In recent years, the number of subsea wells has increased steadily; a 2011 report estimated more than 5,500 worldwide. One of the key challenges the industry faces with subsea wells is generally lower recovery factors compared to wells with surface access. A key reason for this difference is because workover activities to improve recovery rates in subsea wells has traditionally required use of large rigs, risers, jointed pipe or coiled tubing (CT), with high operating rates. The high costs of these operations can make it difficult to achieve the necessary increases in production rates and revenue to justify the workover investment, even with increasing oil prices; therefore, operators often forgo production-improvement workovers. However, a growing global population and soaring energy demand means that operators are facing increasing pressure to maximize production and value from mature assets.

These challenges have spurred development of alternative, lighter weight, more cost-effective intervention methods to enhance recovery rates in deepwater, subsurface wells. These alternative technologies include electric-line tools that can be run from smaller, dynamically positioned light well intervention vessels, instead of large workover ships with risers. These rigless and riserless light well interventions (RLWI) improve scheduling flexibility and reduce costs, thereby reducing barriers to performing subsurface well interventions and enabling subsea operators to realize oil recovery rates of 50% or more.

Today many industry companies have a clear tendency to migrate towards lightweight, more cost-effective alternative solutions. But for some, misperceptions still exist and skepticism remains for using RLWI for deepwater subsea wells. However, over the past decade, RLWI has achieved a solid track record of demonstrated value and is an inherently safer method for subsea well interventions, compared to conventional heavier methods.

This paper describes the opportunities to improve recovery rates in subsea wells using the lighter, more efficient and ultimately more productive RLWI methods. Using these techniques has enabled operators to conduct routine planned access to subsea producing assets, improve surveillance and management of interventions, and, ultimately, increase recovery rates. Several case histories and examples are presented.


Challenge: The Need to Increase Production from Existing Assets to Meet Growing Global Demand for Energy. Looking at peak oil production from a number of the major oil producers shows that many of them have reached peak oil production over the last ten years (Table 1) the industry is striving to find new resources to replace diminishing reserves and to meet increasing global demand; these factors are moving exploration and development into deeper water offshore, where currently more new fields are being developed subsea than from platforms (Strategic Offshore Research Ltd. 2012).

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