Reflections on OTC
I spent a week at the Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) in Houston and enjoyed seeing some of the newest technologies in our industry as well as hearing about many interesting papers on topics as diverse as projects in the Brazil pre-salt and safety and environmental management in the US Gulf of Mexico. There was something for everyone at OTC with more than 2,500 exhibitors showcasing the latest tools and technologies for offshore from microscale sensors to subsea multiphase pumps, 3D simulation, and virtual reality training simulators.
Even in these uncertain times, there was a wealth of opportunity to grow your knowledge of industry and your networks. If you were unable to attend, look for the technical papers on OnePetro. You will find topics of interest and there are some classics to discover.
Leading up to this year’s OTC, there was a great deal of debate on how successful the event would be with oil prices hovering from USD 50/bbl to USD 60/bbl. A number of layoffs had already been announced, and cost management was becoming the most common term in many of our companies’ internal meetings.
The mood at OTC was somewhat restrained, but pragmatic. Attendance was also solid with more than 94,000 people from 130 countries participating in the event. During the week, I managed to get a feel for what several industry leaders and many practicing engineers have on their radar screens and some of the most interesting “themes.”
There was a consensus that costs in the deepwater industry have gotten “out of control” and that our operational discipline in cost management has become a little rusty. Going forward, there is no doubt that significant rigor will return to supply chain management, and engineering services will also be scrutinized for value.
There was also a consensus that despite these hard times, our focus on process safety has never been more prominent, but the jury was still out on the adoption of new technology. There are two camps of thought: New technology is too expensive and risky, or new technology is the enabler for more efficient recovery of hydrocarbon resources.
There does not appear to be a natural divide between technology providers and operators on this issue; we see “technology evangelists” on both sides. Going forward, it will be interesting to see which companies adopt what approach. At OTC, both camps agreed on one thing: We need to accelerate the cycle time for technology development and deployment in deep water. It just takes too long to get good ideas into the field. This, of course, is not a new issue, but in a cost-constrained world, it will be a key differentiator for investment. “Fast and effective” is the new mantra.
An interesting technology comment I heard was that “we have 500 subsea wells and only five subsea separators,” asserting that seafloor processing is an underutilized production alternative. I have no idea whether these numbers are correct, but no doubt the sentiment is.
As an industry, we have been working on seafloor processing for more than 25 years: I worked on it from 1990 to 1995. Is this a case of too slow a development profile to deliver mature acceptable technologies, or something else? Are engineers too enamored of the concept of the subsea factory/subsea processing? Have we not understood the risk and value proposition correctly?
I used to be an advocate for this type of asset development alternative; now I am unsure. If we can maximize/optimize recovery factors with boosting alone, why do we need separation? Or is this lack of applications indicative of a technology capability whose time has not yet come?
Over the next few months, I am going to take a new look at seafloor processing and overall deepwater facilities concepts and will report back on my findings.
During OTC, I attended the SPE Projects, Facilities, and Construction (PFC) Advisory Committee meeting, which was led by the PFC technical director, Howard Duhon. Among the normal business of discussing workshops, Distinguished Lecturer rosters, and the day-to-day business of our constituency, we received reports from the SPE technical sections aligned with PFC: Separations Technology, Water Handling and Management, and Flow Assurance. The sections are flourishing and providing members with a wide range of learning and network opportunities.
To be honest, I had not thought about the sections lately, although I am a member of each. The reports left me impressed with just how far each section had come in the past 12 months and how much value there is to be had from actively participating in these groups. I encourage you to visit the sections at https://www.spe.org/disciplines/pfc/ and become active members.
OTC is a great place to renew old acquaintances and catch up with old friends. If you, like me, have occasionally wandered off the path of enlightenment and spent time in other disciplines such as reservoir engineering or drilling, the OTC multidisciplinary panel sessions offer the potential for such reunions.
I bumped into an old friend, a driller by discipline, who is now a leader in competency development for the industry. We discussed the overall competency of oil and gas production and the very real danger of a number of “graybeards” leaving our industry. The potential exodus has been catalyzed by the recent decline in the oil price and the cost management/cutting that inevitably follows, and in many cases, is now in full swing.
Good mentors are a rare commodity in our industry, and we seem to struggle to maintain an overall competency growth profile for facilities engineering skills. This is true for operators, engineering companies, service companies, and equipment suppliers alike.
In recent months, a number of people have shared their perceptions that we are not nurturing and developing early career engineers into effective engineers before allowing them to broaden their careers into project management, technology, or people leadership roles. Have we allowed our recent graduates to miss a vital step in their development? Have we provided the opportunity to work in the trenches and do solid, basic chemical/mechanical/civil/electrical engineering that enables proficient facilities engineers to impact our projects and assets?
I did a quick poll at the OTC of 17 of my colleagues involved in activities across the industry value chain. Their responses indicated that we may be missing an opportunity to provide early career engineers with practical opportunities and access to effective mentors. Although this is not conclusive evidence of a gap, when renowned engineers from engineering contractors and operators alike are thinking about the subject at the same time and agree on the issue, an opportunity surely exists. I am going to look into this further and will share my findings with you.
Lastly, from OTC: an opportunity. Each year, OTC recognizes an individual and a project/company in the Distinguished Achievement awards. I served on the committee for this year’s awards and was amazed at the quality of the nominated individuals and projects. However, I also observed that the committee received very few PFC-related nominations. We can surely do better.
If you work with someone who has contributed to the offshore industry, please consider nominating him or her for the OTC Distinguished Achievement Award. Nominations are open until 1 September. For more information and links to the nomination forms, visit http://www.otcnet.org/Content/OTC-Awards-Recognizing-Offshore-Achievement/4_16/.
Paul S. Jones is the subsea unit manager at Chevron and a past SPE technical director of Projects, Facilities, and Construction. He is a member of the Editorial Board of Oil and Gas Facilities.
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