This is the second of a two-part series by Francesco Falco. In his first article, Francesco explores where the industry is heading in terms of subsea infrastructure, and here, he discusses the technologies that will help it get there. GE has more than 1,000 customers in 115 countries in the Oil & Gas sector with more than 10,000 employees worldwide providing the innovation and technology to meet tomorrow’s toughest challenges.
We have a global deep-water offshore oil and gas challenge on our hands. The way we currently develop new resources is too costly, takes far too long and key systems necessary for production suffer from reliability issues.
There is an amazing potential for developing ultra deep-water reserves with some estimates placing reserves in place at over 330 billion barrels of oil equivalent by 2030. These barrels are competing for production with a myriad of other onshore oil and gas projects including the recent growth in shale gas. This is giving oil companies and the investors behind them less of an appetite for the risk that comes from exploring and producing resources at depths more than 3,000 meters and many hundreds of kilometers offshore. The costs of using traditional technologies to produce this oil are high and their effectiveness low.
To reverse this trend and to lower oil companies’ risks, it is becoming increasingly common place to look at putting as much of the topsides on the seabed. Indeed, the pumps and compressors are already there and the separators are coming with full subsea factories by 2020.
The advantages are many. The equipment is generally maintenance-free, greatly increasing up time as well as decreasing offshore travels. Subsea production is significantly more cost-efficient and energy efficiency not to mention improved safety. However, the biggest advantage is that—thanks to putting the platform on the seabed—there is greatly improved compression, increasing the long-term production lifetime of the platform with recovery rates also increasing considerably. More compression means greater amounts of recoverable oil.
The next big step for subsea operations will be to separate oil, gas, water and sands close to the well. Subsea separation saves a lot of energy, as the entire stream does not have to be pumped from the seafloor to the platform. The result is that less water and sand have to be discharged back into the sea. In the oilfields of the future, there will be less need for surface platforms, and 'subsea factories' may become a more common solution. In many cases it will be the only way to recover resources from smaller oil and gas fields and the only way to access remotely located oil fields, for example, under ice.
In addition to separation service subsea, another game changer that will make a subsea factory even more economically attractive is the ability to make gas rejection from subsea bed. This will allow to go deeper into the well and extract more oil in a more efficient way compared to gas rejection from a platform. From a technological stand point this means to continue to invest in active magnetic bearings able to manage very high pressure.
With this technology now entering into production the next big change we are starting to see is a move from AC to DC making the subsea electrical power supply more economical and convenient. Using HVDC converters we will be able to send power hundreds of kilometers offshore. Who knows, maybe we will even supply this power from a renewable source some day.