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The technology imperative

06th November 2013

As rising energy demands loom on the horizon, several industry experts highlight how technology will have to provide more frontier innovations. OGT looks at the latest solutions from technology leaders Schlumberger and Baker Hughes to explore new reserves and increase recovery from existing fields

The technology imperative
The application of technology enabled oil production in the North Sea to go from virtually nothing in the early 1970s to more than 3 million barrels per day within 10 years

Technology has played an unquestionable role in providing the industry with the means to access a wealth of resources in challenging and harsh environments. It has helped companies tap into never before explored areas, bringing new fields into production in ingenious ways while at the same time stimulating and boosting recovery from existing and mature fields.


“Our very future depends on technology,” says John Pearson, group president Europe of British company AMEC. “It’s not just machinery and equipment, it’s more than gizmos and shiny things. It’s about applying clever science and knowledge to get results.”


For Trevor Garlick, regional president at BP, technology is the key to E&P success: “There is clearly a very direct link between technology, its use and development and the success of any oil and gas province in the world. There’s a lot riding on it, from economic activity, jobs, all the way down to security and affordability of supply.”


This is true of the early beginnings of oil and gas development in the North Sea, where waves, winds, increasing water depths and the area’s complex geology all presented challenges that required reliable and efficient solutions. The application of technology enabled oil production there to go from virtually nothing in the early 1970s to more than 3 million barrels per day within 10 years.


In Brazil too technology has played an important role in providing the industry with the right tools to explore the massive petroleum reserves lying deep beneath the country’s 6,450km coastline. It made possible the exploration of the pre-salt layer, arguably the country’s passport to the future. Earlier this year, Western seismic imaging tools helped uncover the giant Libra pre-salt field, one of the country’s largest oil finds to date.


But it is also paving the way for oil and gas operators to access the weather-guarded resources of the Arctic frontier, where an estimated 90 billion barrels of oil lay hidden. The region poses unique physical challenges such as remoteness, ice, extreme temperatures, and long periods of darkness. Oil majors around the world are relying on clever R&D to provide adequate tools to work in cold, icy and windy conditions.


In short, the development of new technology is essential to achieve three main goals. “Technology development is crucial for us to uncover new finds and extract their energy potential effectively, as well as enhance the recovery of existing reserves,” says William F. Christensen, deputy director general and head of the R, D & D Office at Norway’s ministry of petroleum and energy.


Two major oilfield services companies are at the forefront of the goals outlined by Christensen. Those are, respectively, Schlumberger  and Baker Hughes.


Seismic while drilling


Managing the inherent uncertainty of exploration and drilling operations is always challenging, as a number of circumstances may alter the preliminary information used during the well planning phase. Not being able to accurately predict the effect of these changes may result in an unreliable geological picture, which in turn leads to additional costs and loss of time during the drilling process.


Schlumberger’s seismic-guided drilling (SGD) technique overcomes these issues and is able to correct the well trajectory in time by integrating datasets at different scales (lower-resolution seismic, higher-resolution logging, or LWD measurements). It accomplishes this by combining several workflow components into its process, such as seismic and well data preconditioning, borehole data analysis and processing, 3D seismic depth imaging and prestack inversion.


Predicting ahead-of-the-bit uncertainties, SGD is particularly useful when it comes to well placement, drilling target prognoses, drilling target locations and 3D positioning. “We have used this technique quite successfully in deepwater wells operated by oil and gas majors in the Gulf of Mexico and offshore Angola,” says Graham Reaper, LWD domain champion, Drilling & Measurements, Schlumberger.


Before drilling, an area of 25-50 km2 called a volume of interest (VOI) is selected around the planned well. The drilling image can be updated locally in the VOI while drilling, within a project-relevant time frame. This provides ahead-of-the-bit structural, stratigraphic, lithological and geomechanical information.


Stimulating offshore production


To maximise production and improve efficiency, Baker Hughes has for decades focused its efforts and expertise on the offshore fracturing and stimulation market, looking for innovations in stimulation vessel plant design and stimulation fluid systems.


The company’s fleet of stimulation vessels is designed for several operations, such as acid fracturing, proppant fracturing, sand control, matrix acid treatments, and well control.  The process of well stimulation is used on oil and gas wells to increase the flow of natural gas or crude oil from the drainage area into the well bore. Several intervention techniques are designed to achieve this by increasing the permeability outside the bore, creating additional cracks or fractures in the rock or lifting the well. 


The Baker Hughes Blue Tarpon and BJ Blue Dolphin deepwater vessels have supported production in the Gulf of Mexico, where much of the oil and natural gas used in the US are produced. Launched in 2011, the Blue Tarpon can work at pressures up to 15,000 psi while the BJ Blue Dolphin, released in 2010, is the industry’s first 20,000-psi pressure-rated stimulation vessel. Both ships are capable of supporting high-rate and high-volume multizone fracturing operations without returning to shore to reload.


In addition to the BJ Blue Dolphin and Blue Tarpon,Baker Hughes will launch the new stimulation vessel Blue Orca in late October. The Blue Orca will become the eighth vessel in the Baker Hughes fleet and will provide offshore stimulation services to Maersk Oil in the North Sea.


The Blue Orca will be rated to 15,000 psi and its applications will include offshore stimulation and sand and well control operations. It will offer one of the largest fluid and proppant carrying capacities in the world, according to the US-based oilfield services company. In addition, it will provide 15,000 hydraulic horsepower pumping capacity and the ability to pump at rates in excess of 60 barrels per minute (bpm).


Technology has so far played a crucial role in the oil and gas sector, but it must have an even more prominent part to play in the future as the global industry is pressed to meet future energy demands by tapping into ever harder-to-reach reserves. New solutions developed over the next few years will not only help oil and gas companies keep their eyes on the prize but will also determine how swiftly and smartly they can maximise what they can achieve both in terms of accessing new reserves and enhancing the recovery of remaining reserves.

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