By Salma Essam

The steady increase in global energy demand has long made oil and gas major sources of world energy. In spite of some speculations, petroleum resources are plentiful, particularly in deep waters. Therefore, rather than availability of hydrocarbons, the most troubling question for the IOCs nowadays is related to safe and efficient extraction. And this is where technology plays a key role in offshore drilling.

As Egypt is due to host the biggest annual conference for the oil and gas industry in the region, EGYPS 2017, offshore technology and operations are two cardinal themes of the Technical Sessions. The debate is to ensure that today’s offshore technology reflects the actual requirements of the industry.

As Egypt is looking forward to start production from its deepwater Zohr field, the country’s credentials as an offshore producer are promising. With this comes the need for advanced technology and know-how techniques that the country will inevitably be required to apply. And this is where The Egypt Petroleum Show is to present the existing innovative technologies available for the offshore segment, address offshore challenges, and discuss future technological prospects. In this sense, it is recommended to consider novel technologies that different IOCs have recently introduced for successful offshore development.

Booming Rigs Sector

The technological progress in the oil and gas industry has evidently contributed to the high success rate of locating and extracting oil across the globe. However, many offshore-rigs-focused companies have taken long time to embrace new technologies since that they preserved their traditional designs. This has imposed financial burden regarding their maintenance cost. In addition, ageing rigs produce potentially low output.

In the context of rising demand on oil and gas production, companies have no other choice but to adapt to the visible progress that the offshore rigs have been recently witnessing. Noticeable is the highly improved productivity of new rigs that contributed to maximizing output thanks to news designs and functional structures. For example, Australian McKay Drilling has completely changed its operational structure by implementing “various state-of-the-art changes to the rigs,” according to Spencer Ogden’s report. In this sense, McKay Drilling General Manager, Brenton Wallace, said:  “There’s quite a lot of innovation going on throughout the whole business, from small changes to the master changes in the drill rigs.” He further emphasized the importance of reacting to the market needs through innovative technology. Stressing that it is important to have the ability to change the way any oil company operates, Wallace further noted: “Whether there’s a boom or a recession and if there is a requirement for new technology we can interact with it very quickly.”

The oil and gas industry’s trends are not constant. It is therefore always difficult, even for oil analysts, to affirm where the market is going a year from now. Especially because the prices are unstable, which in turn affect the supply and demand forces. However, throughout the last decade, profitable businesses in the oil and gas sector have adopted a strict approach towards improving operational performance of offshore facilities. Achieving objectives of safety and efficiency have been a direct result of superior machinery and technological application. Drilling safety continues to be a top priority for many companies who are building newer rigs in adherence to environmental standards as well as operators’ safety. Drilling Sales Director of Spencer Ogden Americas, Alastair Cole, said: “The development of technology in the offshore drilling sector has increased efficiency and the exploration reach to find hydrocarbons. Beyond this, the constant development of technology is largely based around increasing the safety of these operations to ensure the crew and the environment remains safe.”

The 2014 decrease in oil prices was followed by a decrease in the drilling rigs demand as well. This drop has prompted different offshore contractors to retire their old assets. As a result, the improvements in the offshore exploration project had to be brought about by the technologically advanced fleet of rigs that were introduced to the oil and gas market. Canada stands out as an example for healthy growth in offshore rigs since that the confidence of the Canadian oil and gas contractors is growing and a boom within the sector is imminent. In the World Oil’s report on Global Rig Utilization, published in November 2016, it was stated that many companies improved drilling machinery and different assembly systems in efforts to increase productivity and enhance safety measures.

Vibration Analysis Technique:
Importance & Challenges

Offshore deepwater drilling along with unconventional offshore oil and gas exploration and production activities will continue to grow. This comes in line with meeting increasing demand for energy and addressing shortfall in mature conventional onshore oil and gas fields in the world. Thus, most complex and highly effective marine technologies and products are required to enable the oil and gas industry to flourish and expand. Every offshore platform will need to be supplied with suitable machinery. For example, North Sea operating drilling rigs need to be designed for harsh environments and should meet rigorous specifications, which is not the same case in less tougher environments such as offshore drilling in the Middle East.

In return, improved systems are championing the work environment in offshore operations and becoming the new standards in the sector. According to The Importance of Technological Innovation in the Drilling Industry, a report published by Spencer Ogden in January 2016, the industry statistics show that up to five years ago, it took around nine months for oil companies to produce oil compared to today’s standards. Nowadays, many drilling sites are recording extraction within a period of 30 days or even less in some cases, thanks to more advanced marine machineries.

Therefore, it becomes of extreme importance to carry out frequent maintenance for the machines. In today’s offshore industry, vibration analysis is a common practice. A multinational oil and gas service company, Wood Group, explained on its website that “structural vibration occurs when dynamic forces generated by compressors, pumps, and engines cause the deck beams to vibrate. This vibration leads to piping failures, poor equipment reliability, and safety concerns.” This vibration occurs due to the structure being mechanically resonant.

Indeed, carrying out vibration analysis on machines is important to control as well as reduce the probability of unexpected shutdowns occurring due to unplanned machinery failures. Vibration in oil and gas assets has been a significant issue for many offshore platform operators as piping failures and poor equipment reliability, in turn, lead to huge production losses.

In these veins, Emirati Giant Zakum Development Company (ZADCO) has stricken a deal with Xodus Group of around $270,000 to perform innovative analysis on the offshore North Satellite platform. The platform’s infrastructure has been excessively utilized and has needed effective maintenance. In this sense, ZADCO’s Operation Support Vice President for Maintenance, Mohamed Abdulrahman Al Marzouqi, told Spencer Ogden: “The need to manage long term performance and issues has led ZADCO to seek out a more economical future development concept. Reducing vibration has been a major challenge for us as we have increased production on these ageing assets in recent months.”

Nevertheless, vibration analysis technology is not easily applied for two reasons. First, offshore operators tend to encounter specific challenges that arise due to daily management of the drilling platform. Offshore personnel are typically present around four weeks at the platform and four weeks they are off. This means that the time spent at the drilling site is limited, which makes it difficult to train and qualify the workers to carry out efficient vibration data collection. Safety may be risked in hazardous areas in case handheld devices were used by unqualified staff for the collection of vibration readings.

Second is the cost of hiring an external partner, such as the aforementioned case of ZADCO. The entire process of vibration data collection, if subcontracted for a year, is likely to be an unsustainable option. In addition to the skyrocketing costs of transporting highly trained service engineers to offshore platforms through helicopters, the process itself is time-consuming and needs a lot of planning.

Hence, companies need to address and contain these challenges. Specifically in the offshore industry, it is required to ensure high integrity in data collection, especially when vibration data are carried out off the platform by analysts or even external service providers. The analytical reports are a basis for business strategic decisions whether or not to extend the inspection interval of equipment and machinery under maintenance. With that explained, it is of great importance for the vibration data collection to be short and easy. In its press release The Offshore Challenge, German giant service company, Pruftechnik, recommended that “offshore operators keep vibration data collection as easy as possible in order to decrease the exposure to risks.” In other words, vibration data collection must be quick and reliable. Therefore, online monitoring systems for data collection offer better vibration data collection since that it automatically observes the health of the equipment.

If the operator is short of highly qualified staff, it is essential it hires a subcontractor to carry out the job instead. The operator therefore should allocate part of the project’s budget for the needed technology required to ensure the safety of the offshore machines and equipment used.

BP: Applied Material Science

Safety remains on top of the industry agenda, as shock waves from different offshore disasters continue to reverberate. The petroleum industry has been under scrutiny as the community’s expectations are high with regards to safe drilling activities. Never in the history of the oil and gas industry will anybody forget BP’s oil spill disaster that happened in 2010. It brought about serious environmental damages, threatening the marine life in the Mexican Gulf, and dragging BP’s CEO to interrogation. Since then, offshore drilling has been equipped with optimum technologies in attempts to meet safety and efficiency measures.

Giant British Petroleum has been investing in technology programs that enhance offshore safety, improve exploration and production, and boost conversion processes. The company invested $100 million in its one of a kind International Center for Advanced Material (BP-ICAM), which aims to “advance the fundamental understanding and use of materials across a variety of energy and industrial applications,” in efforts to develop high performing equipments.

One of the leading advances BP has been working on is the development of stronger steel, which is essential for the infrastructure of the oil and gas industry, since that the quality of infrastructure material such as pipelines ensures the safe transportation of extracted petroleum products and life longevity of transport system. As hydrogen is highly reactive and combines readily with metals, scientists at BP-ICAM are developing chemicals that map the surface of carbon steel, which will help identify where the dangerous hydrogen lies in the microstructure. These chemicals will help pipelines to be more resistant to corrosion and will extend their durability. In turn, offshore pipelines tend to be resistant to any leakage incidents that may harm the marine life, hence meeting environmental standards and extracting the highest amounts of oil and gas.

Positive Prospects for Offshore Sector

The future of offshore drilling remains bright, particularly driven by the steadily rising energy demand. It becomes critical for oil and gas companies to show planning and financial commitments towards technological advancements that help ensure offshore operational safety in today’s unpredictable market. In tough and challenging sectors such as the offshore industry, equipping the workplace with modern machinery is essential for the safety of the personnel, the marine life and for the efficiency of exploration and production activities. Therefore, embracing top-notch technologies, combined with involving local and international expertise, will act as a benefit for oil companies which will help them carve a reputation for high quality and up-to-date technology. That said, advanced technology proves to be the tool for wide and extensive deepwater oil and gas industry. Egypt can accelerate its deepwater development through an effective technological application and advanced offshore innovations.

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