Innovation as a means for the UK to maximize recovery
In the North Sea, approximately 42 billion barrels of oil equivalent (boe) have been produced and a further estimated 12 to 24 billion boe are potentially available, according to DECC. Whilst this means there are still significant resources to be acquired, they are ever more difficult to obtain: as stated in the Wood Review, production has fallen by 38 percent between 2010 and 2013.
Wayne Kirk, technical director of Atlantic Petroleum, explains how smaller companies can gain access to the stranded oil in the North Sea by “envisaging a means to access that oil cost-effectively.” Innovation, driven by the creative forces that Kirk describes, is driving the UKCS’s abilities to capture this remaining oil and both small and large companies need to remain proactive in driving forward new solutions to succeed. Aberdeen in particular is a strong-point for this innovation, as illustrated by Scott Campbell, UK business strategy manager for Technip, a business delivering engineering, project management and construction which has its UK headquarters for subsea operations in Aberdeen. “The company is still assisting the wider industry push boundaries- by going deeper or providing more sophisticated solutions,” he explains. “Total Islay utilized the first electrically trace heated pipe in the world. This solution delivered by Technip had never been previously tried.”
There is a clear reason for this high capability: at the moment, the North Sea is reaching into ever more difficult to access resources and expertise is needed to bring oil and gas to the surface from ever more complex reservoirs at a reasonable price. Many of these reservoirs’ complexities mean better information about the assets is required to guarantee and maximize economic recovery.
“Statoil recognizes that informed risk is key to success in exploration,” says Tom Dreyer, vice president exploration of Statoil in the North Atlantic. Dreyer emphasizes what drives the Norwegian state oil company’s success, stating it “has been very focused on the best possible seismic data, using our expertise and obtaining the best possible subsurface image. This is then utilized to inform our drilling programs.”
Martin Bett, senior vice president, reservoir solutions at TGS, a company delivering the full spectrum of exploration and reservoir monitoring technologies, describes what permanent monitoring systems (PRM) can do to inform operators about the reservoir they are dealing with: “PRM systems look to observe the dynamic elements of the reservoir, such as water pressure or movement of fluids within the reservoir. One desires the highest resolution imaging; placing a PRM system on the seabed offers access to this information in full azimuth – this is an image from multiple perspectives.”
He concludes, summarizing what this data means to the industry: “These remote sensing efforts allow improved decisions to be taken by the oil and gas industry. This increased information has improved exploration and now can be turned to production and improving decisions in that aspect of work as well. Measuring, not just modeling, is key to this forward step. Oil companies pursue a number of scenarios when they are drilling wells. These wells are so expensive that having the knowledge to maximize the return from any well is vital; that, or actually deciding if a profitable scenario is likely.”
Philippe Guys, managing director of Total E&P UK, emphasizes that this data is so valuable, it entirely influences the business’ operations: “If our geoscientists provide geological data, which demonstrates prospect of discovering commercially viable and exploitable reserves we will go for it.” This is corroborated by Martin Pedersen, vice president and managing director of Maersk Oil North Sea, who states: “First and foremost it is about technical knowledge and being able to identify and de-risk the prospects.”
Identifying and de-risking new and alternative prospects is seeing companies devise innovative new means of accessing resources. Robert Trice, CEO of Hurricane, an exploration and production company, is searching for fractured basement reservoirs- effectively where natural geological movements have fractured the rock, creating spaces in which hydrocarbons may pool. “Finding the fractured basement areas is the easy part of the process; one is looking for large structures that have the normal components of a trap: reservoir, seal and source. The principal challenge is evaluating the reservoir from a modeling point of view, calculating porosity, fracture density, fracture orientation and water saturation- these are the key aspects which must be investigated. Hurricane has its own bespoke technique for this in-house.”
Hurricane identified areas of basement around the UK where reservoir, seal and source were consistently present, and cross-referenced this with sites where existing drilling had taken place and oil has been located in the basement or sediment. As a result, this approach taken by Hurricane has significantly de-risked the fractured basement prospects being explored by Hurricane.
To date, Hurricane has been admirably successful, finding commercial volumes of oil in basement in each of its drilling efforts. The company is now drilling to the west of Shetland to ascertain if the resource there offers a commercial flow. Trice describes the huge resources potentially available from basement reservoirs: “there is the potential for billions of barrels in the basement around the UK.”