Environmental Technology, News, Oil & Gas

Making the unthinkable possible

An oil nation for over 30 years, Norway has a number of mature and marginal fields on its continental shelf. A few years ago, the technology was insufficient to expand the lifetime of these fields, but because of a unique...

In 2001, the Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy established the Oil and Gas in the 21st Century organization (OG21) in order to boost technology development and create a meeting place for the offshore cluster to solve R&D challenges foreseen over the coming decades.

The OG21 Secretariat is located at the offices of the Research Council of Norway, and the industry has also given OG21 access to some of its best people, including general manager Jan Erik Strand from Norsk Hydro. According to him, OG21 is the perfect meeting place for the industry, research institutions and the authorities.

“Our model of cooperation is quite unique, and I haven’t seen any other countries have close to the synergies we are taking advantage of. Our vision is to have a sustainable petroleum industry for the next 100 years,” Strand says.

PETROMAKS, a Research Council of Norway large-scale programme for the optimal management of petroleum resources, and Demo 2000, which supports pilot qualification of technology, are two organizations implementing OG21’s visions for Norway as a petroleum nation for the next 100 years.

The Aker Kværner Multibooster subsea multiphase pump systems deployed at the BP-operated King Field in the Gulf of Mexico will be the deepest subsea boosters ever – at a depth of 1,700 metres.  
© Aker Kværner 

Subsea Boosters

Demo 2000 has been involved in exciting projects for the subsea boosting of mature and deep-sea petroleum fields. Two Norwegian companies, Framo Engineering and Aker Kværner, are dominant players on the world market when it comes to subsea boosting. Their competition makes sure that Norwegian technology stays ahead of the pack.

In the near future, subsea booster pumps could complement and sometimes replace floating production facilities, and strong emphasis on research will solidify Norway’s lead in the area of subsea boosting technology. Framo has been a leader in the subsea boosting market since the birth of the technology 15 years ago, but Aker Kværner Subsea is announcing its presence as a worthy competitor.

“We’ve been working on subsea boosting technologies since the Kvaerner Booster Station in the early 1990s,” says Aker Kværner Subsea’s engineering manager Gunder Homstvedt. “Teaming up with our German partner Bornemann, we will install the deepest subsea boosters ever, 1,700 metres below the surface in the BP-operated King Field in the Gulf of Mexico in the summer of 2007.”

Homstvedt is careful to recognize Framo’s role as a pioneer in the field. Both companies take advantage of the combined intellect of the Norwegian offshore academia on subsea petroleum production and research, and learn important lessons from each other.

Competitors in the Same Field

“This is a race, and we want to be ahead of the technological development. However, we are very happy to have Framo as our competitor because they are pushing us to develop better solutions,” says Homstvedt, adding that the two different technologies can be used simultaneously in the same oilfield.

“BP has chosen to use both us and Framo in two different fields (GoM King and UCS Schiehallion), but in many cases we are facing tough head-on competition from Framo when our technologies compete on the same applications,” he says.

The development of this technology would have been difficult without the active partnership of Demo 2000. “This has enabled us to develop pioneering technology, making us more competitive, and helped to bring competence and billions of dollars into the Norwegian petroleum industry and society,” says Homstvedt.

Installing subsea boosters is an effective way to exploit remote and stranded fields, tail-end production, as well as enabling production from deep/ultra-deep waters which could not be economically developed using conventional technology. Framo’s sales manager for the Asia-Pacific region, Per Skiftesvik, is proud of the advanced, world-leading technology the company has developed to increase pressure by multiphase boosting.

“We compensate for a higher specific gravity and thus higher backpressure of the crude in case of increased water production from the well,” he explains. “Furthermore, we can enable production from a satellite field to the processing facility in cases where the distance and consequently the pressure drop prohibits natural production.”

Instead of conducting “trial and error” tests offshore, the petroleum industry can simulate challenging offshore processes at Hydro’s test facilities in Porsgrunn, using real fluids and crude from the oilfields. 
© Gisle Nomme/Hydro 

Private Research

In addition to the research institutions, the industry also has a major emphasis on research. At Norsk Hydro’s Oil and Energy research centre in Porsgrunn, heavyweights such as Aker Kværner, Vetco and FMC use the test facility on a regular basis.

“This is first of all a centre of strategic importance for us,” says Frank Ellingsen, vice president of Hydro Oil & Energy and head of the research centre. “Other oil companies and suppliers are also invited to use the test facilities in cooperation with Hydro.”

Also foreign companies – including Brazilian oil and gas giant Petrobras –
are regular users of the facility, and the reasons are obvious. “We have seven different test rigs in which we can use real fluids, high temperatures and high pressure,” Ellingsen says.

Instead of conducting “trial and error” tests offshore, the industry can simulate challenging offshore process and flow assurance conditions realistically. Petrobras has tested a pipe separator developed by Hydro and an electrostatic coalescer for the separation of oil from water from Aker Kværner Subsea and Vetco. Petrobras gained realistic conditions using its own crude from the Marlim Field west of Rio de Janeiro.

Understanding petroleum fields is a complex science. Crude oil can initially contain 10 percent water, but in a mature field, it can be closer to 70–90 percent. In addition, fluids have to be handled from a complex mixture of wells holding different fluid compositions. “An important aspect of our test facilities is that, in the space of one month, we can simulate these complexities throughout the complete lifetime of an oilfield,” says Ellingsen.

Multiphase Technology to Unblock Pipes

With an increasing amount of both mature and marginal fields, new challenges with produced water and other by-products mixed with oil or gas appear. Utilizing multiphase flow technology to prevent these problems has become a Norwegian speciality over the past 20 years, and now this technology is on high demand in the international markets.

When all of these substances flow in the same stream – complex multiphase flow – it can eventually lead to total blockage of the pipelines. Thus, flow assurance of such production systems is of vital importance.

In order to meet the future challenges and to secure further development in this field, the Institute for Energy Technology (IFE) hosts the Multiphase Flow Assurance Centre (FACE). Two other Norwegian research locomotives, SINTEF and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), are also equal partners in the project.

“The knowledge we have today is calibrated according to the production of light oil and gas,” says Kjell Arne Jacobsen, the leader of FACE and SINTEF Petroleum Research vice president. “When the shelf gets more mature, water, by-products and hydrates complicate the picture considerably.”

In FACE, there is a strong dependency between research institutions and the industry, with business partners such as Statoil, Norsk Hydro, Total, ConocoPhillips, VetcoGray, Aker Kværner and Scandpower PT. Here, the scientists in these companies work closely together with some of the world’s best petroleum researchers.

Industrial-scale experiments carried out at the SINTEF Multiphase Flow Laboratory in Trondheim have played an important role in the development of the Norwegian technology platform for subsea oil and gas production.
© SINTEF Petroleum Research

Commercial Application of Multiphase

The theoretical basis for designing flow assurance systems was developed jointly between IFE and SINTEF in the 1980s and 1990s, but today it has a commercial application. “The Norwegian company Scandpower PT developed this technology commercially, and in the summer of 2006 it had a market value of over $160 million” says Jacobsen.

Jacobsen explained FACE’s goal as developing “significantly better methods to describe multiphase flow of complex fluids, and we want to form the basis for future tools which simulate multiphase flow in petroleum production both between satellite wells and platforms, as well as all the way to shore.”

Norway is possibly the world’s leading nation when it comes to developing subsea production technology based on multiphase flow, but there are still a number of areas to explore in this field. “Most of the world’s remaining unexploited oil fields are within heavy oil. Therefore, there are many opportunities if we upgrade our multiphase technology to work on heavy oil systems as well,” Jacobsen says.

Help from the Maritime Cluster

The Norwegian petroleum and maritime industries are very closely associated, and the Norwegian offshore cluster has learned many important lessons from the renowned Norwegian maritime cluster.

“I think the Norwegian offshore success would have been very difficult without the strong maritime environment in Norway,” says the FACE leader.

Norway’s system of close cooperation between authorities, industry and research institutions makes it easier to target the R&D in tangible areas of technology development to make sure that Norway has a sustainable petroleum industry. This investment in research will generate billions of dollars for the Norwegian economy.

“Norway has a very good track record when it comes to coordinating these aspects, and since we are a small nation of only 4.6 million people, we have to cooperate on the huge technological challenges better than other nations. We have solved these challenges elegantly,” says Jacobsen.

Scientist Bernd Schmid is a senior engineer at Statoil’s research laboratory in Trondheim, where he works in the field of material testing. © Guri Dahl/Statoil

Recruiting the Best & the Brightest

In recent years, the labour market for oil and gas engineers has become increasingly challenging due to the strength of the Norwegian and other international economies. However, Statoil is already a preferred employer for gifted young engineers and scientists in Norway and is able to recruit top staff due to its development of revolutionary offshore technology.

“Statoil is a high-tech company with very exciting challenges, securing a steady flow of recruits,” says Per Einar Weiseth, Statoil’s human resources manager for research and business development.

“At Melkøya in Finnmark (from the Snøhvit field), we are leading the field in the development of liquid natural gas handling in Arctic areas. We are also developing very exciting technology for the handling and transportation of CO2. Furthermore, our subsea technology is very interesting for prospective engineers.”

Visibility amongst students through university visits and the offering of summer project jobs, media campaigns and the sponsoring of events are also important aspects in helping recruit the best and brightest candidates to Statoil, but there have never been so many vacant positions in the oil industry. Therefore, research institutions and petroleum companies have to look outside of Norway’s borders in order to ensure a steady flow of human capital to the industry.

Just as important as attracting new people is the systematic development of staff through a mix of challenging job assignments and training efforts. A reinforcement of leadership skills in people development and improved people systems is crucial. “We want to develop a value-based and performance-driven organization, and offer our people an excellent place to develop and perform,” says Weiseth.

International Recruitment

At the Centre for Integrated Petroleum Research (CIPR) in Bergen, they utilize the combined strengths of about 25 petroleum researchers with industrial experience and about 25 professors and other researchers from the University of Bergen. However, the centre currently has about a dozen vacant positions for PhD candidates and researchers. Centre leader Arne Skauge is aware that recruitment is a challenge.

“We are recruiting scientists, students and engineers from all over the world – from South America, Europe and Russia, but we’ve had the best response from Asia and the Middle East,” Skauge says, emphasizing that Norway has a very well-developed petroleum education system to welcome candidates. Here they can earn a Master’s degree or start directly on a PhD programme.

“For the right candidates there are very exciting challenges in the thriving and dynamic Norwegian offshore environment,” says Skauge.