Industry reluctance to adopt new subsea technology tied to risk, says BP/SUT expert

By Kurt Abraham, World Oil Editor on 4/12/2018

MILAN -- In an MCEDD presentation on late Wednesday morning, in Milan, Italy, a recognized subsea expert said that, in his opinion, the reluctance of operators to adopt new technology in the sector is tied to risk. There are four main factors that contribute to this reluctance, said David Saul, the Subsea Engineering Technical Authority for BP’s Global Project Organization, who made his presentation on behalf of the Society for Underwater Technology (SUT).

These four factors, said Saul, include delivery concerns, reliability concerns, the cost of failure to the operator, and the ultimate question, “Do we really need it?” Regarding the latter factor, Saul said that innovators at equipment/service companies, who are trying to push new technology to operators, need to be able to answer the following question:  What does it do that we can’t done with proven, reliable technology now? Saul noted that frequently on major projects, new technology is delivered late. “Yet, in my opinion, if new technology is delivered late, it’s because it was ordered late.”

Saul said that despite the ever-present reluctance to adopt new technology, there is a long list of projects that have helped to push the subsea sector forward over the years, including the first subsea well in Lake Erie, in 30 feet of water, during 1943. Then there was the first submerged production system, installed in 1977 by Exxon. Later, in 1983, Shell developed the first underwater manifold system. In 2000/2001, added Saul, Statoil installed a pilot separator at Troll field. This was followed by Total using the first all-electric trees in 2008 at the K5F field on the Dutch Continental Shelf. The most recent step change occurred during 2011, when Total’s Pazflor field went onstream offshore Angola, featuring the world’s first subsea separation unit.

So, continuing the topic, “should we be more accepting of new technology?” said Saul. He answered his own question by noting that there are a couple of ways to look at new technology as being a facilitator. “We can look at new technology as an enabler,” explained Saul. “In subsea situations, it can help us go deeper and hotter with higher pressures from father away,” he added. “We can be more aggressive. We also can look at new technology as a cost-reducer. Fundamentally, there comes a point, where there is no scope to further reduce costs, based on current subsea technologies.”

At the end of the day, said Saul, the equipment/service companies pushing new subsea technology need to be able to answer the question coming from project managers, “What’s in it for me?” He explained that one way to answer the question is to show that the new technology will reduce total costs and/or be a technical step-change of significant size. The other way to answer the question, said Saul, “is to bring people along. Be clear why it’s a step forward, and show the incremental steps, if there are any. Be sure to have early engagement with the operator on these new technologies.”

Last, but not least, said Saul, “be sure to understand the likely concerns centered around risk. Make sure that project managers understand that the new technology will reduce their risk, as well as be cheaper."

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