Small pools and big wins

We are working with technology developers on solutions to lower the life-cycle cost of marginal fields.

In the UKCS (United Kingdom Continental Shelf) there is 3.4 billion barrels of oil and gas potential discovered in marginal fields, or small pools, with a combined value to the UK of approximately £130 billion.

They each have their own challenges, be it technology challenges with low energy reservoirs, or economic investment viability. We are working with technology developers on solutions to lower the life-cycle cost of these marginal fields. Additionally, we can group some of these in clusters that, when developed collectively, make them more economically viable.

The Oil & Gas Technology Centre and the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) are working together to develop technology themes and solutions for the 30th Offshore Licencing Round. But the small pools challenges are not just technical. Operators face challenges such as commercial arrangements and physical access, so we’re also analysing these areas to see how we can make development improvements.

One of our focus areas is developing the ‘tie-back of the future’ - one that’s better for the environment and is built in modules that can be redeployed. It can be subsea or unmanned facilities as a cluster development, fully automated and controlled from an onshore control room. If companies collaborate and invest in the remote control room concept, this adds flexibility to the location of the control room and the number of fields operated. In addition, we could then also realign the work/life balance for employees. If we change the way we develop field concepts, this will help us work towards a lower life-cycle cost and again reduce the life-cycle cost for tiebacks. For example, ‘designing for disassembly not decommissioning’, will move us from a linear to circular economy and industry.

Some of the ideas and early-stage technologies out there are really interesting. We’re seeing developments in mechanical hot taps, mechanically connected pipelines, multi-use pipelines and unmanned facilities, which could have a transformational effect on the development of small pools. I’d encourage anyone with an idea, concept or early stage technology to enter our ‘Call for Ideas’, which has c.£1 million to invest in solutions that will help unlock small pools.

We’re also working on how we integrate oil and gas facilities with renewable energy – could the well be powered by the ocean? Could we monetise hydrocarbons in situ? Can we convert gas to power offshore and export the energy via the offshore wind farms? Could we use the gas offshore and convert it into hydrogen?

The Orkney islands are a great example. Their hydrogen projects, ‘Surf n Turf’ and BIG HIT (Building Innovative Green Hydrogen systems in an Isolated Territory: a pilot for Europe), are working on exactly this issue. We are keen to understand what lessons we can learn for the oil and gas industry.

When we collaborate with universities it’s a real network we’re building, not just to share best practice but to create bespoke processes to simplify the both engineering design and manufactured items.

Essentially, we’re building the economic case to take into oil and gas to design for a circular, not linear, economy. Management at board level need to be convinced – and in my opinion, it could be transformational for the industry.