The pace of change in the oil and gas industry has been remarkable. Rapid industrialization over the past two decades has increased consumption of oil and gas, while technology has made meeting that demand possible. The expanding world population and chang- ing lifestyles means that the pressure to increase gas and oil production will never end.

Rex Tillerson, ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO, addressing the 21st World Petroleum Congress in Moscow this year, discussed the ex- traordinary changes that new technologies have made in the field. “With each passing year, our industry continues to advance the tech- nologies we employ – enabling us to go deeper, more quickly, more accurately, and more safely than ever before.”

New technologies are being developed at every level and from every angle – the amount of extractive industry patents rose from under 700 in 2005 to 1400 in 2010, and that pace is accelerating, reports the Venture Beat in a guest column by Mac Eltab.

GE Oil & Gas’ new NovaLT16 gas turbine, which provides over a third more mechanical efficiency and can operate continuously for four years between maintenance cycles, was introduced this November at the 2014 Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition & Conference (ADIPEC).

On the local front, Egypt celebrated the manufacture of the 1000th locally manufactured API Certified Sucker Rod by GE Oil & Gas and Petrogas.

Drones and Energy Use

  • SkyHunter, winner of the Technology Star Award, has developed technology that uses airborne surveys to map micro-seep data; this data indicates the presence of pressurized hydrocarbon res- ervoirs. Prospect evaluation and verification is aided and speed- ed up, and this information enhances other data used to make decisions. The SkyHunter can operate in all terrains, including ice and water, where seismic exploration would not be possible.
  • Agribotix from Colorado has adapted drones used in agriculture, equipped with cameras and sensors, linked to cloud based data, to check pipelines and get to spills much more quickly.
  • The 2014 Southwest Oil and Gas Awards for New Technological Developments of the Year, 2014, was won by Energy Recovery Inc. “They showed how they were able to capture energy from high pressure fluids and transfer it to power applications, creating reusable energy from what was formerly waste energy,” said the judges, noting the “environmental benefits as well as cost sav- ings from the recovery solution.”

New Opportunities

The Natural Gas Organization provides figures that suggest that 22,000 fewer wells are needed to produce the same amount of en- ergy as in 1985; technology has reduced the size of well pads with a concomitant decreased need for land. New exploration techniques do not depend on explosives, which lowers risk and impact.

  • Seismic imaging in 3D and 4D means that wells are identified more easily, placed more effectively, and the number of holes drilled is reduced, which reduces exploration time.
  • Measurement While Drilling (MWD) collects data from the bottom of the well as it is being drilled.

Innovations

Colorado Cleantech Industries Association organized a seminar for new innovations, which was held at the Governor’s Mansion – a clear sign of the importance attached to innovation in the field. They had issued a challenge in July that 40 companies responded to, and 12 were chosen to make presentations.

  • Denver-based Solar Multiple adapted technology from the Na- tional Renewable Energy Laboratory and created a thermal solar system which evaporates water from drilling much more rapidly than at present.
  • Capturing methane is such another high-priority technology, with much significant focus on valves, pumps, and plungers.
  • Alert Plus from Wyoming has a monitor that includes an alert sys- tem, which features an automatic shutdown as well as an alert on Twitter, online, and on cellphones.
  • OptiEnz used technology from Colorado State University to de velop the Real Time Sensor, which tests well wastewater for pollutants, methanol, and BTEX, precluding the waiting time that labs need to do analysis. “The operators are flying blind – this gives up to-the-minute information,” explains Jeff OptiEnzx vice president.
  • Agribotix from Colorado has adapted drones used in agriculture, equipped with cameras and sensors, linked to cloud based data, to check pipelines and get to spills much more quickly.

Water

According to the Guardian, innovations in the oil and gas industry have led to development in other areas. The oil and gas industry has the resources to stress test water treatment technologies that might not have made it out off the drawing board.

  • Clean Membranes, a start up company, have developed a “nov- el filtration system that can produce extremely pure, lab-quality water.” A pilot test is being run on water produced from fracking, and it might have wider applications in the food and beverage industry, which also produces huge amounts of wastewater.
  • Oasys Water designed a forward osmosis system intended for desalinating water, but has turned to the oil and gas industry for further development and testing. CEO Jim Matheson reports that it has been able to demonstrate the viability of the system and has attracted its first customers: “It can cost up to $10 a barrel to truck produced water to a well for disposal: we are able to do that for half or a third of the cost, ” he says. This process can also reduce significantly the amount of wastewater.
  • Christopher Robart, partner at PacWest Consulting, tracks about a hundred water companies serving the oil and gas industry and says, “A lot of leadership in the oil companies is looking at water as a major risk and are willing to invest in solutions.”

Microbes and Low Salt Content

  • BP, du Pont, and Energy Biosciences Institute are investigating the use of microbes to lubricate rock surfaces and to break down oil, making it more viscous and easier to move.
  • Cambrian Innovation also uses microbes to remove organic waste from wastewater: scaling up makes it cheaper, but also exposes flaws.
  • BP is using a LoSal process, developed and owned by BP, using water with a low salt content appears to boost recovery by up to 40%.
  • Injecting carbon dioxide into wells as an alternative to water is also gaining popularity. CO2 can be separated from oil and oth- er hydrocarbons during hydrogen power production – using this carbon dioxide means it is not released into the atmosphere.

Subsea Exploration and Drilling

Subsea drilling is a giant leap into extending fossil reserves. The sea- bed – a hostile and previously inaccessible area – is now being ex- plored, thanks to amazing technologies. Karl Johnny Hersvik, head of Norwegian Statoil’s research and development, believes that “subsea is the next generation of field development.”

  • The Alberto Luiz Coimbra Institute (COPPE) in Brazil is at the fore- front of research and engineering equipment to reach ever-deep- er levels and make it commercially viable. They have a facility, Lab Oceano, that is equipped with sophisticated multidirectional waves and wind generations systems that simulate the condi- tions found in in offshore exploration and production, which al- lows new technology to be tested.
  • Statoil has recently entered into an agreement with DNV GL to establish a joint industry project (JIP) to introduce an international standard for subsea process technology. DNV GL will lead the JIP to find industrial standards to make it more profitable to devel- op larger projects with subsea processing technology. Presently solutions are tailored to specific projects, which increases costs. Subsea pumps have been widely used, but Statoil is installing the first subsea compression systems to increase gas production from the Asgard and Gullfaks fields.
  • Cortez Subsea UK, has created Structure Commander software to inspect offshore platforms and is currently using this software suite to inspect six offshore platforms in the Eastern Venezuelan basin. This software uses data acquisition, eventing, and digital video to aid in the planning and managing of structure and pipe- line integrity.

Engineering

GE has an innovative solution to prevent corrosion and connection seizure issues caused by marine and calcareous growth. FLX360 employs a mechanism similar to the bayonet fitting on a light bulb – a threadless design with small pins fitted on the side. The remote oper- ating vehicle (ROV) rotates the mechanism, which then catches and locks. There is guidance on the stab plates to avoid misalignment, an- gular, rotational or lateral. “The FLX360 is a clear example of common sense engineering, showcasing our ‘systems wide’ wide approach in the evolution of subsea technologies. Stab plates are a critical com- ponent, which once engaged, are held together by huge force. They should remain in position, regardless of external conditions for many years, but should also be able to be ‘de-mated’ on demand,” says Paul White, Director-Subsea Technology at GE Oil & Gas Systems.

Remote Controlled Vehicles

ROV’s replace people thus reducing the risk to life and also saving time. ROV’s can operate at depths of 3000m, and function is condi- tions of poor visibility and strong currents. “ROV systems are evolving at a fast pace,” says Moray Melhuish, commercial director of award winning company, ROVOP.

The development of ROV’s has made previously impossible tasks commercially viable.

Conclusion

As we consider the enormous implications of new technologies for the oil and gas industry, Rex Tillerson added this perspective: “Simply put, the global need for energy we see today – and the growth and demand we anticipate in the decades ahead – will require the world to pursue all sources of energy, wherever and whenever they are eco- nomically competitive…This means that we must invest, innovate, and relentlessly advance the technologies and techniques that promote energy efficiency, improve environmental performance, and reduce the greenhouse gas and air pollution emissions associated with in- creased energy use.” The oil and gas industry has already shown that it is dynamic and can rise to any technological challenge – they are doing it already.

By Virginia Crawford

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