The field extension challenge for the subsea infrastructure supply chain

18 Feb 2020

In Africa and Europe we have seen many operators extending field life for as long as it makes commercial sense. This strategy creates revenue opportunities without massive investment in new infrastructure with tie-backs to fields where much of the infrastructure is already in place. Infrastructure-led exploration offers opportunities for rapid monetization with low CAPEX. The approach is being particularly popular with independent operators in the Gulf of Mexico, West Africa and the North Sea but comes with some lead time challenges for the subsea infrastructure supply chain.

Fields that were expected to produce for 20 years are often proving viable up to 40 years. We could see this turning into 60 years before they are finally decommissioned. As well as minimizing costs and maximizing value, some operators are highlighting the impact on CO2 emissions for the total life of the field. 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. This is a field that was announced for decommissioning in May last year but new discoveries nearby means that it remains profitable and is now expected to stay in production until 2027. 

Increasingly accurate seismic imaging techniques has brought success in finding nearby wells, with new discoveries often being brought on-stream in less than a year. According to Nick Aston, SVP Exploration at Equinor, its “infrastructure-led exploration on the Norwegian continental shelf has been successful for many years and provides a good basis for high profitability and a low carbon footprint.” In 2019, Norweigen drilling led to 17 discoveries ten in the North Sea, six in the Norwegian Sea, and one in the Barents Sea. The majority of these appear to be close to an existing facility. Small finds are often cost-effective to tie-in to nearby platforms and pipelines, making them worthy small projects.

But what does an infrastructure led strategy mean to the supply chain? Operators need to get on-stream in a short timeframe and for projects that weren’t on the radar for infrastructure suppliers. There is a need to meet demand for subsea equipment under short lead times and for relatively short pipe lengths. These developments are well positioned to benefit from the qualification of thermoplastic composite that has been completed for far more demanding applications in ultradeep waters. Composite pipe technology is changing the way that operators solve challenges. A revolution has begun.

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