Overlapping industry efforts hinder N. Sea efficiency improvements

Oil and Gas UK asset integrity landscape

EXCLUSIVE By James Robertson

With production efficiency dropping by 20% over the past 10 years in the North Sea, the landscape for tackling corrosion and reducing costs for inspection and maintenance work and – particularly personnel – is complex and over-lapping.

And too often potential solutions are either not shared across the supply chain, and often they are not inter-changeable between oil exploration companies and operators.

That is the somewhat under-whelming summary of the Asset Integrity Theme Landscaping Study publishing by Oil and Gas UK and the Technology Leadership Board.

The study, which Oil & Gas UK commissioned from Lockheed Martin on behalf of the Maximising Economic Recovery for the UK Continental Shelf (MER UK) Technology Leadership Board, focused on two key areas. These are technologies with the potential to improve the inspection of pressured systems including process vessels used to extract and produce oil and gas and, secondly, methods for more effectively managing corrosion under insulation (CUI) of onshore and offshore structures.

Over the last 10 years, average UKCS production efficiency has fallen from 80% to 60%. Process vessel inspectoon is a significant contributor to production downitme during a shutdown and often involves personnel entry into conifned spaces, thus posing a major safety risk.

This study explored new and existing techniques and technologies with the potential for significantly reducing process vessel inspection times and eliminating (or at least minimising) the need for personnel entry into vessels.

Corrosion is difficult to detect because of the insulation cover that masks the corrosion problem, sometmes until it is too late. It is expensive to remove the insulation, particularly if asbestos is involved. Historically, industry data suggests that 60% of pipe leaks are caused by corrosion and add a significant safety issue in hydrocarbon service.

Furthermore it is estimated that corrosion incurs 40 – 60% of pipe maintenance costs. The study also explored methods for improving detection and management of corrosion without first having to remove the insulation, and to allow inspection of process pipework with minimal requirement for scaffolding.

But in its summary, the report frankly states: “Based on our research the relationship between organisations in the landscape is complex and multi-faceted as shown in the diagram (above)

“With no single leading organisation acitvely coordinating the oil and gas industry’s research and development for vessel inspections or corrosion under insulation detection there is a danger that organisations duplicate research, or alternatively fail to target research not specifically in their area of expertise.

“There are several different funding routes for research and development: ultimately however the funding comes from three locatons: the operators and principal contractors, government (UK, Scottish, European Union) and from technology vendors.

“Much of the research that develops into products is carried out directly by the technology vendors, with varying degrees of exposure to the wider industry.

“The research does not indicate that there are any preferences given to meeting set standards for quality or inter-operability of developed solutions, thus advances in ultrasonic detection may not be easily adapted to work with new solutions in remote mobile inspection for example, or to make best use of existing data-historian technology and other commonly used IT infrastructure.”

However, the report promises to broaden awareness of the array of technologies developed and deployed successfully by the industry and other sectors which could be used to great effect in delivering safe and effective improvements in efficiency.

Contributors to the study, which was championed by representatives from both TOTAL E&P UK Limited and Amec Foster Wheeler, included the Oil and & Gas Innovation Centre (OGIC) and the Industry Technology Facilitator (ITF) together with the collaborative input of more than 90 technology-focused industry representatives working with operators, prime contractors, SMEs, government and research councils, innovation centres, joint industry bodies and academia.

Paul White, GE Oil and Gas’s director of subsea technology and industry co-chair of the MER UK Technology Leadership Board, said: “The MER UK Technology Leadership Board’s strategy is to promote a co-operative approach which encourages contributors to develop technologies for the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) which are relevant to multi field application and focused on priority areas where there is most potential for delivering significant improvements in performance.”


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