Let’s embrace the potential of decommissioning and abandonment

16th March 2017

The market for abandonment and decommissioning has grown over the past five yearsFrom the smaller plug and abandonment campaigns in the Gulf of Mexico, through to the Brent field in the UK North Sea, we have reached a milestone in our industry.

Having spent the majority of my 25-year career focused on E&A, this hasn’t been lost on me. However as we continue to optimize recovery from our mature fields, it has opened my eyes to the prospect of decommissioning.

Government legislation has played a large part in this refocus. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) says that under its  ‘Idle Iron Program’ wells or platforms no longer in use must be decommissioned within five years – as of 2015 this amounted to 535 eligible platforms and rising. Oil and Gas UK’s Decommissioning Insight 2016 report estimated that over the next decade, 186 projects are forecast for decommissioning, including 1,800 wells. To deliver this in a safe and economic way, we need to accept and embrace decommissioning.

Planning to maximize potential

Before abandonment, it’s vital that we effectively plan late-life asset operations to fully maximize the asset potential.  It’s important we start with a review of well performance data so we can understand and identify inefficiencies in the reservoir or production system.  Taking in to account the incremental production gains, we can apply solutions that overcome these challenges, ranging from well intervention through to gas lift optimization and de-bottlenecking of production facilities.   

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Sometimes, this requires more innovative solutions, particularly in production surveillance. At Expro, we use sonar clamp on metering technology to realize the increased potential from wells and fields, through improved production monitoring and optimization of well performance.  However, in one recent project, we had to resurrect legacy tools to fit the specific low-pressure application our customer was looking for.  Ultimately, it’s about using the technology that is best suited to the project. 

Innovation and flexibility

In abandonment, innovation continues to play a critical role.  As an industry we pioneered in our approach to E&A, exploring increasingly complex reservoirs, basins and frontiers, so why can’t we do the same with abandonment?  After all, aren’t we just reverse engineering the well?  While I may be simplifying matters, there are several ways that we can do this.

Starting with the supply chain, we need to increase collaboration with other companies to deliver greater value to clients.  This represents a challenge for peer companies which operate in a highly cost competitive environment.  However joint ventures between different suppliers can deliver the breadth of expertise required to abandon wells, decommission infrastructure and dispose of assets safely.  This offers clear cost savings and efficiencies to the operators while reducing any potential safety and/or environmental risk in the process.

Alternatively, technology partnerships can innovate without the need for high levels of investment, often adapting existing products to deliver low-cost solutions. I recently saw the success of this in one of our P&A campaigns, which required a newly engineered circulation gun for perforating multiple tubing/casing in a single run. Despite the challenging time scales, the combination of relationship and capability allowed us to collectively deliver a solution on time and on cost.

Our relationships with clients are key to success during this phase. Alternative risk and reward models between the service sector and operators can offer the solution that customers need to minimize exposure and manage costs.  While this isn’t a new concept, some supply chain companies and operators are becoming more flexible in their approach and open to non traditional contracting strategies.

Future of decommissioning

Even now, we are looking at the next evolution of the business model.  For example, is there a ‘partial abandonment’ approach, where we can continue to produce as topside decommissioning begins?  As we transition to end of life, companies are willing to accept ideas that prolong costly decommissioning while continuing to add value.

However to succeed we must embrace decommissioning and recognize it as a natural part of the lifecycle.  We have a huge legacy of wells that need to be abandoned and decommissioned and while traditional methods still dominate, we need to step up and innovate in our approach.  There’s no better example of this than the Brent decommissioning project, which is revolutionizing by using the heavy lift vessel ‘Pioneering Spirit’ to remove the 24,200 tonne Brent Delta topside platform in one go. This is a goliath project that requires a bold approach, driven by an underlying passion.

Let’s hope this can act as inspiration for the rest of the industry and pave the way for us to realize the greatest potential that decommissioning has to offer.

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