Autonomous underwater vehicles, data analytics and more look to move the industry into the future.
by James Drummond
June 24, 2015

The oil and gas industry is pushing the boundaries of existing technologies. Exploration and production (E&P) companies are pursuing offshore reserves in deeper waters and more remote locations. To minimize costs while staying competitive, the industry will need to experience a technical leap forward in terms of production innovation. In 2014, a comprehensive industry report examined the state of technology innovation within the industry, including the motivators and barriers to implementation. Cost, not technological capabilities, was identified as the greatest barrier. According to experts in the report, international oil companies struggle to replace hydrocarbon reserves. This drives many companies into more challenging and expensive environments. Technical innovation continues to be a central focus for subsea operators as they explore operations at unprecedented ocean depths. To handle the added costs, the report identified four major technical trends.

1. Autonomous Underwater Vehicles

To support asset-integrity management programs, the industry is exploring the use of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV), which are docked and recharged subsurface to perform routine visual inspections, freespan pipe monitoring and cathodic protection surveys that detect erosion. In some cases, AUVs could replace current remotely operated vehicles and their support vessels, potentially reducing cost and improving integrity-management practices and maintenance activities.

2. Data Analytics

Advancements in data analytics are also playing an increasingly important role in the integrity management of equipment in use above and below the water line. Operators are gaining better visibility of the operating health of subsea pumps and the fluids produced in subsea processing facilities. These data analytic advancements, including leak-detection systems, are also helping operators monitor the condition of the pipeline.

3. Pipeline Materials

Pipelines are undergoing a technological evolution with the emergence and application of thermoplastic composite pipes. The fiber materials providing the strength to composite materials are typical industry materials, such as glass or graphite fibers and para-aramid synthetic fiber. The polymers remain typical industry materials.

4. Additive Manufacturing

Another exciting emerging technology is the use of additive manufacturing for the fabrication of subsea equipment. Since deepwater processing facilities require thick-walled vessels to contain pressure, equipment such as gravity-based separators has become very large and difficult to transport when fabricated using solid steel plate. But just as additive manufacturing offers an opportunity to customize materials, the variations from solid materials can compromise the structural integrity of an asset in ways that would be new to the industry. Clearly, a deeper understanding of the benefits and barriers to adoption is required.