Breaking From the Norm To Reach Marginal Offshore Fields

The last few years of offshore megaprojects have produced some of the worst margins in the oil and gas industry. To achieve long-term profitability in the subsea world, some argue that oil companies must begin thinking smaller.

One could argue that now is not the time to discuss how marginal or stranded offshore fields can be effectively monetized. After all, even in the good times the offshore sector showed that it had little appetite for small-scale developments; their risk-reward ratio is usually not viewed as worth the effort.

On the other hand, going big has not exactly worked out for the offshore sector in recent years. Too many headline projects have suffered major cost overruns or missed production targets.

And thanks to low oil prices, most of the recently completed projects that managed to stay on budget are now operating at a significant loss. On top of all that, the number of commercially viable offshore discoveries has been shrinking each of the past few years.

As the challenges continue to mount, a number of technology developers are hoping to rewrite the offshore playbook. Much of their work is focused on developing cheap ways to access the marginal assets that often lie just beyond the reach of existing facilities. Some of the more radical ideas involve developing futuristic and nimble technologies that could drastically reduce the physical capital required for green-field projects.

A company in Norway thinks it can do this by drilling record-long wells from aging platforms for a fraction of the cost it takes to use floating rigs or subsea production systems. Another Norwegian-born firm is working on a standalone drilling robot that will burrow thousands of feet into the subsurface where it will appraise a prospective reservoir and then monitor it for several years afterward.

Others are pushing for simpler solutions that have less to do with emerging technology and instead center on persuading oil companies to change how they develop their subsea properties.  Among them is a call to build deep­water floating facilities with spare capacity to handle unplanned field expansions. A proposal for shallow water argues that operators should use fixed-leg platforms that can be floated away and reused in multiple fields.

While these ideas do not answer all of the problems facing the offshore sector, nor do they apply to every type of field, they address the primary sources for spiraling costs. Using far less steel and far fewer people could allow subsea assets to start delivering positive earnings.

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Breaking From the Norm To Reach Marginal Offshore Fields

Trent Jacobs, JPT Senior Technology Writer

01 July 2016

Volume: 68 | Issue: 7