In the Gulf of Mexico, the rapid pressure depletion and reservoir depth of the Lower Tertiary intervals lead to low oil recovery. A high-reliability, through-tubing subsea electrical submersible pump (ESP) system that takes an integrated approach to production optimization will enable producers to cost-effectively extract more hydrocarbons from the increasingly challenging reservoirs in today's subsea assets. The potential increase in production depends on the maximum drawdown pressure limitations of both well casing design and rock strength. ESPs in deepwater fields are also considered to be an enhancer rather than an enabler by extending the production plateau 5 to 8 years after initial well/field startup with natural flow and seabed boosting. Hence, a robust ESP system that can be installed and operated a few years after field startup without a workover for replacing the upper completions. A robust, reliable ESP would unlock additional value to deepwater operators by delaying CAPEX and eliminating ESP failures, such as degradation of components due to high-pressure/high-temperature (HP/HT) cycling, during the first few years of nonoperation.

Designing ESPs for deepwater application is a multidisciplinary challenge and needs to be approached from a full system-reliability standpoint rather than improvements to the ESP hardware alone. Implementation of ESPs in deep water requires both upfront planning at a full-system level and high degree of flexibility for installation, deployment, and retrieval. Finally, because the impact of an unplanned ESP failure is significantly detrimental to project economics, efforts to improve robustness of the ESP hardware must be complemented with automation of ESP operation to reduce or eliminate operator-induced failures. Recent industry improvements in machine learning and predictive analytics need to be leveraged to implement condition-based monitoring of ESPs to better anticipate failures and plan for replacements and/or adjustments to extend the life of degraded units.

A collaborative project was undertaken to develop the concept of an alternatively deployed through-tubing ESP (TTESP) system targeted for deepwater subsea operations. The goal was to reduce intervention costs, which, together with ESP run life, are the primary factors influencing the economics of subsea ESPs, including conventionally deployed through-tubing ESPs. The project scope encompassed the downhole hardware, from immediately below the subsea tree through the upper completion, as well as deployment and retrieval equipment and methodology.

Economic analyses of subsea fields were conducted to identify the factors contributing to intervention costs so that alternatives could be developed. Multiple concepts were evaluated, and the proof-of-concept system was selected based on superior economic return compared with the baseline. During this proof-of-concept phase, significant testing of key technologies was conducted. The studies showed that conventional intervention vessels and methods will not reduce the intervention costs associated with TTESPs. Lighter vessels together with technologies and methods that minimize intervention time and frequency—and, consequently, reservoir damage and deferred production—are the answer. Eliminating the wait for an available offshore rig is also a key factor in improving overall production economics. The proposed alternatively deployed TTESP system and its associated deployment methodology could reduce the intervention time by half and eliminate reservoir damage. This unconventional deployment could be conducted with lighter service vessels, further reducing intervention costs.

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