I have been writing this column since the Oil and Gas Facilities magazine’s inception in 2012 and I feel it is time I pass the baton to someone else: I think a new perspective would be valuable.
As I reflect on the past 3 years, I am heartened to see the magazine’s growth and quality improvements. As a member of the editorial board, I was initially concerned that we may not get the balance right between general articles and peer-reviewed papers, and that our subject matter may be a little constrained. However, as I browsed through my collection of magazines, I am pleased to say we got it right: There is some really good stuff in Oil and Gas Facilities. This is a testament to the SPE staff and the volunteers who contribute to and produce this magazine and support facilities engineering.
One of the beauties of this column is that it is an opinion piece, and consequently, I have been free to write about whatever interests me at any time. I have opined on subjects as diverse as project management, technology investment, good books to read, and the value of building fluency in reservoir engineering.
These were hardly unique topics, but served as an indication of what it means to be a facilities engineer. We are inherently multifunctional, display a wide range of skills, and manage a complex portfolio of designing, building, and operating roles that enable the delivery of natural resources to the market. I have “tooted this horn” in this column and throughout my career. I often joke with my friends working in the subsurface sector that finding oil and gas is the easy part; delivering it and transforming it into products that affect our way of life is the hard part.
With a broad scope and no constraints on content, I decided on something simple yet profound: a facilities technology manifesto for 2025. This is my soapbox view on what we should be doing with technology and how we should apply it.
What should be put in such a manifesto? The obvious concepts of technology integration, full life cycle systems, and standardization or development of common building blocks would have to be included. I also believe there is an opportunity to mature the concept of “development and replication,” a philosophy that enables development of good, sound system designs and their replication in subsequent projects.
In theory, this is great. However, in too many new projects, I see a desire to optimize a process by using what I call “preferential engineering,” which is the addition of a unique feature or attribute to a facility that erodes overall value from the replication model. It is different from innovation or adopting a new technology—it is essentially tinkering. And yes, it does occur.
I have seen recent examples in both onshore and offshore projects in which engineering preferences drove discrete phases of the same project into adopting different solutions. Expansion projects did not replicate foundation project equipment or architectures, which resulted in a patchwork of the old and new. The goal of the development had not changed; the development solution had just been updated.
In one case, the availability of the production system was more than 99.6%. Standards and regulations had not changed, yet creative engineers in the expansion project included upgrades that added complexity and cost, and eroded the value of replication.
Lots of reasons were given for the upgrades, but nobody asked “why are we doing this?”
Preferential engineering often creeps up on us and adds complexity with minimal real value. In my manifesto, we will adopt the mantra of “simple and elegant.”
In my part of the business, deep water, the costs of technology development and qualification are astronomical.
During a recent industry meeting I attended, a figure of USD 400 million was quoted as the investment required to deliver and qualify new facilities technologies required for improved oil recovery using electrical submersible pumps and seabed multiphase pumping.
Such huge sums will require industry collaboration between operators and technology providers alike. The value proposition of holding proprietary intellectual property will need to be weighed against the amount of investment and risk of the shared technology. Perhaps our individual company perspectives will need to evolve to deliver true value-based investments, and we may need a business model that enables both collaborative and transactional relationships based on technology development costs and market potential.
Whatever the business challenges may be, we should not lose sight of the technical challenges. Development of high-pressure/high-temperature systems is not easy. Flow assurance for 200-km tiebacks is not trivial, and as mentioned before, the design of “simple separators” remains an art form.
Notwithstanding these challenges, we will succeed because that is what facilities engineers do. What we thought of as impossible 10 years ago is now commonplace, and what we see as impossible today will likely be the standard technology in 2025.
Here it goes: my manifesto for facilities technology in 2025.
Future upstream asset developments will use integrated facilities solutions that go beyond today’s capabilities to deliver safe, cost-effective, and reliable oil and gas production.
There you have it: a simple manifesto that by itself is challenging. If we adopt these principles by 2025, we will have the tools and the new technologies to develop the next generation of oil and gas fields and we will also have grown our capabilities as a community of facilities engineers. A good thought to leave you with.
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.