Next generation composite flexible risers
Resetting the Equation
Sustainability has become something of a buzzword in oil and gas. Given the tough times that we continue to face, you could say it’s reassuring to know that, as an industry, we’re on the same page. Unlike some buzzwords however, the growing focus on sustainability is not simply hype. Communities the world over have a fundamental need for energy but, as time has gone on, short-termism has become rife, with some taking an increasingly narrow view of what is indisputably a long-term play.
Collectively, we need to look at new ways to operate more cost effectively and efficiently. Technology and innovation are crucial to sustainable energy development. In leaner times, however, it becomes tough to justify spending on portfolio enhancements and future capabilities. That said, the current drive across the sector to operate more economically while improving productivity means that, sometimes, we also need to bear down and invest through the cycle, even when the going gets tough. Our mindset, our culture and definitely our mantra at the moment, is to focus on what we can control and this includes creating solutions that drive efficiency in operations, lower production costs and reduce environmental impact.
Investing in Next Generation Technology
At OTC in Houston last year, I talked about the significant investment our Wellstream product line has been making to develop and manufacture the next generation of flexible risers. Why is this investment important? Not only will it enable our customers to expand their reach into even deeper waters – helping to secure future energy supply – but it also drives significant savings on the total installed cost of riser systems. All important considerations from a sustainability standpoint. Over the past few years, commercial pressures have come together in something of a perfect storm.
Our customers are shooting for deeper waters in a bid to sustain production, which equates to higher operating pressures and larger diameter pipe. However adding more steel can be expensive and, with the days of “we need to go deeper, we will figure out the cost later” long over, we need to find an alternative; one in which total installed cost is a fraction of what it was a couple of years ago. That is the beauty of composites. They will help to reset the equation, providing the required structural capacity without the weight gain, thereby enabling us to side-step some physical limitations.
This month, we moved a step closer on our composites journey, with the delivery of a new manufacturing module for our Newcastle facility in the UK. It will allow us to replace the metallic component of the pressure armour layer of our flexible pipe with high performing composite alternative. In the coming weeks, we are targeting to have the production line up-and-running, commissioned and manufacturing full-scale flexible pipe. While the fabrication of composite structures is undoubtedly complex, this module, complete with an automated laser tape placement system, will ensure greater speed, consistency, repeatability and reliability of the production process, while enhancing quality, improving productivity and reducing cost. In true GE Store style, we’re also taking learnings from our colleagues at GE Aviation, with the manufacture of this product including Quality Assurance-NDE+ post-production capabilities. Simply put, this means that we’ll be able to continuously measure the quality of the product during manufacture, with any defects repaired on the line, automatically. As well helping to expand the pressure envelope for applications greater than 15Ksi, the value offered by a shift to non-metallic components in flexible risers will be recognised in multiple areas, most notably:
- In ultra-deepwater conditions, our customers want to extend the capabilities of our product to larger diameters and higher working pressures – driving the steel content of the cross-section higher, in a spiral of weight inflation. As I mentioned above, by smart substitution of composite materials we can reset this pattern, entering a design cycle of positive optimisation. Reducing pipe weight means we can load larger volumes on each reel, with fewer vessel transits to port required during an installation campaign.
- This paradigm shift also allows the reduction, or in some cases elimination, of buoyancy modules which are required to offset riser weight, meaning that we can facilitate faster offshore installation times, lighter installation vessels, a simpler riser configuration in the water column and overall installed cost savings, in the order of 20 per cent for case studies offshore Brazil, for example.
- One customer analysis our team carried out for a deepwater, high pressure riser in the Gulf of Mexico managed to eliminate 75 per cent of the buoyancy and 30 per cent of the full riser system cost when compared with traditional riser solutions; and that was before we considered the additional installation benefits.
By continuing to invest in technology today, we’re investing in the future of our industry, adding value, creating business efficiencies and, ultimately, driving more sustainable operations for oil and gas. It requires commitment, determination and passion, and while it’s not always easy, it does make sense. What do you think?