There is no question that the industry is heading towards a future that includes composite pipe. Thermoplastic Composite Pipe (TCP) offers the possibility of deploying flexible pipes in water depths beyond 3000 meters in high pressure, highly corrosive environments. Many major operators have been open with their intention to use composites as part of their riser solution portfolio in Brazil’s pre-salt. While m-pipe is recognised as a high-performance pipe, particularly suited to the pre-salt challenges, it has also demonstrated cost-effectiveness in much simpler applications, both onshore and offshore. In particular, the benefits of composites for operators employing infrastructure-led development strategies are notable in terms of cost and time.
The most obvious cost savings are achieved through installation. The light weight, flexibility and strength of m-pipe simplifies the project design, transport and installation including the deployment, pull-in and subsea connection phases. The flexibility of the pipe eliminates the need for precise metrology and accurate pipeline fabrication, simplifying offshore operations and reducing schedule-critical activities. Its low weight allows the use of smaller vessels and easy handling on deck and with ROVs. Once installed, it has a high fatigue performance in subsea motions. The use of PEEK means it does not corrode from contact with saltwater or sour service which minimises the need to monitor over time. An example of easy handling was seen in the Middle East where m-pipe was used in short lengths in well-head applications to replace rigid steel pipes in order to speed up installation and to allow movement between the well and production skid. Removing the need to manufacture bespoke, individual steel spools by replacing them with a section of equally capable and flexible m-pipe dramatically reduced hook-up time.
Some of our customers are benefiting from the fast turn-around times which is made possible due to the manufacturing process of TCP, which gives them a huge advantage. Production of m-pipe can be set-up in a matter of hours to produce lengths as short as a few meters for individual client orders. This flexible process means we can respond quickly and cost-effectively to customer demands whereas traditional pipe manufacturing methods are optimised for larger length production runs. In Italy, off the Adriatic Coast, m-pipe was delivered in under 7 weeks from order to replace sour service jumpers. Here, the existing subsea flexibles had suffered from corrosion and needed fast but long-term replacement. Similarly, a recent order for a six-inch replacement hydrocarbon jumper for the North Sea with a delivery lead time of four months has been made viable thanks to the production process of m-pipe. As well as the benefits of light weight for easy handling and installation, the ultimate decision driver in this case was the fact that we could deliver what they needed in a short timeframe and at a competitive cost.
As part of a broader strategy the industry has seen many operators creating value without huge outlay in new infrastructure by extending expected production periods for as long as financially viable to do so. By choosing to focus on near-field discoveries where the financial outlay is smaller than for a major new field development, and where much of the infrastructure is already in place, infrastructure-led exploration through upgrades and tiebacks offer opportunities for rapid monetization with low CAPEX.
The strategy is being used extensively by independent operators and majors in the Gulf of Mexico, West Africa and the North Sea alike. Fields that had a life expectancy of 20 years are now entering double that age and may end up being three times that age by the end of field life. Thanks to improved well stimulation and water injection methods, and with investment in infrastructure, these fields are still proving productive and profitable. As well as minimizing costs and maximizing value, this approach has a direct impact on CO2 emissions for the life of the field. For example, the recent field extension of Stratfjord, Norway, is expected to reduce CO2 emissions per barrel from the field by half during the next five years due to higher production compared to ending the production earlier. Last year, drilling led to 17 discoveries with ten in the North Sea, six in the Norwegian Sea, and one in the Barents Sea. The majority of these are within close proximity to an existing facility. Even small finds are deemed worthwhile as they are cost-effective to tie-in to nearby platforms and pipelines. Thanks to increasingly accurate seismic imaging techniques success in finding nearby wells has improved and new discoveries can be brought on-stream in under a year.
Inevitably if pipe and equipment is exceeding the supplier’s recommended lifetime it may need replacing. If a field has already doubled its life expectancy perhaps replacement pipe should be selected based on a much longer life expectancy. It is worth noting that because of its standard design, flexibility and resistance to degradation, it is feasible to take up m-pipe jumpers and tiebacks for re-use elsewhere. This is now proven technology, and the typical delivery time from order can be as little as a few months, as recently demonstrated. With many major operators divesting older assets to smaller operators, the need for maximising value but minimising cost is paramount.
As with the cases already mentioned, there are a wide variety of opportunities to exploit TCP technology in these simpler, shorter length applications. While operators wanting to use composites for demanding deep-water riser applications must wait for qualification, the technology is already in field use in diameters of 2 to 6 inch. Magma’s m-pipe is qualified to pressure ratings up to 15ksi and for operating temperatures of -20oC to +110oc. Testing has shown that applications outside this envelope are feasible with further qualification.
Infrastructure-led development is about cost effectively extracting oil from smaller pools. In order to do that you need to have a nice simple, standard product that’s quick to procure and cost effective to install, and m-pipe is a good example of that. Composite pipe is the riser solution of the future, and it is still considered new technology, but it is also a low risk and highly desirable solution for repair, tiebacks and jumpers by operators, regardless of the environment or geography. We think it’s going to be used as a more commonplace solution around the world and are readying our capacity ahead of the inevitable increase in demand.
By Charles Tavner, COO, for Oil and Gas Innovation magazine