Driving efficiencies and value creation via electrification of subsea systems

By Cameron Wallace on 2/4/2020

FLORENCE, ITALY - Adoption of electrically-operated subsea production architecture not only improves return on investment, but it helps operators get closer to their net-zero carbon goals as well.

Speaking at the Baker Hughes Annual Meeting in Florence, John Kerr, vice president and chief technology officer of oilfield equipment at Baker Hughes, said that electrification of the seabed requires a holistic approach.

 “We are bringing together the oilfield equipment, oilfield services, turbomachinery, process solutions, and digital solutions in a horizontal way, so when I think about electrification, I think about how it connects. Full electrification of subsea trees, subsea pumping units, subsea injection units – illumination of your enterprise,” Kerr said. It is one very specific solution to the need for EOR, but it demonstrates the scale of opportunities the technology presents.

Chemical injection is one of the last grand challenges remaining, because companies currently design for a highly conservative, ‘worst-case’ scenario with regards to asphalt and paraffin inhibition. “We overdesign, because nobody wants to start growing a 300-mile-long candle, so they blast in ten times more chemicals than anyone would ever need,” Kerr said. It’s possible, with an electrified subsea system, to dramatically reduce both the amount of chemicals used, and to reduce the size of the subsea systems that handle them.

In the North Sea, the trend is for major operators to sell their stakes in mature fields, and focus on centering their portfolios around a less regionally-diverse set of assets. As this shift takes place, these legacy fields and associated infrastructure is moving into the hands of smaller, more nimble players who are in a better position to benefit from a fit-for-purpose suite of subsea technologies.

“Working with these smaller operators gives us an opportunity to bring a much more comprehensive array of possibilities to bear,” Kerr said, pointing out that these companies have the motivation, in terms of finance and scale, to be open to ‘seabed as a service’ approaches.

“In the past, the client would tell us what they wanted, we’d build it, install, and then go away for the next 30 years. Now, as opposed to the product being the end of the engagement, it is a means to an end, partnered with other elements consisting of early engagement. We are partnering with customers earlier, sometimes three or four years earlier than we usually would. This lets us consider everything, from the topsides to the reservoir technologies, including a hard connection to the wellbore.”

As seabed infrastructure matures, subsea well intervention is set to become a critical part of keeping offshore operations moving. Typically these operations carry a meaningful risk that re-entering the wellbore will be hinder production, rather than help it. Smarter infrastructure designs can help reduce that risk and keep production flowing.

“Subsea intervention is becoming a very large segment for us,” Kerr said. “We’re moving strongly with it, towards a new, much more integrated way of working. If you’ll look at where we were a couple of years ago, you’d have to look across the company to find our components. But, now what we’re doing is bringing it all together, organizing differently to be an aggregator of the subsea well access capability.”

“Based on the outcomes we can make, in that life of well, life of ownership commitment, we can set up a relationship to deliver that reliability and predictability.”

Key to the success of these advancements is digitalization.

“Evolving the data platform, connecting the data tissue within the organization, from seismic data to reservoir drainage data, and having that directly connected through the seabed infrastructure is the goal,” Kerr said. “And this is where we add value for these smaller companies, bringing those elements to bear to unlock the value and make the transferral of ownership viable for the long term.”


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