ITF scales up for the ‘push and pull’

ITF, the global industry technology facilitator, was set up in 1999 and is today owned by 30 major operating and service companies from around the globe, Qatar Petroleum having become the latest recruit in July. Meg Chesshyre talked to chairman Professor Max Rowe on the eve of the organisation’s fifth annual technology showcase in Aberdeen last month.

Hosted by ITF in partnership with the UK Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) and PILOT, the Annual Technology Showcase has quickly established itself as a key fixture in the North Sea events calendar. ‘It has been a great success over the past four years and we are taking it to its largest scale yet,’ enthuses ITF chairman Professor Max Rowe as final preparations are made for the event’s fifth edition.

‘It opens the doors for technology developers to tap into a wider audience for their inventions and gives access to the most significant names in the sector under one roof.’

max‘We’re finding increasingly that we’re being asked to get involved in strategic development for particular countries.’ Prof Max Rowe

Each year the showcase sets out to discover and discuss the industry’s latest technology challenges and address key areas for development as identified by operators. These include EOR and production optimisation, seismic and reservoir characterization, subsea and asset integrity. For the first time, the event featured not only a 60-stand exhibition by innovative technology developers, but also included presentations from industry leaders and one-to-one sessions for delegates to talk directly to the decision makers. It was attended this year by more than 450 delegates representing around 236 companies from across the globe.

Rowe notes that ITF is targeted to launch 20 new projects this year and by early October had already launched 13, representing a total investment of more than £2 million. It is currently funding ongoing projects to the tune £20 million, with up to 40 projects running at any one time. It also has a target to boost membership from 30 to 40 by 2015, with two more already expected to sign up in early 2013.

‘ITF brings together the technology developers with the users, the operators or service companies who have the need and it’s a combination of push and pull,’ he explains. ‘We have the pull of the member companies telling us what their needs are and the push angle where somebody like the Imperial College comes along and says “Here’s a great idea” and we offer that to our members. The money comes from the members.

‘We do not hold a pot of money,’ explains Rowe. ‘Each of our members decides whether to invest in a particular project, so some projects may have one sponsor, some may have 10 and the intellectual property associated with the developer’s idea always rests with the developer. Our sponsors may gain some preferential access or other preferential terms but the rights stay with the developer.’

ITF not only provides services to its members but also has national governments looking to it to assist in stimulating the oil & gas industry in their regions. ‘We’re finding increasingly that we’re being asked to get involved in strategic development for particular countries,’ says Rowe.

The organisation is currently involved, in partnership with Scottish Enterprise and Highlands & Islands Enterprise, in operating a £10 million fund launched by Scottish energy minister Fergus Ewing in September to support innovation in the oil & gas sector. The fund is now open to the first round of applications. The first call will be for projects looking at improving the integrity and reliability of assets in the oil & gas industry.

Rowe stresses that although ITF originates from the North Sea and Aberdeen it now has a truly global membership with offices in Abu Dhabi, Perth, Kuala Lumpur and Houston with plans for further expansion in North and South America, and regional programmes to reach the needs of its members in each region. For instance, earlier this year the organisation called for proposals for treating produced water with back produced polymer in polymer flood projects, as well as the treatment of water for re-injection and other applications to help tackle the challenges of managing produced water in Middle East oil and gas production. Proposals are currently being reviewed by ITF members, with the view to launching successful proposals early 2013.

Rowe says that as an industry it takes an average of 16 years to get from proof of concept in a laboratory to commercial market penetration, but that ITF has quite a number of examples that have gone from an idea to commercialisation within less than five years.

Golf’s gift

An unusual ITF success story has been Uptake, an invention born out of the golf industry and first tested in a jam jar, which has resulted in a highly effective pipeline cleaning fluid that has the ability to suspend and carry solid and liquid particles. ITF concluded an Uptake proof-of-concept study last year, along with member companies including BP and Weatherford.

john burnsJohn Burns with his golf-inspired pipeline cleaning fluid, first tested in a jam jar.

John Burns, who started Golf Range Products in 2008, first developed the fluid for use in the production of golf mats. Shortly after developing the liquid, he noticed that at a certain concentration, it had the ability to lift the sand in the mats and hold it in suspension. With a background in chemistry, the inventor soon started thinking about other possible applications for the liquid.

Burns explains: ‘The first experiments were carried out in jam jars containing sand where I mixed equal amounts of water with the Uptake solution and we found that it instantly lifted the sand and held it in suspension. Further experiments have found it can suspend and carry hydrocarbons, sand and even gravel and wax.’

Confident of finding an oil & gas industry application for the fluid, Burns set up a new company called Pipeline Cleaning Solutions based in Keith, Moray, and approached ITF. His proposal received £70,000 from ITF members including investment from ITF’s Pioneer Fund, which deals specifically with early stage feasibility studies.

Burns then built an intricate test pipeline and filmed the results of clearing sand, gravel and oil using the Uptake solution, which flushed out the debris. The funding also covered independent testing through Intertek and a report submitted to ITF and the sponsoring oil companies with detailed analysis. Burns believes that in addition to pipelines, the fluid may have potential with small and larger bore pipework, tanks and separators, as well as downhole and could offer a number of benefits in comparison to existing solutions.

‘Uptake has solid carrying capacity that is two and a half to three times that of gels currently used for this purpose, but is much less viscous and so requires less energy to pump,’ notes Burns. ‘It also has a wider operating range in terms of pH and temperature than other chemical cleaners and carriers.’

Subsalt imaging

ITF members are currently reviewing proposals for enhanced sub-basalt imaging and novel borehole seismic sources, following calls for proposals earlier this year. Specific areas of interest identified by ITF members require the development of a 3D elastic finite difference model which can be used by industry to benchmark new acquisition and processing techniques. The challenge has to be tackled using combined geology and geophysics and the initial model must take into account intrusive and extrusive sill geometries.

Similarly, the borehole seismic sources call has been issued to attract proposals for novel technologies which can address a wide range of applications such as: seismic-while-drilling for exploration and development, as well as downhole sources for cross-well seismic tomography, enhanced reservoir imaging and permanent reservoir monitoring. A testing programme will be prepared at the Michigan Technological University test facility for the successful technologies under the direction of Professor Roger Turpening.

SWIT pilot

The SWIT (Subsea Water Injection and Treatment) concept is a long-running project and has undergone several phases of development since it first emerged in 2002. ITF supported a full scale SWIT pilot plant, which completed a successful year’s operation on the seabed a couple of years ago. The technology is now ready for field applications.

inventorInventor Dave Pinchin alongside his subsea water injection and treatment (SWIT) system.

A total of £1.4 million was invested in the development of SWIT, with the majority coming from ITF’s members and the Norwegian Research Council providing additional funding. Dave Pinchin, chief technology officer at Well Processing, came up with the concept in order to exploit the inherent advantages of seabed water quality, available space and power savings. The treatment system is designed to be an all-electric, autonomous system that can be fed via a power/control cable from any suitable source.

Fullwave gamechanger

A current large-scale seismic project involves full wavefield imaging and inversion with researchers at Imperial College London beginning a three-year project earlier this year. The team of researchers, led by Professor Mike Warner, is backed by more than £1 million in funding for the work from eight companies through ITF. The work is focused on the technique of full-wavefield tomography, also known as full-wavefield inversion, which is a method for seismic depth imaging and obtaining models of physical properties in the sub-surface at high spatial resolution.

Professor Warner explains: ‘In contrast to conventional seismic tomography, where we minimise the mismatch between observed and calculated seismic travel times, in full-wavefield tomography we are seeking to create a highly resolved quantitative model of the subsurface structure that is able to explain all aspects of the recorded seismic wavefield – we are aiming to match to the raw field data, in detail, wiggle-for-wiggle. Wavefield tomography has a long history, but it is only recently that advances in mathematical algorithms, as well as in hardware, have made the technique feasible on realistic-sized datasets in three dimensions. These advances have enabled wavefield tomography to develop from a technique of largely academic interest into a commercially relevant tool that is igniting interest across the industry worldwide.’

This new project continues on from previous phases of ITF member funded work undertaken by Prof Warner’s research group over the past six years. The most recently completed phase, Fullwave III, developed techniques leading to improved understanding of the ‘top layers’ geologically speaking, ie the overburden as well as what lies beneath it, and ITF say a number of the sponsors have run the 3D full-waveform inversion code in-house on their own datasets with positive outcomes. In addition, a geophysical service provider has been actively involved in the project and can now offer full-waveform inversion as a commercial service to clients.

ITF senior technology analyst Colin Sanderson notes: ‘Discussions with our members tell us that industry is looking for different ideas to improve the imaging of and below problem layers, and this is something Fullwave Gamechanger aims to address. The defined problem layers correspond to those of high impedance such as salt, basalt and chalk and low impedance such as gas and glacial channels. Trying to ‘look’ through these layers to the reservoir is effectively like trying to look through a cloudy piece of glass. Full wavefield tomography promises to deliver a step-change in seismic resolution, fidelity and industrial practice, but at the current stage in its development it is not yet fully effective at reservoir depth, and also has some limitations with respect to handling reflections.

‘This project will build on previous work to tackle these issues and develop the next generation of integrated wavefield-tomographic tools.’ OE

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