The UK’s Oil and Gas Technology Centre is backing new plug & abandonment technologies with GBP1.3 million in funding
Since its creation around 18 months ago, Aberdeen’s Oil and Gas Technology Centre (OGTC) has worked hard to prove itself as a bona fide supporter of technology and innovation, with over GBP12 million (US$16.5 million) committed to projects and tech development in 2017.
It now kicks off 2018 with the award of GBP1.3 million (US$1.8 million) to four pioneering projects in the field of plug & abandonment (P&A), one of the key areas of focus over the next decade as many North Sea assets approach the end of their life.
With 1,400 wells forecast to be abandoned on the UKCS alone – the costs of which have been estimated at around GBP7 billion (US$9.6 billion) – the regulating Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) has set a target to reduce decommissioning cost by 35%. As InnovOil and others have noted before, much of this reduction is likely to come from advances in P&A.
In a statement, the OGA’s head of decommissioning Nils Cohrs commented: “It’s great to see this considerable investment in innovative technologies following the Technology Centre’s call for ideas. The OGA’s 2016 Stewardship Survey showed that well P&A represents 48% of the total cost of UKCS decommissioning, and developing transformational ideas such as these has the potential to help industry to reduce this cost.”
Thermite be giants
The recipients of the OGTC’s latest funding allocation were whittled down from the 48 submissions received during its call for ideas to four successful projects proposed by BiSN, University of Strathclyde, Heriot-Watt University and Baker Hughes GE (BHGE).
The grant will enable BiSN to test and verify its Wel-Lok M2M technology. Wel-Lok uses a modified thermite heating system in conjunction with bismuth-based alloys. Although it has shades of a similar P&A system under development by Norway’s Interwell – which uses the heat of the reaction to melt rock and well casing into a solid plug – in this case Wel-Lok’s reaction is controlled to melt just the bismuth alloys, forming a permanent, gas-tight barrier.
Thermal sealing technology like this offers an alternative to traditional seals such as elastomers, resins or cement. The tool itself can be deployed on wireline without the need to remove tubing, addressing some fundamental downhole challenges and reducing the window needed for notoriously time-intensive P&A operations. Moreover, when melted to a liquid state, bismuth has a viscosity similar to water, enabling it to flow into the smallest of areas, including cement micro-annuli.
Commenting on the award, BiSN CEO Paul Carragher said: “To receive this funding from the Technology Centre and benefit from the support it brings for the development of our downhole sealing technology - is a fitting end to a successful year, indicating that 2018 will see our company go from strength to strength in the North Sea and beyond.”
Meanwhile, the University of Strathclyde intends to use enzymes to repair or improve cement barriers in wells that have already been abandoned. This so-called ‘biogrout’ technology – or microbially induced calcite precipitation (MICP), to give its full title – is currently being developed for use in other industries, and will now be assessed under typical downhole conditions. Being of very low viscosity (again similar to water) and nanoparticle-sized, it can also penetrate and seal the smallest of spaces in soil and rock formations.
Dr Gráinne El Mountassir, a lecturer at the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering at the University of Strathclyde, commented: “At Strathclyde we are very excited about this new project. We have been working on the development of Biogrout as a technology for near-surface civil engineering applications over the last seven years, and now we are keen to apply our knowledge to the oil and gas environment.”
Heriot-Watt University is developing a modelling framework for well isolation design that would help evaluate and manage risk, increase efficiency and enhance decision-making. This could deliver cost and time savings through reduced scope, remediation and deployment of new technology, such as through-tubing and rigless abandonment.
Heriot-Watt chief scientist Professor John Underhill noted: “This is an exciting and innovative collaborative project that tackles an important technological challenge for the North Sea by leveraging the existing strengths of our different research groups at Institute of Petroleum Engineering (IPE); the project is also well-aligned with our vision for the new Mature Field Management research expertise in IPE. I am delighted to see Morteza Haghighat’s leadership in this theme and the partnership being forged with Technology Centre.”
Finally, BHGE is developing a tool for cement logging through multiple casing strings, a technology which would build on existing solutions that only deliver logging behind one casing or tubular. Again, the goal here is to reduce the cost and time associated with removing casing to verify the integrity of downhole barriers.
OGTC Well Construction Solution Centre manager Malcolm Banks noted: “Competition was tough and required a rigorous review process. We’re addressing key challenges facing the industry and look forward to working with the successful organisations to develop their ideas into solutions that deliver real benefits.”
Indeed, the sizable response to the group’s request for proposals also bodes well for its next area of focus – well construction – which will launch in the coming weeks. This funding round aims to support new well systems, seabed pressure isolation and ways to stimulate well flow, all of which will be vital to cost reduction as the UKCS moves towards smaller-scale marginal field development.
Banks added: “We’re hoping to replicate the success of our well P&A call when we seek ideas on challenges for new wells. Further information will be communicated in the coming weeks and we’d encourage anyone with an idea to take part.”