Staying ahead of the game

Elaine Maslin

February 1, 2016

Despite slower than anticipated demand for well intervention services, service firms are ploughing ahead with new designs and solutions to help operators get more out of their wells. Elaine Maslin highlights some of the activity in the market.

A completion workover riser system (CWOR).
Image from GE Oil & Gas.

In theory, there’s a huge global market for subsea well intervention, with a limited number of vessels out there to do the job.

“If you look at how many subsea wells there are, based on 20 days for one intervention, only 6% of wells can have interventions on them per year with the amount of well intervention vessels (not including drilling rigs) we have today,” says Robert Plat, principal consultant at Netherlands-based Royal IHC, speaking at the Offshore Energy conference in Amsterdam in late 2015.

The cost also appears to be attractive, particularly as it relates to increasing production from existing assets.

“The incremental cost for additional oil volumes will be lower than the cost per barrel for development of new fields,” says Erik Dietrichson, manager – Eastern Region Well Intervention Service, FMC Technologies. “If the cost for a typical RLWI operation is US$5 million and the incremental increase in volume following a successful operation results in an additional 1 MMbbl, the cost per barrel will be $5. Development cost of a medium sized new field offshore Norway is typically $50-60/bbl.”

Yet, the potential hasn’t quite yet translated into actual work. Dietrichson believes part of the reason can be found if you look at who is sitting on the some 5000 subsea wells in operation globally. “There are only 6-7 oil companies operating more than 200 subsea wells,” he says. “Two companies are dominating the market; Petrobras and Statoil are responsible for 800-900 subsea wells each… [with] all of these in their respective home country. Shell, BP, Total and ExxonMobil have 300-400 subsea wells each, but these are spread over 4-8 countries. The consequence is that the biggest operator in West Africa, Total, is one-third the size of the Brazilian and Norwegian markets and the biggest operators in the US Gulf of Mexico are one-tenth the size of the Brazilian and Norwegian markets.”

The result is insufficient market volumes for vessels in most markets. It has also meant there are growing numbers of firms offering smaller, cheaper, flexible solutions to take up parts of the subsea well intervention market, particularly around fluid intervention.


GE Oil & Gas has been quietly building up its expertise in well intervention, throughout the subsea well lifespan, from installation to plugging and abandonment, under the banner WellAccess. Notably, in May 2015, the firm struck up a memorandum of understanding with Enpro Subsea for work with its Integrated Subsea Sampling and Injection (ISSI) system.

Then, in October, GE Oil & Gas bought Norwegian subsea well intervention firm Advantec, including its installation workover control system (IWOCS) capabilities and IWOCS fleet. Drawing on both firms, GE Oil & Gas sold its first subsea fluid intervention system into the US Gulf of Mexico market in 2015, with deployment expected this year and it plans to introduce it to offshore West Africa after that. It will offer services for fluid intervention and scale squeezes and stimulation, etc.

Aberdeen-based Enpro, previously known as Cansco, was founded by the team behind the MARS (multiple application reinjection system) product bought by Cameron in 2007. Advantec was set up in 2005 to provide electro hydraulic systems, including IWOCS, with offices in Norway, the UK, Lithuania and the US.

“[Using Enpro’s ISSI] instead of going through a pressure containment system on the tree, you go in through the spool piece on the side of the tree and inject in bulk. This debottlenecks the plumbing,” says Carl Roemmele, WellAccess leader, GE Oil & Gas. An ROV is used to “plug it in” and suddenly you don’t need a rig or intervention vessel, he says.

What’s good about Advantec, Roemmele says, is that is has developed a Lego-block type of service, where its standard products, which make up the biggest rental fleet outside the US Gulf of Mexico, can be brought together to build systems in a third of the time that they would otherwise. It also has control over its manufacturing, which was attractive to GE, Roemmele says.

The WellAccess expansion doesn’t stop there. The firm bought two completion workover riser (CWOR) systems from an operator last year, expanding its fleet, with which it’s looking to work with clients to create a club model, where operators have access to a bank of equipment and services, instead of paying one off project by project costs. WellAccess is also offering more subsea test tree (SSTT) services and has been working in decommissioning, Roemmele says, and not just on GE trees. “We are moving from a product company to a services company,” he says. An example of this is a contract with Eni in Ghana on the OCTP (Offshore Cape Three Points) project to supply IWOCS and landing strings and potentially fluid intervention using Enpro’s fluid intervention equipment through field life. The firm is putting a new base in Ghana for the work.

The m-IDP system on a backdeck. Image from Magma Global.  


The relatively new kid on the oilfield block, Magma Global is using composites technology developed for the superyacht industry to make flowlines and jumpers, and ultimately risers, for the oil and gas industry.

The m-IDP system on a backdeck. Image from Magma Global.

The Portsmouth, UK-based firm is working with Peterhead-based Maritime Developments Ltd. (MDL) to produce a portable well intervention package, using a compact vertical lay system with a built in reel. The first package is set to be shipped to the US Gulf of Mexico later this year. It will have a 3200m, 3in m-pipe for light well intervention in deepwater with 5-15,000psi operating pressures and corrosive fluids. The idea is that it could be deployed on a vessel of opportunity, along with a lower riser package, emergency disconnect package and ROV, etc., for intervention operations such as scale squeeze.

The package will include Magma’s m-pipe, a high-strength carbon fiber pipe manufactured using PEEK polymer, which gives improved high-pressure and high-temperature (up to 200°C) and sour service capability, including H2S. And, compared to steel-based products in deepwater, it’s also better able to handle brine at pressures up to 10,000psi, compared to coiled tube. It’s also about 10 times lighter than steel pipe, enabling deployment from smaller vessels, Magma says.

The m-pipe is manufactured by combining Victrex PEEK polymer, high grade carbon fiber and S-2 glass fibers to the outside of a PEEK pipeline, using high-powered laser additive manufacturing, due to the heat required, and enabling bespoke tailoring to specific solutions. This includes adding more material to create strengthened end fittings, in order to remove the need for bend stiffeners, etc.

“The hydraulic well stimulation market is predicted to increase by 43% to US$4.3 billion by 2019 (Data: MarketsandMarkets),” says Andrew Kerry-Bedell, marketing manager, Magma Global. “However, this type of well intervention has been held back in its expansion by several key factors. These include relatively high dayrate costs from the use of rigs rather than smaller intervention vessels, combined with operational risks and complexities due to the short fatigue life and pressure and flow rate limitations of the steel coiled tube units usually deployed. These factors have become even more problematical with the higher pressure and higher flow rate requirements of fluid delivery for well intervention in increasingly deeper waters.”

He says Magma’s package allows operators easy access to a high-pressure, high flow rate hydraulic intervention pumping system on a dayrate rental basis, making it commercially attractive.

Ulstein’s heavy well intervention vessel design. Image from Ulstein.


The supply chain has not given up on creating a high-spec well intervention vessel, however. German firm Herrenknecht Vertical and Dutch ship designer and builder Ulstein have been working on a heavy well intervention vessel design.

They describe it as a well intervention vessel, with capabilities close to a drilling vessel, but with lower capex and opex. It would be a $100 million vessel with $60 million topsides working on a $175-225,000 dayrate (figures given in October 2015), depending on the function and how dayrates are defined, according to a presentation at the Offshore Energy conference.

It would be able to perform wireline, slickline, and coiled tubing operations, plus pull tubing and work with risers in water depth up to 2500m and 35,000ft drilling depth. In addition, it would be able to perform slimhole drilling and Xmas tree installation.

Bram Lambregts, marketing and sales manager, Ulstein Design & Solutions, said the two firms had looked closely at system integration and the layout of the vessel through network integrity theory, in order to combine equipment and functionality that needs to be close to each other. “The result is a compact vessel design because of compact functionality and automation,” Lambregts says.

The vessel has automated riser handling, including a catwalk lift system and skidding, a riser pipe combi catwalk and an ability to continuously trip 10 risers/hr. Pipe handling, up to 27in, is also automated, with integrated pipe storage and iron roughneck and continuous tripping at 2000ft/hr. It has an HVG Terra Invader 750 drill tower, a rigless hoisting system, using an A-frame, and integrated heave compensation. On the rig floor, it has a 1000kW top drive with top hole drilling capability, 49½in auxiliary rotary table and multi-functional iron roughneck with riser handling guider arm.

The design is 155.4m-long, with a 19.4m-beam and 9m draft. It will be able to transit at 15 knots, and will be DP3, with SPS and MUDO classification. It will have a helideck, 4000sq m deck space, Xbow design, be able to carry 4000-tonne of drilling consumables, and will have a 300-tonne BOP crane, an 18¾in BOP, a 100-tonne AHC crane, accommodation for 100 people, retractable thrusters, and ROV hanger.

“We have been looking at which equipment can be used as multi-purpose equipment,” says Dennis Vollmar, from Germany’s Herrenknecht Vertical. “We have been thinking how to accommodate all needs of the well intervention tower in to BOP gantry crane. The benefits are that it’s skiddable and you can stack all parts in the BOP stack area, which opens up the aft deck of the vessel.” This opens it do performing plugging and abandonment work P&A or increasing pipe storage.

OSD-IMT well intervention vessel design. Image from OSD-IMT. 


OSD-IMT, a UK division of Netherlands based Offshore Ship designers, is working on a riserless light well intervention vessel. The firm announced last July it is designing two, 120m IMT9120 riserless light well intervention/inspection repair maintenance repair vessels for Austin Offshore, the shipping arm of Upstream Drilling, based in Singapore. They are due to be able to each deploy three ROVs, have a 250-tonne AHC crane, and traveling gantry well intervention tower system. The 9500 dry weight tonnage, 120m-long vessels will have accommodation for 140. The vessels are due to be built by China Merchants Industry Holdings, Hong Kong.


Meanwhile, Helix Energy Solutions has also been looking additional potential uses for its vessels, including plugging and abandonment (P&A) and well construction.

Speaking at Offshore Energy, Helix Well Ops’ Phil Bosworth outlined how well intervention vessels can help reduce costs in P&A campaigns, either by running campaigns using Cat A vessels or using heavy duty Cat B well intervention vessels for full P&A work.

The advantage of using a Cat B vessel is being able to access the tower more easily than on a rig and to change between wireline and coiled tubing faster, Bosworth says. Cat B vessels could also be brought on well construction scopes, for top hole drilling, installing upper completions and Xmas trees as well as well stimulation and flowback, he says.

“Having have a rig and a well intervention vessel working side by side throughout the development work is something we are looking at,” Bosworth says. “A Cat B vessel can do 5-50% of well construction cycle. We had been targeting intervention, we are now focusing on taking work off the drilling rig. This enables lots of options and flexibility when scheduling new field developments, because you can batch construct wells more easily and if something goes wrong you also have flexibility. It gives flexibility in well construction schedule.” This could also save 5-30% drilling costs, Bosworth says.

Helix has two Cat B vessels being built for use in Brazil. The Siem Helix 1 and Siem Helix 2 monohull vessels are being built by Siem Offshore at the Flensburger shipyard in Germany, which Siem now owns, and are due to be delivered this year and go on seven-year contracts to Helix.