Despite the weather, despite the distance, and despite the depth, Bibby Offshore delivers subsea installation work at Solan field on time

Bibby Polaris on location at Premier Solan field, West of Shetland
The Bibby Polaris on location at Solan field, West of Shetland

Just under three years ago, Bibby Offshore was awarded a contract by Edinburgh-registered Premier Oil to provide subsea support in 135m water depth during the installation phase of its Solan field development project.

The Solan project is one of the largest field developments in UK waters in recent times, including fabrication and installation of a new jacket and topsides.

The facility at the West Shetland field is designed to produce a flow rate of 28,000 b/d, peaking at up to 35,000 b/d across a 20-year lifeline and Bibby Offshore was brought in to perform installation of the subsea infrastructure and, recognising the challenging environment, came up with a plan to minimise downtime caused by short weather windows.

The production facility has been developed as a not permanently manned installation, and will be operated remotely from an onshore control room in Aberdeen. The topsides facility supports produced fluid separation, gas treatment, all necessary utilities and power generation.

The field infrastructure also includes a 10,000-tonne subsea oil storage tank capable of storing 300,000 barrels of oil. Produced oil is stored temporarily in the subsea tank before being exported, via a single anchor loading system to shuttle tankers.

To mitigate the impact of the weather, the distance and the depth, Bibby Offshore completed a detailed weather analysis prior to mobilisation to allow a realistic expectation on the potential downtime that could be experienced.

The project team also gathered regular forecasts from various sources to help build an accurate picture in the short term on how the weather would impact over a two- to five-day window.

Bibby Offshore was also able to take a flexible multi vessel approach to the project, making use of several of the vessels in its fleet. The dive support vessel Bibby Polaris was used extensively to complete much of the dive works, while the Bibby Sapphire and Bibby Topaz and the construction support vessel Olympic Ares also made a significant contribution to the project.

This multi vessel approach helped Bibby Offshore tailor the various vessel capabilities to the technical challenges presented by the development and the flexible timeline required to complete the task in line with the clients programme.

Crucially, it also helped to prevent any schedule slippages in order to maintain progress towards achieving first oil.

The subsea aspect of the project was planned in two phases. Phase one saw the Olympic Ares carry out installation activities for the single anchor loading system, metrology, lay through spool removal, flexible and umbilical installation and wet storing of fabricated spools. Phase two consisted of the diving support operations to complete installation, tie in, stability/protection and recommissioning of the flexible, umbilicals, spools and storage tank.

Each phase of the project had its own challenges. Due to adjustments in the schedule, Bibby Offshore successfully change managed the scheduled fleet workloads to accommodate its client’s requirements, resulting in the project becoming multi phased with, as mentioned previously, additional vessel support.

During the campaign, a 72” structure pile was installed which required a 90-ton ‘fast frame’ to be deployed on the seabed. The loading hose itself presented a range of engineering considerations to the project team due to the inflexibility of the product and the fact it could not be pre-installed on a deployment reel onshore prior to installation on this occasion.

During the offshore operations, the project team configured an optimised deck layout on the Olympic Ares, thus creating the required working space. This was necessary due to a multi reel drive system taking up a significant amount of deck space and also the additional equipment required to install flexible and umbilical products before completing metrology between the newly installed platform and subsea oil storage tank. In subsequent campaigns, two DSVs and one ROVSV were mobilised to carry out spool installations, flexible and umbilical tie-ins, mattressing and general storage tank works.

Two production wells, equipped with electrical submersible pumps and two water injection wells will be completed subsea and tied back to the production facility via dedicated flow lines and risers.

With some 20% of the remaining UK oil reserves are expected to be West of Shetland, overcoming  challenging surface and subsea environments like Bibby faced at Solan will become increasingly important.

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