Intelligence brief: Autonomous has most upside of vessel-inspection technologies; BP spends on EOR in deepwater GoM

Upstream oil and gas news you need to know

Autonomous delivers greater benefits than mature vessel-inspection technologies

Autonomous inspection stands to deliver greater benefits to vessel inspection than any other technology examined in a Lockheed Martin study. A lack of maturity means it is still behind the likes of low-frequency electromagnetic technique and phased-array ultrasonic technique in the pecking order.

Developments in processing, battery, sensor and decision-making technologies have opened up potential to perform inspections without human involvement, taking advantage of the ongoing improvements in the portability, automation and consistency of the scanners available for a range of non-destructive testing techniques, the report noted. It said underwater autonomous vehicles and autonomous crawlers for topside use could potentially offer a transformational platform for future inspection operations.

Although less advanced in either oil and gas than other technologies, autonomous inspection has a greater upside because it reduces costs and lowers the need for specialist skills, Lockheed Martin noted.

Low-frequency electromagnetic technique, which is used to detect defects by passing a low-frequency magnetic field though metal plate or pipe, scored lower than autonomous inspection in categories such as requirement for cultural change among staff.

The study, which Oil & Gas UK commissioned from Lockheed Martin on behalf of the Maximising Economic Recovery for the UK Continental Shelf (MER UK) Technology Leadership Board, focused on two key areas: technologies with the potential to improve the inspection of pressured systems including process vessels; and methods for more effectively managing corrosion under insulation (CUI) of onshore and offshore structures.

Other technologies which scored well for benefits to vessel inspection included: Terahertz special imaging, which has been used extensively in the space and aerospace sectors for testing of thermal protection, foam insulation and carbon composites; and full matrix capture, a data-acquisition technique that offers improved vertical resolution and improved flaw definition to techniques such as phased array.

Terahertz special imaging and pulsed eddy current, which works by driving an electromagnetic field through the insulation and into the pipe, scored highest for CUI. Sniffer dogs also scored well, the report said while noting that tests funded by the oil and gas industry have found that trained dogs are able to differentiate between insulation samples taken from corroded pipes and samples taken from clean pipes to an accuracy of about 92%.

Of those technologies that have reached maturity, pulsed eddy current works best for managing corrosion under insulation (Image credit: Oil & Gas UK / Lockheed Martin)

BP opts for water injection at major GoM deepwater asset

BP has commenced the second of five major upstream projects it expects to implement this year, in the form of water-injection recovery at its Thunder Horse field in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico.

Thunder Horse is BP’s largest production and drilling platform in the GoM, operating at a depth of 6,050 feet (1,844m) of water. It began production in June 2008, and has the capacity to handle 250,000 barrels of oil and 200 million cubic feet per day of natural gas.

BP said the project reflected its strategy of continued investment in its deepwater GoM production hubs, and will boost recovery of oil and natural gas from one of the field’s three main reservoirs.

Over the past three years, BP refurbished the platform’s existing topsides and subsea equipment while also drilling two water-injection wells at the site. From those wells, water will be injected into the reservoir to increase pressure and enhance production. The improvements are expected to enable Thunder Horse to recover an additional 65 million barrels of oil equivalent over time.

BP owns a 75% interest in Thunder Horse, with ExxonMobil owning the balance. BP operates three other large production platforms in the deepwater GoM – Atlantis, Mad Dog and Na Kika – and holds interests in other hubs.

Industry called upon to establish independent safety body

The US oil and gas industry should implement the recommendation of the presidential commission on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and establish an independent organization dedicated to offshore safety and environmental protection, according to the National Academies of Science, Engineering & Medicine (NASEM).

In a report on safety and culture in offshore oil and gas, NASEM said the Center for Offshore Safety – created by the American Petroleum Institute immediately after the 2010 oil spill that discharged about 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico – could be made independent to service this purpose. It suggested membership in the center would should be a requirement for all organizations working in offshore oil and gas.

About 75 operators, 17 drilling contractors, and more than 1,000 contractors and subcontractors of various sizes support offshore drilling, production, and construction activities in the GoM, the report noted. Because of differing safety perspectives and economic interests, offshore oil and gas companies do not all belong to a single industry association that speaks with one voice regarding safety, it said.

NASEM said the industry as a whole should create additional guidance for establishing safety culture expectations and responsibilities among operators, contractors, and subcontractors. It called on regulators to participate in these efforts and help ensure consistency, saying that once the industry has agreed upon steps to achieve safety and environmental goals, all organizations involved should be responsible for developing their own strategies for executing this overall plan.