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Deep Drilling: The challenges and opportunities

by Arabian Oil & Gas Staff on Nov 25, 2012


One issue with ever-deeper wells is the hot oil cools and thickens on its way up.
One issue with ever-deeper wells is the hot oil cools and thickens on its way up.

Deeper wells and renewed safety concerns pose new challenges for the offshore oil and gas industry

Deeper wells and renewed safety concerns pose new challenges for the offshore oil and gas industry. Providing solutions offers both opportunities and rewards.

Despite moves toward greater energy efficiency and a turbulent economic climate, global demand for oil and gas shows no sign of letting up. Consumption in the developed world may be flatlining, but China will more than double its oil consumption from 2000 to 2015, while in India demand will increase by about 75 per cent.

Debate continues about when “peak oil” will be reached, but the fact remains that a huge amount of oil is still in the ground – enough to last several decades by most estimates.

The problem is that much of the “easy” oil has been found, and demand for energy is taking exploration and production to ever-tougher extremes of geography and climate.

The deepwater (more than 500 meters) and ultra-deepwater (more than 1,500 meters) energy sector represents one of the major growth areas for the oil and gas industry, but exploiting these reserves presents tough technical challenges.

“This is a very onerous environment,” says John Drury, Business Group Director for Trelleborg’s business that focuses on the offshore industry. “The risks multiply exponentially with depth, and operators are looking for fail-safe solutions.”

One issue with ever-deeper wells is that the hot oil cools and thickens on its way to the surface, slowing the flow and potentially causing blockages. One of Trelleborg’s many product lines for the oil and gas industry is thermal insulation material to prevent this cooling.

“Our materials are engineered to cope with environments at extreme depth plus temperatures well in excess of 100°C [212°F],” says Drury.

Safety has long been a priority for the offshore oil and gas industry, but the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, which resulted in 11 deaths and the largest accidental oil spill in history, thrust the issue into the spotlight.

“Operators are introducing increased risk-mitigation strategies to avoid these sorts of incidents in the future,” says Drury. “There should be further opportunities for our safety-related products as legislation is introduced.”

Among Trelleborg’s wide range of safety systems for the offshore oil and gas industry are the Elastopipe deluge system for fire protection, microspheres for smothering fires and flexible fire-retardant coatings.

Trelleborg is also working on innovative buoyancy solutions that improve safety by reducing the load on the long pipes bringing oil up more than a kilometer (3,000 feet) from the seabed.

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