Taking on the Arctic With New Concepts

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The Oooguruk subsea flowline bundle connects to an onshore tie-in pad, which delivers the production to the Kuparuk River Unit for processing and delivery. Oooguruk is an Inupiaq word meaning “bearded seal.” Credit: Caelus Energy.

Last month I selected papers on nanotechnology as an example of a new technology that really puts our industry at the cutting edge of scientific developments. As practitioners we don’t always convey that the oil and gas industry is at the forefront of many different technologies, but we should, if only because it can be a real selling point to attract young people to our industry. It was, therefore, reassuring that many of you decided to read one or more of the articles.

Given this response, it only makes sense to explore another way to attract young people to our industry: pointing them to applications that are not only challenging, but also different. As I was trying to come up with a good example of such applications, the arctic operations came to mind.

 

While here in North America the activities in the Arctic region are right now more often than not the subject of project cancellations (think of Shell’s abandoning of drilling offshore Alaska), in Europe and Russia activity levels are increasing (think of the agreement between Norway and Russia to jointly pursue the search for Arctic oil). For that reason I cannot help to believe that the activity levels in the arctic regions will also spike in North America sooner rather than later. And when they do, the developments will definitely be challenging and open up new ways of doing business. 

Some of the advances will merely be better or more efficient ways of doing business, often just building on previous experiences and, therefore, be incremental steps.

Examples are more elaborate design methods for the offshore arctic pipelines to deal not only with the traditional design aspects that apply to every offshore pipeline (such as upheaval buckling), but also with those typical for arctic conditions (such as strudel scour, permafrost thaw settlement, and ice gouging).

Or alternatively the route selection can be structured in such a way that it considers these same condition, but then selects a route that either mitigates or even avoids these conditions entirely. But some of these advances will go well beyond such incremental steps.

What if we do away with the pipelines all together on the premise that long-distance pipelines connecting an arctic field to a distant facility at a warm-water port location are no longer feasible because of cost and environmental restraints? What if we consider something similar to the floating LNG (liquefied natural gas) projects that are considered for stranded gas: an offshore and ice-resistant LNG plant?

These are just some initial thoughts and there are undoubtedly many other aspects. By developing those concepts, the industry might attract the kind of engineers we need.

Alternatively, students interested in our industry may use something along these lines for his or her research project, which could then be an excellent stepping stone into a challenging and rewarding career in the oil and gas industry.

To explore this further, I selected three papers from the 2016 Offshore Technology Conference that deal with the concepts mentioned above, and I hope you will enjoy exploring the ideas presented. Not just as a final concept, but as the starting point for developing challenging and different applications that can move our industry forward.

Selected SPE Technical Papers on the Challenges of Arctic Development