A 21st century platform

Troels Albrechtsen, Maersk Oil

September 1, 2016

Applying digital technology to the Culzean HPHT development could provide efficiency savings of at least US$10 million per annum and introduce the iPad and tablet as standard offshore equipment. Maersk Oil’s Troels Albrechtsen explains.

The wellhead platform jacket installed. Photos from Maersk Oil.

Maersk Oil’s flagship development in the UK, the high-pressure, high-temperature (HPHT) Culzean reservoir, is quickly approaching a major milestone with drilling due to commence later this year. Culzean was the largest hydrocarbon discovery in the UK North Sea in over a decade.

The field is approximately 145mi east of Aberdeen and reaches temperatures of up to 175°C, and pressures of some 13,500psi, which is equivalent to being 9km under water. At its peak, from its three new, bridge-linked platforms, it is expected to produce between 60,000-90,000 boe/d for at least 13 years.

Developing an HPHT reservoir brings many unique challenges – a lot of specialist skills and equipment are required to drill HPHT wells, for example. And with fewer than 100 HPHT wells producing around the world, compared to thousands of normal pressure, normal temperature (NPNT) wells in the UK Continental Shelf alone, it can be considered a specialized market.

In this respect, we were facing a double challenge when we approached the design stage of Culzean – the task of developing a complex reservoir in a specialized market paired with a volatile oil and gas prices. We quickly understood that in this environment where (oil and gas) prices are expected to be “lower for longer,” creating the ability to minimize the cost of operation once in production could be a big opportunity. We decided that harnessing technology would do the best job in helping us to address this opportunity and ensure efficiency is integrated at every stage of the design phase.

Digitization of Culzean

Because of the nature of HPHT developments, Culzean could not be fully automated, so we have embraced technology that ensures we will have the minimum number of people offshore. This will allow roles that would traditionally have been on the platform to be onshore, working in a real-time collaborative environment. The driver behind that is risk mitigation – the highest industry risk is helicopter transportation, so the fewer personnel offshore in total, and the fewer flights the better.

We decided to utilize relatively new, but available technology to build a 21st century facility on Culzean. While this meant making an up-front investment in facilities such as subsea fiber-optic cables and robust secure Wi-Fi networks, we know that these technology enhancements will pay off over the long-term by optimizing production efficiency, boosting uptime and running a safer, more reliable plant.

The volume of data our digitally enabled platform will generate demands a subsea fiber-optic cable, which allows for instant distribution of critical data from offshore operations. It will mean we can benefit from our own, and our key equipment vendor’s global expertise while keeping them onshore. This has the power to revolutionize operations offshore, to enable faster and improved decision making, and to increase efficiency and major cost savings. It will allow us to remotely monitor critical equipment 24-hours a day, and enable offshore colleagues to access real-time data, immediate technical evaluation and onshore support.

It is estimated that up to 20-30% of an offshore operator’s time is spent seeking data to perform a task. That’s hours every day looking for work sheets, valve specs and procedures. Better data management on the worksite can significantly reduce this by providing real-time information. To enable this, Maersk Oil will attach radio frequency identification, or RFID, tags to critical equipment on Culzean, which will provide the operator with all information associated with a piece of equipment in real-time. The information will include manufacturing data and certificates, drawings, video simulation of maintenance and operations activities, maintenance history and so on.

The operator will also be able to perform a maintenance routine by completing a procedure prompted by a checklist on a tablet. As the decks of Culzean will be flooded with Wi-Fi, any areas of non-compliance are instantly synchronized, with the master dataset and automatic notifications posted to the relevant operations management and support teams on and offshore. The operator can share photos and comments and these can be associated with the task and stored for future reference. Any actions generated are assigned a priority dependent on the criticality of the equipment and closure is tracked using standard reporting dashboards.

The full potential is still being mapped out. But when it comes to managing quality – in terms of being absolutely certain that the critical component being ordered is exactly what you need, especially when you’re dealing with HPHT equipment – that alone is going to reduce unplanned downtime and means better production efficiency over the coming decades. That cash flow really adds up.

Heerema Marine Contractors used theThialf to install Culzean’s wellhead platform jacket and access deck in April 2016. 

This is just the beginning

Applying these digital enhancements to Culzean could provide efficiency savings of at least $10 million per annum, as the iPad and tablet joins the wrench and screwdriver as a standard piece of equipment on the North Sea developments of the future. The digitization of Culzean also opens up opportunities for the adaptation of other exciting technologies in the future.

For example, engineers are currently exploring the use of augmented reality (AR) on offshore platforms. AR is constantly evolving and could unlock the potential of both our physical working environments and the people who work in them. I can easily see a time where all offshore workers have AR software installed in their goggles and helmets to help them navigate the platform more safely. From showing potential hazards or the shortest escape routes on the platform, to displaying messages about the status of the equipment, plus providing data on the pressure and temperature of pipes and wells or even digitally identifying engineers new to the platform. If we embrace digital technologies from the start, the possibilities are endless.

It’s an area we keep track of as part of our drive towards increased automation and digitization as a means to strengthen our efficiency and safety. Culzean will be designed to work with innovative technologies like augmented reality.

And now is the right time to be thinking hard about new innovative approaches and putting in place sustainable working models which offer some protection against the cyclicality that is a fact of life in this industry. The challenging environment we’re facing as an industry, forces us to develop more long-term plans and ensure we evolve our working practices to become more robust for the future.

Troels Albrechtsen is senior vice president and head of corporate technology & projects at Maersk Oil. He joined Maersk in 1991 as a geologist and has gone on to hold roles including head of production development, head of UK Exploration and New Business, head of ExNB for West Africa and South America, head of projects and services, exploration and new business, and head of geology.