2018 Offshore Technology Yearbook

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46 | December 2017 | Can Technology Save Subsea? 2018 OFFSHORE TECHNOLOGY YEARBOOK | SUBSEA Because of the price crash, subsea operators are finding new ways to develop their assets. By Steve Sasanow, Contributing Editor I t is now three years since the great oil price col- lapse of late 2014–you know, the one that nobody saw coming–which resulted in the price of a barrel of oil dropping like a rock from more than $100 to close to $30. While it has now recovered to the $50-to-$60 range, no one is jumping up and down with glee. The offshore sector in general, and the sub- sea-deepwater portion specifically, the most expen- sive in terms of drilling and development costs, have yet to really recover. There are scraps of proj- ects going forward, but there is not a sustained improvement that would suggest that all is well. The question that seems to have eluded many analysts and forecasters is this: Did no one realize that a correction was due? Anyone who was pay- ing attention would clearly have been alerted that something was amiss. At least 18 months prior, around the spring of 2013, a number of oper- ators, both large- and middle-sized, had put the boot firmly on the development brake and began to question how it was possible for projects with significant reserves–and with oil at $100/bbl–to be marginally economic. The capital cost of deepwater and subsea proj - ects had been growing inexorably with demand since the year 2000 as manufacturers provided increased capacity and with it ever more sophis- ticated highly engineered hardware. Subsea had become "outer space," with a relatively small num- ber of suppliers trying to meet demand for ever more complex equipment and making hay while the sun continued to shine. Was there to be no way to halt to the rising cost of projects? There just had to be, and when it came, it was very painful. With the industry suddenly stuck on pause, how would it be possible to get the flow of projects going again? Enter technology Since the advent of subsea technology about 35 years ago, the offshore industry has ridden a wave of innovation that has seen production move from less than 100 ft of water in the Gulf of Mexico to 328 ft to 656 ft of water and harsh environment in the North Sea and production tied back a few miles to platforms to more than 8,200 ft of water in the Brazilian and U.S. Gulf of Mexico sectors–and maybe West Africa as well–and long-distance tie- backs of 62 miles. And these numbers barely reflect the other challenges presented by environmental issues, such as cold waters and hot reservoirs, and the chemical makeup of the fluids. When field development teams sought solutions to difficult technical problems, the answer quite often seemed to be some piece of new technol- ogy. The Shell/Esso Underwater Manifold Centre (UMC), installed on the Central Cormorant Field in the U.K. sector in 1983, is an early example of many of the technologies that are now taken for granted in the context of subsea developments–large and complex template-manifolds, electrohydraulic con- trols, on-template wells combined with satellites, complex pull-in systems for flowlines and umbili- cals and the growing use of underwater robotics for inspection and maintenance, for example. Even at the end of the 1970s, when the concept for the UMC was first hatched, it was more than a half-decade after Esso's Submerged Production System (SPS), which included a number of tech-

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