Over the past decade, flow assurance applications have been extremely successful in many offshore deepwater gas and oil project developments, where the cold ambient sea bottom temperature and water depth pose enormous technical challenges. Flow Assurance encompasses a broad range of technical areas, including management of solids such as hydrates, wax, asphaltenes to avoid blockages in subsea equipment and multiphase transport of produced reservoir fluids to a host facility. The high cost of remediation and limited accessibility for intervention of subsea equipment has highlighted the importance of developing robust flow assurance solutions in such severe operating environments. The operating environment that exists in many Russian gas and oil fields - both offshore and onshore - poses similar technical challenges. This paper notionally classifies Russian fields based upon their expected flow assurance issues and challenges and describes issues that are in common between deepwater production and oil and gas developments in Russia. We also demonstrate the applicability of lessons learnt from the deepwater to Russian oil and gas field production.
Many operating units in Ural, Povolgie, Tatarstan, Bashkorstan and West Siberia are today celebrating their 40th and 50th anniversaries since first production and are now entering into a difficult period of late life field production. At the same time, many new field developments, with significant gas and oil reserves, are currently under way in Russia in very remote locations on-shore West and East Siberia, offshore Arctic and in the Far East seas. Large hydrocarbon reserves have been discovered offshore, on the Arctic shelf and Far East seas, with estimates of approximately 72% natural gas 24% oil and 4% condensate .
How can these ageing and new gas and oil fields be optimally developed and operated to ensure uninterrupted production while simultaneously reducing downtime, equipment redundancy and minimizing operating and capital expenses? Whilst these are not new questions, especially for the Russian gas and oil industry with its breadth of experience in these areas that has been accumulated over more than 50 years, they are becoming critical in many existing and new areas of exploration and production.
Addressing similar questions in deepwater exploration and production, with its challenging subsea environment and limited accessibility for intervention operations, led to the birth of a new discipline called "flow assurance" (i.e. keeping the flow path open). This original concept of flow assurance has grown today into an industry-recognized multidisciplinary area that had been successfully applied in offshore deepwater gas and oil prospects of Gulf of Mexico, Nigeria, Norway and other deepwater basins globally.
There are many similarities between the severe operating environment in the deepwater and the harsh winter conditions that exist in onshore and shallow water regions in Russia. The remote location of fields, requiring long-distance hydrocarbon transportation systems are similar to those that have been applied in the deepwater. Despite the fact that production equipment is relatively more accessible in on-shore locations and interventions are therefore expected to be less expensive, the absence of integrated flow assurance strategies could lead to a reduction of up-time and production, large redundancy of production systems and increased lifecycle costs for remediation and intervention due to an increase in the number of blockage incidents. Offshore developments in the Russian North present even more severe challenges due to extremely cold conditions, ice-related issues (8 to 9 months a year of ice, ice scouring) and equipment availability.