ThoughtStream: Collaboration key to technology development

Patrick O’Brien

July 10, 2013

ThoughtStream: Opinion

In today’s continually evolving oil and gas industry there are always emerging issues to address. Collaboration within the industry can be a vital cog to deliver new solutions to the most pertinent problems and plug technology gaps.

Oil and gas from unconventional reservoirs is one sector that has seen huge investment in recent years. ITF has been running an unconventional roadmap which is currently at the final technical clarification stage.

We’ve received about 25 very high quality proposals for joint industry projects (JIPs) from the small-to-medium enterprise (SME)and university community, both in the US and the UK.

This encompasses a wide variety of issues including rock matrix characterization, sweet spot identification, reservoir fracturing, prediction of fracture patterns and ingenious ways to monitor live reservoir fracturing behaviors using smart proppants.

Unlike conventional reservoirs, new ways of thinking are required to create methods that effectively drain these unconventional reservoirs of their hydrocarbon reserves through the fracks.

However, success here can be applied to all reservoirs, and plays into the general theme of enhanced oil recovery (EOR). Whether it’s Norway, the UK or the Middle East, to my mind the topic of EOR continues to be high on the list of priorities for the industry as a whole.

Advanced materials are a common concern globally, though for many different reasons such as water depth, harsh environmental conditions, high pressure and high temperature (HPHT), and the perennial issue of corrosion. As we go into deeper water, we reach practical limits in the strength-toweight ratio for steel, and here there are definite opportunities to use composite materials.

Materials for HPHT are high on the international agenda, but particularly in the Gulf of Mexico as evidenced by BP’s recent announcement of its Project 20KTM, which will enable the company to produce from its deepwater Paleogene reservoirs .

Current material limits for well completions and interventions, blowout preventors, drilling risers, and subsea equipment are typically at the 15,000psi pressure and 250°F temperature level, so a step up is required for 20,000-psi materials.

For mature oil provinces such as the North Sea, extending field life and ensuring the integrity of aging assets are key concerns, and materials play a major role. In particular, steel corrosion under insulation is a particular North Sea challenge at this time.

Another current exciting technology challenge is seismic-while-drilling. Being able to image the rock ahead of the drill bit will enable the driller to better control drilling operations and will radically improve safety while drilling into high pore pressure reservoirs, a major concern since the Macondo incident.

We are currently involved in developing two very specific technologies, now at the prototype stage. To test these tools and further develop these technologies, we will be using a drill test site in the US to compare seismic while drilling against conventional seismic tools.

On a broader note, to make our joint industry projects come to fruition more effectively and much quicker, ITF needs a robust relationship with the technology development community, and we are looking at ways to enhance that by collaborating with other industry and government bodies that promote innovative technology development businesses.

We need to find an effective mechanism that enables us to identify solutions from technology developers that closely meet our members’ challenges. In this way, ITF can get industry, through our members, to invest in and speed up the development of technology to meet industry needs.

Patrick O’Brien became CEO at ITF (Industry Technology Facilitator) in May after a 17-year career at MCS in London and Aberdeen, and then group director of strategic business and marketing at Wood Group Kenny. He earned a BE, MEngSc, and PhD in engineering at the National University of Ireland, Galway. Patrick O'Brien