WORKING WITH OPERATORS TO CUT THE COST
Wintershall is Germany’s largest internationally active producer of crude oil and natural gas, with operations around the world. One of its key areas of operations is the North Sea. With over 40 years of experience in those waters, there are few other companies that have been there longer.
Over that half century the company has seen many changes. The North Sea was where the offshore oil and gas industry began, and now in the second decade of the 21st century it is where producers are developing the technology and techniques for managing oil fields and production platforms that are nearing the end of their lives or developing marginal fields.
Cutting OpEx the key to survival
The fall in productivity from declining fields, the high cost of maintaining expensive assets in a hostile environment and the low cost of oil and gas are all combining to make many North Sea fields uneconomic. 20% of the oil and gas fields currently in operation are expected to cease production in the coming years, and many more will struggle unless they can sharply reduce their operating costs.
“We all need to innovate if we are to cut our expenditure,” says Rob Molenaar, Logistics Superintendent at Wintershall, “particularly on the marginal fields. Reducing the maintenance and operational costs of those platforms is a big issue now.” Traditionally, producers have used helicopters to ferry personnel to and from offshore platforms. They are fast and able to operate in a wide range of weather conditions, but with high operating costs of their own, they are relatively expensive to charter.
Walk 2 Work
“Everyone is looking at ways of reducing the reliance on helicopters for moving personnel and materials to and from the platforms,” continues Mr Molenaar, “which is why the Walk 2 Work (W2W) concept is very attractive.” W2W is the idea of designing new vessels specifically for deploying and retrieving personnel and equipment in a much wider range of weather conditions than has been previously possible.
Since September 2015, Wintershall has been chartering a Damen Fast Crew Supplier (FCS) 2610, called the Merel G, owned by Groen offshore. Part of its role has been servicing the company’s L6-B unmanned mini-platform producing natural gas in the Dutch zone of the North Sea.
“We have learned a great deal from the Merel G,” says Mr Molenaar. “There is a mix of needs that require different solutions. For example, in a swell of more than 1.5 metres we found that it became difficult to gain safe access and with our more distant facilities it would take up to 10 hours to reach them.
Helicopters will still be needed for rapid, long range operations, but ideally used only when a W2W vessel is unable to meet the need.” Moreover, the cost-savings are apparent once W2W is applied on a bigger scale and the installation of motion-compensated transfer systems means that the new generation of W2W vessels may have a much wider operating window.
Its time is coming
“Everyone in the industry realises that the W2W concept has a major role to play in the future,” he goes on, “but with only a few such vessels in operation, availability at short notice is an issue so take up is slow. Demand will develop as the need for such vessels arises and people see other operators using them. It’s like electric cars; it’s taking a while to build trust in a new idea as people are unfamiliar with the technology and infrastructure. Lots of evaluation is going on as companies assess the costs and benefits and everyone is watching each other.”
Mr Molenaar thinks that the upcoming move to close platforms prior to decommissioning may be a further catalyst for the widespread adoption of W2W vessels. “Even when a platform is closed it will require regular maintenance of critical equipment. W2W vessels will be perfect for low-cost, low-frequency, pre-scheduled maintenance stops, and also ideal for the actual decommissioning operations.”
It is good to see that even after 40 years, the North Sea oil and gas industry continues to lead the way in developing innovative solutions to the new challenges that continually arise.