NSRI (National Subsea Research Initiative), the technology arm of Subsea UK, held a series of series of “hackathons,” which brought industry, technology developers, universities and research institutes together to brainstorm possible technological solutions.
But, while the technical community believes technology forms part of the solution, the commercial structure of the industry is constraining the economies of scale needed to make the recovery of oil from these reservoirs viable.
“It was very clear that it is difficult to decouple the commercial considerations from the technical aspects,” explains Gordon Drummond, NSRI’s project manager. “Access to host facilities and infrastructure, non-collaborative behaviors between operators and small operators who don’t have the finances or the will to develop these resources were identified as barriers to the development of small pools.
“Of the technical solutions discussed,” he says, “some could have widespread application but, before progressing these, we need to carry out a geographic information system map, which details the size, location and fluid complexity of the small pools superimposed upon a North Sea map showing the ownership of and type of existing infrastructure. From this it will become apparent what type of technical solutions need to be progressed, for example tie-backs, subsea hot tapping, clustering arrangements and stand-alone facilities.”
According to NSRI, the technologies that present the biggest enablers to unlocking small stranded fields are compact FPSOs, production buoys, subsea production facilities including boosting, processing and subsea storage and enabling technologies which attain access to existing infrastructure, such as hot taps and self-sufficient hook up modules.
The potential technical solutions from the hackathons were categorized into efficiency measures, near to market technologies that could be piloted fairly quickly and relatively easily, and longer-term ideas with merit.
Simplification and standardization of subsea components and hardware, less rigorous specifications in order to meet the shorter design lives of small reservoirs and more holistic design are efficiency measures which could go some way towards improving the economics of small pools.