New project eyes decommissioning with laser target
August 30, 2017
A new laser cutting tool for use underwater could slash the cost of decommissioning
According to Oil & Gas UK, operators intend to decommission around 17% of pipelines on the UK and Norwegian Continental Shelves (UKCS and NCS) in the coming decade. Around 850 pipelines, running to over 7,500 km, are likely to be removed, not to mention the thousands more steel structures, jackets and other infrastructure requiring removal.
Between 2016 and 2025, the group’s forecasts estimate that making safe and decommissioning infrastructure could cost up to GBP1.3 billion (US$1.7 billion) on the UKCS alone.
In response, a UK-based project will see the development and demonstration of a low-cost decommissioning technology for working in challenging offshore environments. Specifically, this takes the form of a high-speed, low-cost, robust and flexible underwater laser cutting solution. The primary anticipated benefit of this technology is a reduction in the deployment time, deck space and operational times required to decommission subsea Underwater Cutting Solutions (UCS), in partnership with The Welding Institute (TWI) and McDermott Inc (MDR), and backed by InnovateUK, is developing a high-speed, flexible laser cutting technology that can be deployed remotely along with options for Diver and ROV. Dubbed SubSeaLase, the project will see the development of a prototype cutting system alongside an underwater laser cutting tool capable of cutting subsea.
While the original project brief looked to use lasers at depths of 100m, the objective for the group is now to push to 200m. Speaking with InnovOil by phone, UCS general manager Fraser Collis said that if the system can be proven at these depths, the path to deployment in even more challenging environments becomes much faster: “If we work at sub-200m depths, it will give us enough expertise and experience to take this above and beyond. The end goal is ultra-deepwater.”
Making the cut Mr Collis said that the company was very much at the forefront of bringing new technologies to market. Since its inception in 2004, UCS has designed and patented a wide variety new subsea cutting technologies. Having established itself in three key applications – dredging, cutting and coating removal – the company has continually pushed the envelope, from its first patented dual-cut band saw, through to its recent successes with diamond-wire cutting equipment. Indeed, Mr Collis is confident that, to the best of his knowledge (and from client feedback), the company’s diamond wire cutting systems are “producing the quickest cut times with this type of technology in the world.”
In that regard, the company’s foray into laser cutting technology is simply the next logical step, he says. The project, which was begun in September 2016 and runs for three years, pairs TWI’s knowledge of lasers with UCS’ expertise in designing, manufacturing and operation of subsea tooling systems. Backed by more than GBP1 million (US$1.3 billion) in funding from InnovateUK, the hope is that a laser tool will add a new and powerful string to the companies’ cutting bow.
TWI already has carried out considerable research and development activities into the use of laser technology for decommissioning applications, including laser cutting and laser concrete scabbling (or spalling), which have been used to great effect in sectors such as the nuclear industry. However, deploying these systems in water and at depth brings a new set of challenges.
As Mr Collis explains, the project will see the development of a laser and tooling system initially for deployment inside a pile jacket, which will enable cutting to be performed below the mudline. The groups’ future sights are then set on a suite of tooling functions for internal, external methods, ROV and diver operations. The laser itself will be delivered via fibre from a laser source and gas compressor, both of which remain topside. This will provide laser power of somewhere in the region of 10-20kW, he says, well within the capabilities of the vessels from which it would be deployed.
Expanding the toolbox Lasers offer considerable benefits compared with contact or abrasive tools; a non-contact laser eliminates the risk of mechanical jamming and tool wear, representing a significant reduction in down-time and the associated cost of parts. Naturally, speed is also a major upside. The partners have suggested that the cutting process could be up to be four times faster than existing underwater cutting technologies. Greater reductions are possible if one factors in the reduced number of working days at sea required to complete a job, or indeed a whole campaign. Once the group has both technology and processes in place in 2019, the goal is then for the SubSeaLase to be developed towards a post-project use, allowing the project partners to “hit the ground running” with a commercial offering, he explains.
UCS is keenly aware of the benefits that laser adoption can bring to the sector. “UCS has never shied away from any type of new cutting technology,” he says, and as laser power and equipment flexibility increase, he believes that “with the current pressures of cost reduction, the SubSeaLase project will give the industry access to an exciting new advancement in subsea technology, furthering the cutting toolbox.”
Just as laser cutting has become accepted onshore in many industrial processes the group is confident it will not be long before the subsea sector can realise its benefits too.
UCS will be attending SPE Offshore Europe 2017 – for more information on SubSeaLase or to speak with a member of the team, visit Stand 2E150