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Virtual Reality A Reality for the Norwegian Oil Industry

For the oil industry, fast communication lines mean more than playing games and downloading music. Norwegian oil companies are pioneers in utilizing information technology in order to remotely control oil rigs from bases onshore. This technology is still new, but oil companies like Statoil, Hydro and ConocoPhillips Norway have already made virtual reality into reality, drastically reducing production and personnel costs.

 Statoil was the first oil company to initiate remote-controlled oil rigs on the Norwegian continental shelf, and today the company is a world leader in this area. Its Online Support Centre (OSC) opened in December 2003, and from its onshore base in Stjørdal outside Trondheim, it controls all aspects of the drilling process on the Heidrun, Kristin and Åsgard fields in the Halten Nordland area of the Norwegian Sea.

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  Use of Exports Onshore
Ivar Haarstad is the task manager and one of the architects behind the OSC project. For him, the most important aspect of the OSC is the ability to utilize all of the human resources in the organization across interdisciplinary boundaries. "It is too expensive and not possible to have all of the experts we need offshore. Our experts are based onshore, and with our onshore base, it is much easier to take advantage of their expertise," he says.

When managing oilfields, it is vital to be able to make accurate decisions fast. "Everything has been put in place to support better and faster decision-making on the optimal positioning of wells in the reservoir," explains Haarstad. "Integrated operations link personnel on rigs and platforms with in-house support functions on land, contractors, service companies and other external specialists. This unified team works in real time."

Using a fibre-optic cable combined with broadband radio, the OSC provides seamless data transfer and video conferencing with rigs, platforms and vessels operating in the Halten area. Andrew McCann is a reservoir geologist in Statoil, and he emphasizes the importance of having access to all experts onshore in offshore operations.


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Drilling engineers, geologists, and specialist engineers from ConocoPhillips' service providers combine their multidisciplinary expertise to create a "Virtual Team".


Collaboration across Professions

"Multidisciplinary collaboration is more natural and effective when both teams have the same data viewed at the same time in the same applications - this allows real-time data to be fully exploited," he says. "Making the drilled data available immediately opens opportunities for better drilling optimization, better controlled well correlation, near real-time formation evaluation, and therefore more optimal well placement for production."

Most people are familiar with the advantages of GPS (Global Positioning System) for navigation, but Statoil has taken the technology one step further. "A corresponding process is now under way below ground for positioning wells in oil reservoirs. Statoil's Dart project is named for its objective - to hit the bull's eye in the reservoir," says Haarstad. "Today's advanced three-dimensional wells call for new and more advanced technology, multidisciplinary expertise and new work processes." In managing the reservoirs, Statoil uses very advanced technology, and from the OSC, engineers are able to steer the drilling.

"Drilling exploration wells, and some in-field wells, to hit a geological target can be challenging, owing to large uncertainties in the seismic interpretation. Newly developed tools give valuable information to improve the geological steering of a well while drilling," Haarstad explains.

In Heidrun, Åsgard and Kristin, there are manned platforms, but on the Snøhvit project for liquified natural gas (LNG) in Hammerfest, the world's northernmost LNG project, everything will be controlled from land because there will be no surface installations there.

 Money Saver
While Statoil's OSC controls the oilfields in the
Norwegian Sea, ConocoPhillips concentrates more on its fields in the North Sea, and it has located its Onshore Drilling Centre (ODC) in Tananger close to Stavanger, Norway's oil capital.

ConocoPhillips Norway has embraced remote operations and working practices through developing its ODC. Current communication and visualization technologies are being utilized in a smarter way to improve work processes and decision-making, says ConocoPhillips Operations Room Manager, Mike Herbert.

"After 20 months of operation we have met all of our initial project goals" says Herbert. "Positions have been moved onshore, and improvements have been seen in HSE performance." ConocoPhillips has reduced exposure to risk by moving people onshore, and it has also improved decision-making and changed to collaborative working practices.

"Integration of real-time data from drilling, well and geo-disciplines has enabled these smarter decisions," Herbert explains, adding that ConocoPhillips has demonstrated that remote operations are reliable, and that remotely controlling  downhole tools is possible. The company has documented savings of over $20 million in the first 20 months of operation.

Herbert is excited about the new possibilities. "When designing the ODC, an important consideration was the inclusion of a 3D visualization suite and a large 'collaboration room' in the same location as the 24/7 operations centre," Herbert says.  While other companies utilize similar technology, ConocoPhillips was the first to locate the 3D visualization suite in close proximity to the 24/7 operation room. 

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ConocoPhillips was the first oil company to locate the 3D visualization room, shown here, in close proximity to the 24/7 operations centre.


 Virtual Team
"We used current, but high-level, communication and visualization technology to create a 'Virtual Team' consisting of ConocoPhillips' drilling engineers and geologists, as well as specialist engineers from our service providers," Herbert explains.

Utilizing high-bandwidth fibre-optic communications, engineers working in the ODC not only have access to high-quality closed-circuit television, video conferencing and portable wireless video systems, but they also have real-time data from the surface and downhole drilling equipment from over 300 kilometres away in the North Sea.

With the Virtual Team connected by secure and good quality communications, the ODC and offshore teams have access to expert support both internally within ConocoPhillips' Intranet, and also externally to their service providers. Currently, the ODC is linked to a specialist support centre in Alaska. 

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