Having spent some time recently listening to the directors of the major oil companies reveal their annual profits and aspirations for the coming year, one could be forgiven for thinking that the oil industry deals only in dollars and pounds by the billion.
However, the reality is that the development of new technologies by dedicated individuals working in the backrooms of the industry involves much smaller sums.
The United Kingdom Offshore Operators Association (UKOAA) has announced that its members collectively committed £8 million towards the development of new technologies that will be vital to the future of the North Sea last year and will be doing the same in 2002.
The funding has been secured through the oil and gas Industry Technology Facilitator (ITF), which promotes the development of innovative technology through joint industry projects with colleges and universities.
Last year approval was given for a total of 30 projects, including two major collaborative programs, that will develop advanced technologies to improve the search for and recovery of hydrocarbons on the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS).
ITF is a not-for-profit company set up to broker technology development projects by matching the needs of the end users with the capabilities of the service and supply community.
The targets of the research, mainly in the area of subsurface wells and facilities, is to prolong the life of existing fields and facilities and to unlock reserves in undeveloped discoveries.
ITF Managing Director David Ellix said, "Technology will be the key to unlocking Britain's estimated remaining reserves of...26-34 billion boe. The technologies being developed for the UKCS today should lead to more successful exploration, maximum recovery of reserves, and improved competitiveness in the North Sea. But they also have potential for worldwide application."
ITF received over 250 proposals last year from leading researchers around the world seeking funding for innovative ideas and technology in response to its call for proposals driven by the business needs of UK operating companies.
After refinement and review, the most promising were recommended to the oil companies for their support.
Current key projects
Two key current projects are the Structurally Complex Reservoirs Program, established to promote technology advances in the areas of detection and prediction of geological faults and fractures, and the Seismic Reservoir Characterization Program, established to promote technology advances in the areas of seismic resolution and rapid prediction of reservoir performance from seismic data.
The two programs, each lasting 3 years, consist of 9 interlinked projects led by major UK and foreign universities. They will be each funded to a maximum total cost of £4 million by a consortium of 10 oil companies through UKOAA and the UK Department of Trade and Industry.
The programs demonstrate that sometimes a comparatively small amount of money can go a long way and may prompt some chief financial officers to ask some heads of departments some searching questions about getting value for money.