Norway’s SmartPipe brings real-time data optimization to production flows

SmartPipe technology, backed by operators such as Total, Eni, ConocoPhillips and Petrobras, will lower the cost of temporary maintenance shutdowns by triggering better-informed preventative measures, Snorre Lillesand, BD & Commercial Manager at Bredero Shaw, the pipeline coating energy services company, said.

The SmartPipe will cost up to 5% more to install than standard pipes, and this would depend on pipeline length and other site-specific factors, Lillesand told Upstream Intelligence.

The SmartPipe will transfer data in real-time to an operational center, allowing for faster decision-making and preventative measures.

Project development is being led by Norway’s Sintef research institute. Bredero Shaw, a division of energy services firm ShawCor Limited, belongs to a group of major oil operators and suppliers backing the project.

Performance of the pipe will be monitored throughout the lifecycle, and this will lead to production increases and benefits in terms of flow assurance, Ole Øystein Knudsen, Senior Scientist for Sintef’s Materials and Chemistry division, said.

“Considerable savings” will be made both in flow assurance and infrastructure, and it will lower the cost of pipeline corrosion, according to Lillesand.

The economic benefits will depend on factors such as the choice of steel for the pipeline and the properties of the fluid that is being transported through the pipeline, such as the amount of sulfur in the oil, Lillesand said.

The total annual cost of corrosion in the oil and gas production industry is estimated at around $1.4 billion, according to a 2011 report by NACE International, The Worldwide Corrosion Authority.

The annual cost of corrosion in surface pipeline and facilities was estimated at $600 million, with a further $500 million in downhole tubing expenses and $320 million in other capital expenditures, the report said.

Deployment

ENI, Total and Petrobras are sponsoring the development of the SmartPipe “out of an interest of developing this technology for individual project needs,” Lillesand said.

The SmartPipe can be deployed in all offshore environments and since the project is being developed in Norway, the initial focus has been on North Sea use, he said.

The technology will be particularly effective for “difficult pipelines, where you have deep water, environmentally-sensitive areas, where you need extra attention or where traditional monitoring is not possible or difficult,” according to Sintef’s Knudsen.

“This of course comes with an additional cost when you are building the pipeline - so I guess that the oil companies will first of all be interested in installing this when they have special needs,” Knudsen added.

The SmartPipe will monitor parameters such as corrosion, drain, vibration, fatigue and flow through the pipeline, Lillesand added. 

Being able to monitor the temperature will also enable the control of waxing and hydrate icing generation within the pipeline, so that inhibitors can be applied based on the underlying properties of the flow of fluids, he said.

New flows

The continuous data flow of the SmartPipe presents a major progression from the ‘pigging’ inspection process, which is usually conducted every two to five years, during a shutdown.

“You will get less information than from pigging, but you will have sufficient information to make decisions about how to operate the pipeline,” Knudsen said.

“For example, if your corrosion inhibitor fails, you will get information about that at an early stage, so that you can take actions to fix the problem before you lose very much of your corrosion allowance,” he said.

Marko Maucec, an independent consultant and former Reservoir Advisor for Halliburton, said similar sensor systems have already been applied to real-time monitoring and management of well and reservoir behavior, but this is the first time they are used for intelligent surveillance and optimization of pipeline performance. Maucec is not involved in the project.