In his keynote speech at the ITF technology showcase, BP North Sea regional president Trevor Garlick spoke of his personal determination to ensure his company takes a leadership role in technology in the North Sea. He noted that relative to other provinces the North Sea was an expensive place to do business, and production rates in the UKCS last year had dropped sharply, by 18% – ‘a sobering number’. The big challenge for the industry was to arrest this decline using technology to maximise recovery, which currently averaged only 40%.
BP was investing at record levels, said Garlick. This year it will invest around $3 billion of capital in the UK and Norway. But it was also divesting assets that are not core to its future, such as the recent sale of its southern gas business to Perenco. Focusing the portfolio was key to the company’s strategy, investing efficiently in major projects such and Clair and Schiehallion and in exploration work across the UK.
In his talk, Garlick identified four critical areas for BP in the North Sea where further progress in technology will help – seismic imaging; enhanced oil recovery; extending facility life and drilling, using the Magnus asset, east of Shetland, as a reference point. Magnus is approaching its 30-year anniversary – already five longer than it was designed for, but with the right technology production could potentially be extended to the mid-2020s, with the recovery factor increasing from the 40% level to around two-thirds. The issue was converting remaining oil to commercial reality before the infrastructure expired.
A key priority was to obtain better images of the reservoir. BP’s own seismic technology strategy was three-fold, to: identify additional targets in hub areas through improved imaging, by using (wide azimuth) high density OBC acquisition, including Farragon, Clair, Magnus and Etap; to improve recovery factors by use of reservoir monitoring (4D seismic) through repeat towed streamer acquisitions or permanent seabed systems (eg Foinaven-Loyal-Schiehallion, Etap, Ula); and to reduce costs through synergies and collaboration with other BP regions and also through life-of-field long term planning which enables long-term contracts with key suppliers (for instance North Sea/Trinidad collaboration). A remaining challenge was to make frequent 4D repeat surveys possible at reduced cost, with high data quality and reduced HSE risk.
He said that there were a number of new techniques for enhanced oil recovery involving polymer chemicals and water with different properties. BP had three phases of EOR activity in the North Sea portfolio: miscible water/gas (WAG) schemes at Magnus and Ula; low salinity flood at Clair and polymer flood at Schiehallion; and the evaluation of a number of more difficult EOR opportunities that will likely need an additional trigger to make them happen. BP was leading one of the PILOT work groups targeted at evaluating EOR potential across the basin, which hoped to be able to identify synergies between fields by geography or EOR technology that could provide economies of scale.
BP’s recently approved renewal programme aims to truly renew facilities for the long term, synchronising them with their extended reservoir potentials. The Magnus asset will be a beneficiary of the renewal programme which will involve improved fabric maintenance; improving reliability; crane change-outs; refurbishments to the drilling rig and a flotel. Earlier in the year BP made an intervention to improve compressor stability on Magnus following a number of outages. This involved using real time monitoring technology to study the compressor trains and act accordingly.
‘More broadly we are studying how improved paint technologies can protect the infrastructure. At one level we are sponsoring a PhD on this subject, at the other end of the spectrum BP earlier this year announced a $100million, 10-year global partnership with the University of Manchester to improve materials management. Strengthening the materials used in our industry will be a core focus,’ said Garlick.
‘There is also a lot happening with digital technology – a relatively simple concept (the Advanced Collaborative Environment – ACE) has made a major, positive impact in linking onshore expertise with the offshore environment. Much is also happening to improve wireless connectivity offshore and we hope this will make a real difference too.’
Drilling provided Garlick’s final illustration of the ways in which technology can make a difference. Shortly BP will start drilling a new producer from the Magnus platform. ‘This won’t be any old well,’ he noted. ‘At a total well depth of five miles, it will be the longest well ever drilled in the UK sector using extended reach drilling technology. Delivery of it will be technically challenging – it will require real-time monitoring of trends to inform decision making; incorporating lessons learned from offset ERD wells; use of friction reduction technology and increased focus on drilling string components to minimise failure.’
He added: ‘There are of course a number of more general challenges in drilling – nobody knows that better than BP. And we continue to implement new standards in light of our experience in 2010. In particular we believe the industry and technology supply chain needs to make progress in managed pressure drilling; reliable cement evaluation; and subsea BOP reliability. There are many others areas too and it’s a continuous process but drilling more efficient and less expensive wells will be vital to the North Sea’s future.’