OTC: Deepstar focuses on subsea equipment

Advances in deepwater technology require financial commitment by oil companies and a willingness to form partnerships with vendors and regulators, panelists discussing the DeepStar research and development collaboration told an opening session of the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston.

Chevron Energy Technology Co. manages the overall administration of the consortium, which includes 11 oil company members. In addition, 70 contributing members include service companies, manufacturers, and universities.

Steve Thurston, vice-president of deepwater exploration and projects for Chevron North America Exploration & Production Co., said technology development takes years. The goal is to make deepwater operations safer, more reliable, and less costly, he said.

“It’s critical to set our expectations that new technology will be developed,” Thurston said. Currently Chevron has committed financing and staff resources to more than 30 technology projects.

This year, Chevron plans to deploy a mud pump on the seafloor. The work started as a DeepStar concept in 1996. In 2011, Chevron agreed to work with GE to develop a mud lift pump to sit on top of a blowout preventer, Thurston said.

Kevin Kennelly, BP PLC vice-president of technology for global projects, said BP is focused on developing high-pressure, high-temperature reservoirs. He said the effort, Project 20K, will involve “a new generation of equipment.”

Kennelly said, “We are going to do more testing on this project than we’ve ever done before,” adding that the new equipment needs to be highly reliable. He noted that industry needs to improve its reliability: “We need to become an industry that stamps out our defects before we ever put the equipment in service.”

Alain Goulois, vice-president research and development for Total E&P, emphasized the need for maintenance rather than equipment repair.

“Collaboration is required to standardize subsea equipment interfaces, promote modularity, and to develop real-time condition monitoring to meet IMR challenges of the future,” Goulois said of offshore inspection, repair, and maintenance activities.

Encouraging innovation

Solange Guedes, executive manager for production engineering for Petroleo Brasileiro SA (Petrobras), said the Brazilian firm has a strategy to encourage innovation. For example in November 2012, Petrobras and FMC Technology installed a subsea oil-water separator, enabling the separation process to be done in deepwater rather than lifting volumes of water and sand to the ocean’s surface.

The separation system was installed in 809 m of water in Marlim field in the Campos basin, Guedes said, adding that the technology will help extend the life of the mature Marlim field. The system reinjects separated water into a reservoir to boost production.

Previously, Petrobras installed the first floating production, storage, and offloading vessel in the Gulf of Mexico, she said.

Ram Shenoy, ConocoPhillips chief technology officer, said ConocoPhillips is rebuilding its deepwater presence now that ConocoPhillips has spun off its downstream division. Standardization is a theme for the company’s technology development.

“In the next half decade, we will be making investment decisions,” Shenoy said of deepwater projects in the gulf, off Norway, Bangladesh, Angola, and Australia. “ConocoPhillips is becoming current with state-of-the-art technology,” he said.

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

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