Statoil activates Valemon automated rig control room
November 29, 2017
Sam Wright reports on the Norwegian NOC’s first fully automated offshore design
Statoil has switched on the control room for its Valemon remotely controlled offshore platform on the Norwegian Continental Shelf (NCS). It is the first time the state-run Norwegian oil company has used a fully automated offshore design at one of its projects.
The control room in Bergen will be manned by 14 staff members on seven shifts, and will oversee every aspect of the rig, which primarily produces natural gas and condensates.
Valemon is initially programmed to run for four-week production periods followed by two weeks. During this period the rig will be manned to allow for inspection and maintenance, following the standard Norwegian model for work periods but letting the platform run with one-third of its normal crew. The field produces around 60,000 boepd of gas and condensate. It normally operates with a crew of 40.
Gunnar Nakken, Statoil’s production director, described the project as a “vital milestone”. “We have had land-based surveillance and control of offshore operations for a long time; however, the remote control of Valemon marks one important step forward on our digitalisation journey,” he added.
Valemon came online in January 2015, delivering gas via the Huldra/Heimdal pipeline to Kvitebjorn and then on to Bergen. The field was already tied to existing infrastructure via subsea pipelines when it opened, and it contains around 192 million boe in a fragmented, high-pressure, high-temperature (HPHT) reservoir. It is owned and operated by Statoil with a 53.77% interest, while Petoro owns 30%. Centrica holds 13% and Royal Dutch Shell has 3.23%
Speaking to InnovOil, Statoil’s development, production and exploration communications manager Morten Eek stressed that the company considered Valemon “a test bed for the future full automation of small and medium projects”. He went on to say that many of the NOC’s larger platforms and projects (including the Johan Sverdrup platforms due to come online in 2019) would still be fully manned.
Kvitebjorn in particular, he added, is crucial to the Valemon platform’s operations because it hosts the emergency response team and a secondary control room to handle problems at the offshore site that the Bergen control room cannot. It also hosts backup emergency shutdown controls and monitoring systems, providing communication if the platform is cut off from the mainland. These features are standard on many stand-alone rigs worldwide, but the unmanned aspect is new: Valemon will be one of the first normally manned rigs to predominantly operate without a crew on board.
Unmanned rigs provide a number of advantages. So far, most unmanned facilities have been part of a larger development with a manned core, such as the Normally Unmanned Units which operate across the North Sea for a variety of operators in conjunction with manned assets.
In harsher or more remote environments, however, unmanned or semi-manned rigs are more energy efficient. They are also less prone to crew injuries or loss owing to reduced crew operating time on the rig and are cheaper to supply over the long term in terms of paying crews, arranging transport and providing habitation blocks.
While the Valemon rig has run manned for more than two years at this point, future rigs designed when the technology is mature could be built with the bare minimum of habitation for a much smaller maintenance and inspection team, allowing for cost savings in the long term. Statoil is already moving towards standardised, modular “building blocks” when building future rigs, allowing them to attach components and segments as needed and combine resources optimally for efficient resource exploration.
This technology is still very much in its infancy, however. Statoil’s two major upcoming projects, the Aasta Hansteen and Johan Sverdrup platforms, will still be manned, albeit heavily digitalised and equipped with the latest automation systems.
As a wider trend of digitalisation, the general automation of the offshore oil and gas industry is progressing as more companies take steps towards operations like Valemon. Advances in drone technology, rig security and on-board automation are increasing the feasibility of an entirely unmanned rig with every new development.