Tackling the deep

Paddy O’Brien and Arthur Braqa

October 1, 2015

Brazil’s deepwater offers huge opportunities, but also big technology challenges. The Industry Technology Facilitator’s Paddy O’Brien and Arthur Braqa explain.

Images from ITF.

Offshore activity in Brazil raises particular technical challenges in tandem with the global drive to cut costs, improve efficiency and integrity and develop better safety practices.

Brazil’s pre-salt oil and gas discoveries in the Santos and Campos Basins play a key role in the country’s plans for economic growth and prosperity, and continue to set new production records.

The pre-salt play is also a potentially lucrative draw for international oil companies looking to take advantage of new exploration and production opportunities in the 13th licensing round in October.

Recent reports from Brazil’s regulator, Agência Nacional do Petróleo (ANP), suggest that despite the low oil price and recent political controversy, the number of companies subscribed to participate in the forthcoming bidding process had already exceeded the number registered in 2013.

ANP received interest from about 17 companies from eight countries and pre-approved 12 of them late August. This new exploration frontier, only discovered in 2006, poses huge technical hurdles in seismic and visualization technology to properly map the pre-salt targets. High-pressure, high-temperature (HPHT) innovation is also advancing. A decade ago the physical technology did not exist to drill to such deep and ultra-deepwater depths and special equipment such as managed pressure drilling is now needed alongside heavier riser systems and drill strings.

An advance in reservoir characteristics, fluid behavior and data collection from wells requires more technical traction to give the industry better understanding and reduce uncertainties around pre-salt productivity. This will allow operators and decision makers to evaluate the number, location and best placement of production wells. Improvements have already been made in terms of reducing well count and costs, increasing the recovery of oil and gas and improving operating efficiency. Work is underway to develop technology to improve acquisition, processing and interpretation of seismic data, which will advance the exploration efforts in the country. 

Offshore exploration in Brazil has taken place since the 1970s, and, like the North Sea, is undergoing increased activity to decommission many of its fields and subsea wells. Petrobras is currently looking to leverage learning and global best practice worldwide through the use of existing technologies and capabilities for well-plugging and abandonment (P&A), which demands its own complex technical solutions. One of the challenges for P&A is the availability of technologies for appropriate inspection of the well, from the inner side, to assure the appropriated integrity of the well and make sure there are no risks of accident or leakage.

Collaboration drives innovation


ITF is bringing together local academia and international operators, such as BG, Chevron, Shell, Total and Repsol Sinopec Brasil to instigate a number of joint industry projects to complement operators’ own R&D activities.

Following the organization’s recent call for proposals on “Water Production Challenges – Flow Assurance,” two projects have been proposed with the Universidade Federal da Paraíba (UFPB) – Departamento de Engenharia Química and the Universidade Tecnológica Federal do Paraná (UTFPR).

The first with UFPB is on produced water treatment by adsorption for reinjection and disposal purposes. This project aims to reduce the concentration of oils, greases and other contaminants from produced water effluents generated in petroleum producing units. This will address the challenge of improving the quality of water for reinjection, disposal and release into the sea in accordance with regulatory requirements.

The second project with UTFPR is the development of an integrated multiphase flow metering system. In this proposal, optical, electrical and ultrasound measuring techniques coupled to intelligent algorithms will be integrated and evaluated, with the aim of developing a phase fraction meter without the use of ionizing radiation. In addition to the above project, ITF is working with the same University on the development of a downhole phase fraction meter. A multidisciplinary team of experienced researchers and graduate students from both Electrical and Mechanical Engineering Departments at UTFPR will be set up to execute this project.

Unlocking potential

New technologies deployed now and in the future will be essential to unlock the country’s potential. These include: novel riser systems; new flexible riser technologies and integrity management including life extension; qualification of new materials such as linepipe clad and corrosion resistant alloys; and CO2 separation and injection equipment with a large footprint at the process plant.

It is anticipated that the cyclical nature of the oil and gas industry and the imminent and much anticipated 13th licensing round, will pave the way for a new wave of investment to meet technology demands. This creates an ideal setting for developers and operators to come together to deliver solutions which will benefit the entire oil and gas sector in Brazil.

Dr Patrick O’Brien
is CEO of the Industry Technology Facilitator, ITF.



Arthur Braga, is Country Manager, Brazil, ITF.