Reaching 20K

GE’s new 20,000psi-rated BOP recently secured a contract with Maersk Drilling as part of BP’s own Project 20K program. Jerry Lee reports on the new BOP and its control system.

Completed GE BOP stack.
All images from GE.

Project 20K, initiated by BP in 2012, aims at developing the technology necessary to explore and produce from deepwater reservoirs that have up to 20,000psi of pressure and temperature up to 350°F at the seabed.

“Project 20K technologies will be key to safely unlocking the next frontier of deepwater resources in the Gulf of Mexico and beyond,” says Stuart Rettie, project general manager for Project 20K. In 2013, BP and Maersk Drilling signed a development contract to collaborate on the conceptual designs for the drilling rig.

From 2012 to 2035, BP predicts an increase in global energy consumption by 41%, Rettie says. Subsea production is one method by which the rise in energy demand is being addressed. However, with current technology, there are vast deepwater reservoirs that are out of reach. As a result, industry must provide the research and engineering to develop the equipment that can turn those reservoirs into reserves. As a technology company, it is natural that BP would take up this challenge, Rettie says.

Observing similar trends, Shell Scenarios devised two possible forms that describe how businesses and governments may respond: Scramble and Blueprints; Scramble – energy security is sought by businesses and governments without regard to sustainability or the environment; Blueprints – businesses and governments cooperate to identify and address future issues sooner rather than allowing the problem exacerbate. With the development of Project 20K, it seems that the Blueprints scenario anticipates BP’s decision to hedge their investment on early preparation.

Enlisting participation from other industry players, Maersk Drilling was selected to help develop the Project 20K drilling unit. In the scope of a drilling contractor package, there is a match in terms of technology, people, and safety and management systems, says Frederik Smidth, chief technical officer at Maersk Drilling.

GE BOP for transit.

When targeting areas of the Paleogene play in of the GOM, reservoirs can be expected that create pressures of 20,000psi and temperatures up to 350°F at the seabed where the subsea production trees are located. With current technology limited to a working pressures of 15,000psi, development of the 20,000psi system is sensible, “This is a natural evolution of offshore technology and a logical next step for industry,” says Mick Leary, BP wells director for Project 20K.

A vital piece of equipment, whose development has seen recent success, is the blowout preventer (BOP). At the 2014 Offshore Technology Conference, GE Oil & Gas debuted its prototype deepwater 20,000psi-rated BOP.

With multiple companies developing designs for 20,000psi-rated BOPs, a number of considerations had to be made. In the end, GE was selected based on their familiarity with BP and Maersk Drilling’s requirements for safety features and control systems, commercial aspects, delivery and availability of additional stacks, and total cost of ownership, Smidth says. As a result, GE received an order for four of the new BOPs and two new risers to be delivered by 2018.

GE SeaONYX software.

The development of the 20,000psi prototype brings together technology from multiple industries for use offshore. These technologies enable the BOP to handle the additional 5000psi and increased temperature associated with production from that depth. As a piece of a multi-billion dollar investment, it is imperative to utilize proven technology.

“Everything on the system is a utilization of existing technology to handle the higher pressure,” says Anthony Spinler, product manager for GE Oil & Gas. “We brought in technologies from other parts of GE and advanced the ones we already have to meet the higher pressure, and to make the risk level of the new system as low as possible. The best way to manage technology is to not invent too many things.”

The primary advances are with the pressure maintaining components. As a safety and control mechanism, the BOP must be able to shear the pipe and casing strings completely. This means the hydraulic cylinders must provide enough force to the rams to operate properly, yet still not damage the BOP. The additional wellbore pressure at 20,000psi applies additional force these cylinders must overcome before they can cut pipe or casing. Thus the working conditions necessitated an upgrade to the body, bonnet, and hydraulic cylinders on the prototype. These components are made bigger to handle more pressure, and that keeps the risk down in the industry, Spinler says.

GE 20,000psi BOP prototype.

However, the task of producing from a deepwater well is not accomplished by simply making things bigger. Being so far removed from the well head, engineers had to come up with a model that allows operations to be more efficient in order to make producing deepwater fields economic. One method of improving efficiency is in innovating the BOP control systems.

One inefficiency can be equipment breakdown. When equipment breaks on a rig, operation must be shut down, and the broken equipment must be removed and replaced, resulting in non-productive time (NPT) which costs the company money. In deepwater subsea wells, NPT is compounded simply by the logistics of the operation; what may take an a few hours to replace on a normal rig can take days in subsea well, all the while costing the company money as well as making no progress. To mitigate NPT, the BOPs are designed to incorporate RamTel Plus sensors. Located inside the operator shaft, the sensor sends information regarding the ram position and exact pressure readings in the cylinder, allowing engineers to manage drilling operations and make real-time decisions on the health of the BOP operator.

To capitalize on the increasing amounts of data coming from sources like the RamTel Plus sensors, the BOP control system will be managed by GE’s SeaONYX surface control system. This electronic control system will send commands down to the BOP hydraulic control system to actuate the driller’s commands.

SeaONYX is based upon GE’s the Mark VIe hardware and software architecture, leveraging hardware that was developed for other GE applications into the BOP control space, says Bob Judge, director of product management for GE Oil & Gas. Using Mark VIe architecture benefits the customer by using a standardized set of control hardware and software, as well as offering a large lifecycle support network, Judge adds.

SeaONYX has many capabilities, such as real-time control of complex systems, however, its primary role for the BOP control system is to turn functions on and off and provide a historian database. Only about 2% of the capability of the controllers in the SeaONYX package is used, which Judge says is perfect for the application.GE is taking advantage of the robustness of the package to hedge for future needs. In combination with the SeaONYX system, GE will utilize newly introduced SeaLytics BOP Advisor software. By pairing the systems, SeaLytics can use the historian to provide the driller with valuable information using its predictive analytics; turning “dark data” into actionable information. SeaLytics can extract, from the raw data, information to track equipment performance, identify areas of operational decline, and plan for equipment maintenance, this result in less NPT, greater operational efficiency, and improved reliability.

“Every manufacturer is thinking ‘how do I reduce these unplanned stack pulls, these unplanned problems,’ this is GE’s answer to that,” says Cameron Wallace, communications leader for GE Oil & Gas’ drilling systems group.

Inclusion of both the SeaONYX and SeaLytics systems allows the control system to adapt as the project progresses and becomes more complex. The architecture forms an expandable platform so that as more knowledge is gained, more prognostics or advisory capabilities can be added through SeaLytics or if the industry or regulators decide there is a need to automate some function, those options are already built in, Judge says.

With the introduction of GE’s 20,000psi BOP prototype, and the inclusion of the SeaONYX and SeaLytics systems, BP is one step closer to being capable of producing from 20,000psi reservoirs. Reiterating BP’s commitment to progressing the development of a 20,000psi capable system, BP will collaborate with Anadarko in a joint development agreement for Anadarko’s Project 20A; Project 20A similarly aims to develop subsea facility designs. These projects may hasten the realization of a 20,000psi system and satiation of future global energy demand.

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