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BEYOND THE HORIZON
Rethinking deepwater operations
to sustain viability
The market downturn has forced the entire oil and gas industry
to rethink the way that it operates. Service providers and operators
have had to find ways to perform their work more efficiently with
fewer people, while reducing costs and delivering results with faster
The impact of the downturn on the deepwater market has been
especially severe. Over the past couple of years we have seen a decline in the number of drilling projects, and those already under way
continue to face stiff financial challenges. Even before the downturn,
deepwater operations were economically challenging. According to
Douglas-Westwood’s World Deepwater Market Forecast for 2015-2019,
between 2000 and 2013 deepwater oil production grew 14% and gas
production 40%, while capex during this period grew 374% — that’s
an unsustainable trend.
Deepwater exploration, development, and production is commonly
considered the riskiest and most expensive oil and gas venture.
Nevertheless, the sheer quantity of recoverable reserves ensures
the industry’s continued presence in this area; the growing energy
needs of the world simply dictate it.
To address the challenges of deepwater, operators have been revising their business models to emphasize collaboration among the
various players as well as optimization of services and technologies
for maximum efficiency. These improved models are primarily built
around sustainable methods that maximize asset value while ensuring
the safety of personnel and protection of the environment.
To remain competitive and aligned to operators, service providers
are being challenged to think more creatively as well, to improve
existing technologies, develop new ones, and leverage advances in
other fields generally viewed as outside the industry. There are a
number of innovations that can now be deployed to fine tune logistics,
optimize drilling timelines, reduce costs, and operate more efficiently
For example, the industry can use “big data” analytics to collect
information and monitor the status and operation of equipment, the
volume of materials, and the transit of personnel to and from the rigs.
The industry is also bringing more automation to the cementing
process, and is working to reduce the equipment footprint on the
rig. The development of a modular cementing skid represents a new
technology breakthrough on this front. The unit’s compact size reduces its footprint more than 45%, facilitates quicker installation, and
contributes to overall safety on the rig. It is also built to withstand the
severity of the deepwater and ultra-deepwater environment.
The modular unit automates the concentration of liquid additives,
The modular cementing unit can be operated remotely from a
separate control room or even from onshore offices. Remote opera-
tions include video monitors and centralized, intuitive controls for all
functions. The efficiencies gained from remote pumping are extensive,
and environmental benefits can be realized through the use of non-
radioactive density meters, lower hydraulic fluid levels, dust extractors
that capture bulk cement particles, and acoustic enclosures around
engines to reduce noise and vibration.
In drilling fluid operations, the industry now has technologies to
drill safer and faster with automated testing and data visualization
of density and rheology, two crucial fluid properties. Density can
be measured every 1-2 minutes and rheology every 10-20 minutes,
frequent measurements that facilitate assurance of well integrity.
The data can also be used in real-time hydraulics models that, when
combined with real-time parameters from the rig, provide optimized
run rates for drilling and tripping as well as predictive analytics for
Rethinking the way we test offshore safety systems like blowout
preventers is another way to optimize deepwater development. The
industry now has digital technology to obtain test results without
human interpretation, automatically generate regulatory compliant
reports, and reduce testing time by 33-75% — much faster than typical circular chart methods and without the element of human error.
In the long term, deepwater reserves will continue to play a vital
role in the world’s future energy needs. To sustain and grow our busi-
ness in this key market, the industry will need to continue making
big changes to offshore operations, especially when the economic
climate is as challenging as it is today.
The catalysts for these big changes will be better collaboration
and the innovation of technologies, especially automation, modular-
ity, remote operation, and digitization. Adoption and use of these
technologies will only make offshore operations more efficient, safer,