The author, having recently retired from a 37 year subsea career on the operator side of offshore E&P, offers accumulated perceptions of where the industry currently finds itself in addressing the challenges of long offset satellite field developments.
With the unprecedented demand for new production, the offshore industry is facing an upsurge in the need for fasttracked subsea developments in increasingly challenging situations. In order to understand the true nature of the issues facing the offshore industry as it wrestles to cope responsibly with this demand, it is important first to understand how the subsea industry has evolved to where it is today. There are key lessons to be learned, but the industry has not always been as smart as it could have been at making use of those lessons.
The assumption generally made when discussing the challenges of long satellite tiebacks is that they are dominantly centered round state-of-the-art technology issues. However, great strides have been made in recent years across the offshore industry, in getting to grips with the underlying new technologies required to succeed with longer offset satellite field developments, and in deeper waters too.
The way the industry has evolved has actually resulted in an interesting repositioning of the key challenges presented by development of these long-offset satellite fields. No longer are the technical challenges necessarily creating the biggest risks for successful outcomes.
Whilst investment in addressing these technical challenges is certainly going to have to be increased substantially from current levels to meet the needs, this paper argues that it is how well the over-arching organizational and project management challenges are dealt with that will dictate how successful the industry is in achieving the full commercial potential of the seabed technologies.
It is widely anticipated that the unprecedented rise in oil price that the past year has witnessed, will be sustained to a substantial degree into the foreseeable future. This will ensure that the pace of both onshore and offshore field exploration and development will also remain high.
In order to service the rising demand as quickly as possible, the industry will be seeking every avenue available for accelerating the availability of new production. It will of course be reviewing it's portfolio of dormant hydrocarbon discoveries to determine which can be moved successfully towards sanction in the light of the new economic parameters now underpinning such decisions.
It will also be reviewing technical and conceptual design options available for fast-tracking these new production projects, and close to the top of the list for many will be subsea tieback solutions. Some will be associated with existing host facilities, some with new floating facilities, and some, like Corrib and Ormen Lange, will even be considered for direct subsea tie-back to shore-based facilities.
This mix of fast-track subsea tieback opportunities will bring with it a whole swath of new challenges for the industry. Many of these will continue to be technical in nature, given that the technologies will continue to be stretched, evolved and supplemented to accommodate ever greater offset distances and water depths.