A cross-sector collaboration
between suppliers and project partners to design rigs at the concept stage for
tie-back will be beneficial. This approach enables the industry to move from
sequential development stages toward simultaneous drilling and platform
construction to accelerate timelines.
BEN CANNELL, Aquaterra Energy
The oil and gas industry is
facing pressure to find efficient and commercially viable paths to new
production amidst the perfect storm of an energy security crisis, surging inflation
and a challenging investment climate for fossil fuels. The rapid expansion of
renewable energy is good news, but fossil fuels are still required in the
medium-to-short term, which is creating an energy boom cycle.
The UK government, therefore, wants
to accelerate production of the North Sea’s offshore wind, as well as the estimated
4.4 Bbbl of remaining oil and gas
equivalent to fill the void created by Russian import sanctions. With banks also
under pressure to stop investing in new fossil fuel projects,
there is a growing financial imperative to improve project economics and
produce faster return on investments.
The challenge. A major challenge is that the
oil and gas industry remains wedded to a “waterfall” project management model,
whereby every stage, from platform manufacturing to drilling, happens
sequentially and in silos. For example, production drilling often doesn’t start
until after a new platform has been built and installed, which can take years, Fig.
But it wasn’t always this way.
Processes have previously been substantially expedited by pre-drilling wells during
the platform construction phase, which could then be later tied back to the
platform, enabling them to be put onto production within days after the
platform is installed. This was a common practice but has fallen out of favor
in recent years, with very few projects taking this approach.
Why has it fallen out of favor? This tie-back approach has
been overlooked, due to the advent and availability of cheap money, reducing
the necessity for a speedy return on investment. This, combined with a lack of
expertise and increasingly siloed oil and gas organizational departments, has
likely decreased the appetite to expedite tie-back projects. Project risks have
also increased in recent years, with several examples of pre-drilled wells
never being successfully tied back and put into production, due to technical
issues, such as tolerance build-up and a lack of tie-back engineering
continuity throughout a project’s lifecycle.
The negative impact of suppliers
and organizational departments expertly delivering their own elements of a
project in isolation should not be underestimated. Without a tie-back
engineering function providing continuity and making balanced concessions between
seemingly unrelated stakeholders, the project runs the risk of failure being
baked into the design from the beginning.
Why tie-back? Tie-back engineering from past projects has demonstrated the ability to
achieve faster and lower cost routes to first production by allowing
development drilling and platform construction to happen concurrently. By utilizing
specialist tie-back engineering expertise, production wells can be pre-drilled
and suspended, all while the jacket and topsides are being built, Fig. 2. This means that production can
begin days after installation, shaving months if not years off production
Drilling templates, docking
piles, pre-drilling and suspending production wells all enable multiple wells
to be pre-drilled and lower completions to be installed. This can be done
whilst detailed design and the manufacturing of the jacket and platform are
For this process to be
successful, it requires all interfaces and design tolerances across different equipment
vendors to be balanced at concept stage through to installation. This will ensure
optimal interoperability, design and alignment for production well tie-back. A
neutral convener with tie-back engineering expertise can form a connecting
thread, uniting a diverse and disparate supply chain for optimum efficiency.
Project management specialists
can oversee collaboration and compromise among separate suppliers and organizational
departments. Seemingly minor design, manufacturing or installation tolerances
can have a massive effect on the tie-back ability of the project, but by communicating,
measuring and managing success through the optic of tie-back ability, disparate
stakeholders can be pulled together with a common cause. If issues arise, such
as a missed installation tolerance, other elements of the project can then be
assessed, where they may have already improved a tolerance or be able to make
future adjustments to ensure that overall, the project remains in alignment. This
makes sure that a successful tie-back is incorporated into designs at concept
phase, enabling companies to move from a slow and sequential model of
production, toward simultaneous pre-drilling and platform construction.
As an example, at Aquaterra Energy, we supported a major energy company
to pre-drill, suspend and tie back six wells while the jacket and topside were
still under construction. This enabled the operator to start production within
days of the platform being installed. Our early-stage, collaborative approach
accelerated first oil, and therefore improved the return-on-investment
performance, making the project economically viable.
Toward collaborative and concurrent
the root of all these innovations is the need to move from siloed and
sequential production methods toward collaborative and concurrent production. If
the oil and gas industry adopts a system engineering approach, where every
component is cohesively designed and aligned for collective tie-back at concept
phase through to installation, then production will be achieved under greatly
expedited timelines, with project risk significantly reduced. This would allow
the industry to move beyond a linear model, where platforms and wells are
created separately in sequence, toward a model where platform construction,
pre-drilling and tie-back happen concurrently. Adoption of this model could remove
several years off average production timelines.
Amidst an energy security
crisis and an increasingly challenging investment climate for fossil fuels,
there are growing financial and political imperatives for earlier and more
cost-efficient routes to new production. Tie-back engineering techniques offer
the industry the opportunity to dramatically reduce cost and timelines.
Value-added potential. Yet this will require
cross-sector collaboration among suppliers and project partners to align
designs for tie-back at concept stage, with a competent tie-back engineering contractor
providing the common thread throughout the project. This will enable the
industry to move from sequential development stages toward simultaneous
drilling and platform construction for accelerated drilling-to-production
timelines. It has the potential to drive a sea-change in production efficiency
and project economics that could help the industry weather the current
financial pressures and meet political imperatives for earlier development of
domestic energy resources. WO
BEN CANNELL is Innovation director at
Aquaterra Energy, responsible for the evolution of the company’s riser, subsea
and conductor-related services, as well as energy transition services and
product lines. He has overseen the creation and distribution of a wide range of
riser/subsea-related products, including Aquaterra’s 15k PSI AQC-SR and CW
connectors, legacy well re-entry and abandonment, in addition to the digitalization
of old and new services. Mr. Cannell holds a BSc degree with first class honors
in engineering management from the University of Lincoln and is a Certified
Fellow of the Management Institute.