DOT marks 30 years of deepwater innovation

The Deep Offshore Technology International Conference & Exhibition celebrated its 30th anniversary this past October in New Orleans, and the speakers, panelists and exhibitors continued the tradition of highlighting and showcasing technologies that will shape the future deepwater and ultra-deepwater industry.

Held at the Hilton Riverside hotel in New Orleans, the event was kicked off by Stan Bond, VP Development-Offshore Americas and West Africa for conference host Hess Corp. In the opening keynote address, Bond explored how the offshore and deepwater oil and gas industry has evolved over the past three decades.

Turning to the present, Bond observed that maintaining health and environmental safety were now “the first order of business for industry today,” and he recognized the importance of quality engineering in achieving needed safety levels. He noted that much of the industry is moving from a management-based systems approach to behavioral-based safety systems. The next step, he said, will be for the industry to develop major accident prevention and mitigation programs.

Bond noted that before 1981 – the year of the first DOT – offshore exploration and production activities were limited to shallow-water fields accessed from fixed platforms with surface wellheads, using diver assistance. Since that time, the industry has seen the development of floating systems, subsea trees, and seabed separation and boosting.

The plenary session following the keynote address focused on “Deepwater Projects: From Concept Selection to Lessons Learned.” It featured senior-level executives from major operators addressing the challenges in developing deepwater projects.

Rick Fowler, vice president of LLOG Exploration, discussed the Who Dat project in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico, and outlined how the project had evolved from lease sale to first production. He noted that project had achieved several notable “firsts” for offshore development. These include the first floating production storage (FPS) unit in the GoM in the post-Macondo era, the first use of the OPTI-Ex FPS design, the first use of an FPS built “on spec,” and the first use of a privately owned FPS in the world.

Dennis McLaughlin, senior vice president of Kosmos Energy, addressed lessons learned from the recently completed Jubilee project, offshore Ghana. He noted that Jubilee was Ghana’s first commercial offshore oil discovery, and there was no regulatory or commercial infrastructure in place when the project began. Despite this, McLaughlin noted that the consortium members were able to complete the project rapidly, going from the first discovery in July 2007 to first oil in November 2010.

Despite the challenges, the Jubilee development project had an excellent safety record, with no spills and very few lost time incidents. The key to this achievement, he said, was collaborating with contractors and having an open dialogue with them and the other members of the development team. It was also vitally important, he said, to have an “experienced and empowered” project team.

Back in the deepwater Gulf, Shell’s Perdido spar development is going into its second year of production, and lessons still are being learned. Chris Smith, Perdido operations manager, Shell International Exploration & Production Inc., said the project appears to be moving toward its target production rates after an initial learning period. While technical issues with the subsea boosting system and delays from the Macondo moratorium held back the project, Smith noted that the wells and reservoir “are better than expected,” and that the electric submersible pumps are working “better than anticipated.”

The biggest single issue for production has been liquids carry-over. While the ESPs are working well, Smith noted that early on the liquids carry-over exceeded design capacities. The problem was solved by installing a short-term bypass of the flowline separator, active management of the gas riser hydraulics, and repiping the production separator to increase capacity. In the two weeks following the remedial procedures, the Perdido spar achieved record production.

César Palagi of Petrobras Americas provided an update on the Cascade/Chinook project in the deepwater GoM. Palagi, Walker Ridge asset manager for Petrobras, said that the company has applied a number of technologies new to the Gulf. He said that these technologies, including the use of polyester rope for mooring, have been vital to the success of the project.

Palagi emphasized the importance of “working with the authorities from minus day one.” While Petrobras had experience applying many of the techniques used at Cascade/Chinook, many of them required federal approval before implementation. However, because they were new to the GoM, there were no regulations to follow, and approvals required a back-and-forth between Petrobras and the agencies involved. On the positive side, Palagi said he believes the achievement and lessons learned from the Cascade and Chinook project “will pave the way for future Lower Tertiary play developments” in the Gulf.

The event hosted other notable tracks and sessions. For the first time, DOT integrated the Offshore Risk Management Forum into the three-track technical conference. The one-day series of panel discussions covered political and regulatory considerations, drilling safety, contract risk and insurance issues, and effective crisis management.

John Hofmeister, CEO of Citizens for Affordable Energy and former president of Shell Oil USA, offered comments during a special lunch presentation. He noted the industry’s frustrations with the permitting process, but he commented that delays in permitting are one of several risk management items that do not show up on most company plans.

Communication is a key component of risk management, he said, including community outreach with transparent language and a message everyone can understand. With public acceptance, the industry can shift perceptions, and create a paradigm in which regulatory and government officials believe that developers have a right to succeed. “Without public acceptance, that is not going to happen,” Hofmeister said.

Hofmeister noted that there are three specific things the industry can do to improve its image. First, it must engage the public and explain what the industry does and how it operates. The message should be repeated as often as needed. Second, the industry needs to organize its messages and methods of engagement. Third, it must understand what is at risk and re-examine its mode of governance.

At the end of the conference, awards were presented to the authors of the best papers, designated along the conference tracks and selected by the conference advisory board. The best paper award for Track 1 went to Engr. Stefano Magi of Eni E&P; his presentation was entitled “Marginal deepwater developments: Innovative Engineering Approach Makes it Possible.” The best paper award for Track 2 went to Edouard Thibaut of Total, who provided an update on electrical transmission and distribution technologies for subsea compression and pumping. The winner of the best paper award for Track 3 went to Tore Jacobsen of Subsea 7, who discussed full-scale measurements and time-domain analyses for lifting operations.

DOT International has been reinstated as an annual conference, alternating between locations in the United States and international destinations. The next event is scheduled for Nov. 27-29, 2012, in Perth, Australia. Conference Director David Paganie said the DOT committee will continue to build on the strength of the conference program and the success of the Operators Partner Program, which provides discounts and benefits to operators and their employees.

For additional information or to register for the conference, please visit the Website at http://www.deepoffshoretechnology.com/index.html.

The deadline to submit an abstract is March 26, 2012.

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