Recipe for a slimmer profile and healthy joints

In 2010, ShawCor picked up an OTC Spotlight on Technology award for its Thermotite Ultra pipe insulation coating system. That summer, two of the company's divisions, Bredero Shaw and Bredero Shaw FJS, put the technology to use on a reeled pipeline application for Apache's Balboa development in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico. Russell McCulley reports.

The six-mile subsea pipeline that ties back the Balboa development in East Breaks block 597 to Anadarko's Boomvang spar marked the first deployment of the Thermotite Ultra styrenic alloy insulation system on both the flowline's individual pipe segments and its field joints. Bredero Shaw coated the pipe joints in May 2010 at its Houston area coating plant, shortly after Apache announced its plans to acquire Mariner Energy and its deepwater assets, including Balboa. Nearly 700 field joints were coated by Bredero Shaw FJS at Helix Energy Solutions Group's spoolbase in Ingleside, Texas, over a two-week period last July.

The event also marked something more significant: the introduction of new technology to a segment of the oil & gas industry where innovation occurs ‘incrementally', recalls Bredero Shaw FJS sales manager Vlad Popovici.

‘Polyurethane [coating] systems were introduced 25 years ago, and have been improved but still have limitations. Polypropylene systems – it's been exactly 20 years since the first project installed in the North Sea. Now, we have something that's brand new.'

The Thermotite Ultra system is built on styrenic thermoplastic materials in a three-layer structure: fusion-bonded epoxy, a specially designed adhesive and a styrenic based top coat. The line pipe insulation layers can be applied either in solid, foam or a combined configuration, to the required thickness. A final impact-resistant coat is applied by wrap extrusion or co-extrusion. The field joint system is applied using a specific high ductility styrenic infill material and an injection application process that is similar to the one used for polypropylene field joints.

What sets the Ultra system apart, Popovici says, are its improved insulation properties over competitive thermoplastic solutions. For example, in its solid incompressible state, Thermotite Ultra exhibits thermal performance equivalent to or better than existing foamed syntactic polypropylene systems, providing the added advantage of unlimited depth capability. In a foamed configuration, the Ultra line pipe coating allows for the use of thinner coatings.

‘Most thermally insulated pipelines are on the smaller diameter side, and in deepwater,' he says. ‘So most of them are installed offshore using the reeling method. The thicker the thermal insulation on that pipe, the more challenging the reeling could be – and less economical, because you can't put as much pipe on the reel. That's what we were trying to address with the new coating system.

‘Our first target,' he continues, ‘was to come up with a better insulation for the markets that were covered by the polyurethane coating systems – not only a thinner coating, but also a better insulating system.'

The Balboa pipeline, installed in 3350ft water depths, included six miles of 5.563in pipe with a 1.89in Ultra coating. For the insulationof the 18in long field joints, Bredero Shaw FJS mobilized at the Helix spoolbase the required coating materials, specialized application equipment and a Norwegian operator team. The application activities were distributed among four coating stations: a grit blasting and cleaning station manned by two operators; an induction heating and fusion bonded epoxy/adhesive application station; an UltraJoint injection molding station, with two operators; and a quenching station.

‘When we were looking at a new family of insulation systems, we thought not only about the [pipe] joints but also the field joint area,' Popovici says. ‘We wanted to make sure that we had an endto- end system that would offer similar, if not identical, thermal insulation performance both on the field joint area and the pipes.'

While pipe segments are manufactured and coated in controlled environments, field joints, as the name indicates, are welded and coated in the field. That can lead to some discrepancy in the insulating properties of the pipe and the field joint, with the field joint areas at times more vulnerable to chilly subsea temperatures.

‘Although field joints are coated using specialized equipment and strict procedures, they are sometimes perceived as the weak link in pipelines,' he says. ‘So coming up with a valid field joint coating system was perhaps just as important as developing the parent line pipe coating.'

The Thermotite Ultra field joint system was designed to be compatible with existing coating equipment. ‘We wanted a system that would use standardized equipment and procedures,' Popovici says. ‘When you're working at a spoolbase, cycle time is very important. You want to make sure that there are no bottlenecks and that your operations are not slowing down the whole spoolbase activity chain.' For the Balboa project, he says, ‘the fact that we had four coating stations helped us bring down the cycle time.'

Spooling of the insulated pipeline was successfully performed in late October 2010 aboard Helix's Express pipelay vessel, and the Balboa field began production 28 December. According to Popovici, Bredero Shaw and Bredero Shaw FJS have been awarded a project using the end-to-end Thermotite Ultra system in the Barents Sea offshore Norway; to his knowledge, it will be the first wet insulated pipeline to be installed in the Arctic, but certainly not the last if the new insulation technology really does herald another one-in-a-generation step.

‘The last thermal insulation innovation wave started in the North Sea,' he says. ‘This wave is going to start in the Gulf of Mexico.' OE

Have coating, will travel Bredero Shaw has introduced a modular anti-corrosion and flow assurance pipe coating solution that the company says can be transported in standard containers and then set up in as little as six weeks. Modeled on the company's mobile concrete coating plant technology, the modular coating plant, dubbed Brigden, is designed for deployment near oil & gas projects or ports, reducing transportation costs and the pipe's exposure to potential coating damage during handling and transit.

The method can also help companies meet local content requirements by setting up a coating facility ‘in country.'

The mobile coating plant can coat pipe joints with an outside diameter of 8in to 42in, length of 34ft to 80ft and weight of up to 325lb/ft. The Brigden plant requires a little less than 3 acres for setup, excluding pipe storage, and can apply a wide range of single and multilayer anti-corrosion and thermal insulation coating systems.

Bredero Shaw is currently installing the modular coating plant at a site in Beaumont, Texas, where the first project is a syntactic polypropylene insulation on the risers for Chevron's deepwater Jack and St Malo project.


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