they will become one day self-sufficient. So we have to stay one step ahead, and in that sense it is a competition. That is one reason we’re keen to develop the oil sands, because there is a lot of technology, capital, and human resources to bring there, and that is something we’re capable of doing. You know, innovation arises when you are forced to do it, and that’s not just in oil and gas. In a number of areas, including unconventional reserves, heavy oil, enhanced oil recovery, and carbon capture, Total is leading the way. Block 17 is a showcase for Total. What important technologies have come out of Block 17 that you’ve been able to deploy in other places? Globally, if we look at Total’s history of offshore development, Girassol was the first. Riser towers were clearly an innovative concept compared with flexible risers. Then in Dalia, we faced difficult conditions due to its heavy and viscous oil. We had to take care of flow-line insulation, and flow assurance was a big challenge. Then came Rosa, with a tieback of 20 kilometers, which once again required excellent insulation characteristics of the flow lines. Pazflor was a real challenge because it involved three or four different fields within the same development, and fluids even more viscous than in Dalia. We had to implement fluid separation at the mudline. The next, Clov, is a challenge because we have several small reservoirs that are quite dispersed. So it’s again a challenge in terms of transportation. Each of these fields has challenged us to develop new technologies. Because of the different characteristics of the oils, because of the different distances, we had to tackle the issues one by one. And it’s working well. Another first for Total was the first subsea electronic tree. Why did you decide to adopt that technology and what benefits do you expect from it? We think that electrical tree actuation could bring benefits in three areas mainly. First of all, increase the availability of the wells. Today we use hydraulic conversion. The reliability of hydraulic systems is not always excellent. Hydraulically actuated trees are subject to leaks. Electric trees increase reliability. Second, with electrical technology we will have the most appropriate system settings based on a better monitoring system. If you have better monitoring, you can optimize production. The third point is that it paves the way to making subsea processing and boosting more possible. With subsea processing, you increase production. We think that for progress in subsea processing, electrical systems are a must. This is the purpose of what we’re doing in the Netherlands. We have two or three other fields where we’re thinking about applying it. It’s always a challenge to implement innovation when you’re working within a company like Total. You have your project teams, they want reliability first. And you have your innovation team that wants to implement this technology again. But this is just the beginning of a long story. How then do you organize these projects to achieve innovation? My division is called the “growth” division, which includes business development, engineering and R&D. The idea being that you put together the teams that will prepare the future, and in particular the R&D and engineering teams in charge of development studies. If you don’t introduce innovation during the initial stage of your conceptual studies, the innovation won’t come. You can’t introduce innovation at the stage of project development. It’s already too late then. The project team has to build what is designed. So the idea is to put all those people who will initiate innovation in the same division. There is a rule at Total that each time we embark on a conceptual study, the engineer in charge is obliged to propose an innovative solution. So you have the standard solution and the more innovative solution. This happens at the early stage. He can take his ideas to the R&D team and discuss with them, and there are senior people that decide whether it is the right time to implement the innovative solution. If it’s approved at this stage, then it will move forward. That it is the way we are organized, to drive innovation. What kinds of technologies are we going to see next in subsea processing? My feeling is that for deep water reserves we’ve developed first the giant fields. Now we need to look at the many smaller fields that could be far away from the coast. We have to find a way to make it economical to develop these smaller fields or those that are stranded in relation to installations. To do that, we will need to develop long tiebacks. That means tackling problems with subsea power transmission that occur after 50 or 80 kilometers. You have to develop subsea processing too, because flow assurance over long distances is really an issue. A final area to develop would be subsea local co-generation. What about technology transfer from other industries? We’re not working alone. We always work by contracting with other companies, because at end of day they are the ones developing the innovation. We can finance, we have engineers that understand our needs, and we can offer them experience in implementing the technology. For example, with the all-electric tree it was Cameron. We both contributed capital to its development. Each time, we try to find a company that thinks there is a market, that is interested, and that has the necessary motivation. What will be our ultimate recovery rates, subsea and globally? I’m very optimistic about the capabilities of engineers to always do better. It’s interesting that introducing an engineering team to a resource always increases recovery by 3% to 4%. So I can’t say what the ultimate recovery rate will be. The deepwater story for me is a great example. In 1990, we were told in regards to Girassol, you’ll never find it, there is no hydrocarbon at such water depths, and even if you do find it, you’ll never produce it. Eleven years later, we were producing Girassol. There are so many smart people in this industry, when we find an issue, we produce solutions. Humankind needs oil, and we will do all that we can to make it available. Of course it will have a cost. But there’s no way to say what the limit will be.