R&D alliances leverage joint expertise to create new technologies

Collaborative R&D is more than just a buzzword in upstream oil, with at least two prominent industry alliances close to rolling out new technologies.

Aker Solutions and Baker Hughes worked together to create POWERjump, a flowline booster (Image credit: Subsea Production Alliance)

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One of these alliances involves OneSubsea, now owned by Schlumberger, and Helix Energy. The two worked together on hundreds of projects before formalizing their co-operation in 2015. Their 15,000-psi intervention riser system is expected to come to the market around the beginning of 2017, David Carr, VP – Commercial at Helix Energy Solutions Group, revealed to Upstream Intelligence.

The 15,000-psi system is very similar to Helix’s existing 10,000-psi intervention riser but is being developed specifically for operators in the Gulf of Mexico who work on high-pressure wells. Helix and OneSubsea are investing in at least two other R&D projects but are withholding an announcement until it reaches feasibility stage.

“The advantage of having the likes of Schlumberger in your gang is that you get access to a very, very wide range of expertise and some excellent manufacturing facilities,” Carr said.

This means working with a large-scale manufacturer who not only produces to a very high quality but also puts its collaboration partner in the front of the queue, he explained. This avoids working with principal agents who will try and achieve the highest price for an item of equipment from the company they are representing but who are not invested in when the item will be delivered.

“With Schlumberger they not only make a piece of equipment as good as it can be but also have it out to the market and to the customers as soon as possible,” Carr said.

Good R&D targets gaps

Successful R&D alliances focus their collaboration on gaps in the market for particular technologies or solutions. In the case of Subsea Production Alliance (SPA), a link-up between Aker Solutions and Baker Hughes, they focused from the early days on solutions to address operators' need to boost production from individual wells or smaller fields.

Together, they came up with POWERJump, a flowline booster which combines technologies from both parent companies into a new platform for boosting smaller fields. They estimate it can help operators reduce capital expenditure by more than 50% compared with existing technologies, allowing profitable development of both greenfield and brownfield reservoirs.

More recently the two companies joined forces to work on early-phase studies designed to help customers improve the overall economics and value of their oil-and-gas field developments.

“These concepts and ideas are a direct result of the alliance, and it’s likely that none of the companies would have been able to present them working outside this framework,” Svenn Ivar Fure, Aker Solutions’ Head of the SPA, told Upstream Intelligence.

The alliance is talking to “several” operators about the potential use of the technology on their assets, Fure added.

Bringing down end costs

The priorities of the various oil-and-gas focused alliances include material management, technology that can be used at construction sites, and mobile IT, Ray Topping, Director of Fiatech, a global non-profit consortium of capital-project industry stakeholders founded in 2000 by the Process Industry Owners Forum and the Texas-based Construction Industry Institute, wrote in a column in Upstream Intelligence’s recent Offshore Digital Technology Report.

Another common thread is bringing down costs for end users in a difficult price environment, as seen in the work being done by Forsys Subsea. The Houston-based joint venture between FMC Technologies and Technip is targeting subsea-field development and is aiming to provide the technology to maximize well performance. Earlier this year Forsys signed a contract with Norway’s Statoil to provide a subsea front-end engineering and design study for a subsea tie-back of Trestakk to the Åsgard A floating production storage and offloading vessel.

Rasmus Sunde, chief executive of Forsys Subsea, said cost savings can be achieved at several stages. First, Forsys aims to integrate SPS (subsea production systems) and SURF (subsea processing systems, subsea umbilicals, risers and flowlines systems) technologies more efficiently. Secondly, it uses exclusive Forsys technologies to support new data-enabled services and more cost-effective field architectures. Finally, in order to generate further cost improvement, Forsys looks at how it can bridge life-of-field technologies with front-end design work.

When it comes to installing the equipment, the alliances are also well-placed to offer risk-sharing and the availability of a “super crew” of personnel from both participating companies. According to Carr, his alliance shares the risk of larger projects by offering a single day rate for all services. This is key to reducing the impact of a major operational failure because all other services in the package drop to minimal rate.

“What customers want in this environment is not only lower cost but also certainty when it comes to major projects, certainty that projects will not take twice as long and cost twice as much as initially planned,” he said.

By Vanya Dragomanovich