The rapidly shifting of offshore oil and gas have put a fresh premium on maximising the returns and lifespan of operational fields.
Changes to the political landscape, evolving societal priorities and growing net-zero requirements have all combined to make greenfield and newbuild projects ever more challenging, and raised the bar on what is expected from mature fields.
In this environment owners and operators are considering, more than ever before, the benefits of optimising proven but sometimes ageing assets, up to and including extensions that push back the cost of decommissioning.
As next-generation technologies can provide the tools necessary to add upwards of 25 years to brownfield sites, operators should be targeting the generation of significant added value through increased efficiencies.
The type of digital solutions provided by FutureOn are particularly important in this environment, as they enable asset teams to visualise and familiarise themselves with existing brownfield infrastructure, and to run various scenario simulations before undertaking the actions required to ensure long-term profitability.
Protecting your investment
Oil and gas assets represent a huge investment of time, money and expertise on the part of operators. Projects are typically lengthy and potentially hazardous endeavors that can take upwards of 10 years to generate a return on investment.
In addition, older fields deplete over time and facilities can become worn down due to the harsh nature of the offshore environment, dictating a drop in operational efficiency and a reduction in asset reliability. The bottom line is often a decrease in production.
Other threats to oil and gas field lifespans and/or profitability include shifting perceptions and changes to industry practices, which can render operational projects either outdated ahead of their time or unable to meet new operational standards.
This narrowing window for profitability is a chief concern for operators, particularly in a market where profit margins are thinning and every penny really does count. And it means decisions about decommissioning, field extensions and modifications become ever more crucial.
A number of trends are driving the demand for making more of what you already have. First, decommissioning ageing fields is a cash-intense process that diverts investment from revenue-generating areas of the oil and gas business. It can be a lengthy and challenging undertaking and is subject to a variety of regulatory regimes depending on location. It also, by definition, rules out alternatives including other parties using a specific asset in the future to access and further develop oil and gas production or to tie into other fields.
However, greenfields are also falling out of favour in some geographic regions. Ambitious and necessary global environmental goals set by governments and operators alike are making the prospect of exploration and development of new sites a less attractive prospect, particularly in a market that is transitioning away from fossil fuels.
While oil demand and usage are unlikely to be eliminated by 2050, it will have to be curbed significantly in order to meet decarbonisation and emission targets outlined in the Paris Agreement.
The role and value of brownfields in meeting the world’s growing energy needs will increase significantly over the coming years and push operators to extend the life of fields. And experts predict that the appetite for green exploration will weaken in the future as many prospects are located in very deep waters where the risk and cost of recovery is much higher; adapting current assets to produce cleaner and cheaper energy may not only align with climate change goals – they may also be the more economic option.
Brown is the new green
Brownfield assets, sometimes facing poor production or challenges to cost effectiveness, are increasingly seen as part of the solution by operators looking to gain advantage in a temperamental market.
And sweating assets – rather than new facilities or decommissioning – has been enabled by the maturation of digital technologies. These are smart solutions that can help operators find and produce more from established fields and surroundings areas – all at a relatively low capex and with a quicker return on investment than at greenfield rivals.
For brownfield projects the initial, often highest, investment has already been made. The focus is instead on incremental and continuous improvement through the application of new technologies: modifying an existing platform to tie-in other nearby fields, boosting operational excellence at a late-life asset to create significant value and, if modified strategically, helping to minimise future decommissioning costs.
Given the current economic climate, better management and improvement of existing assets can also help boost business resilience and even open new streams of income.
Repurposing brownfields and their facilities for alternative use of offshore infrastructure, such as carbon capture and storage, floating offshore windfarms, hydrogen storage and water treatment will enable oil and gas companies in capturing a significant portion of the green energy market.
Not that working with brownfield assets is without its challenges. Redevelopment and extension can be a complex process due to limitations and unknowns in the existing infrastructure, particularly when it comes to much older assets where data integrity is likely to be incomplete or inaccurate.
Modifications and upgrades necessitate a need for comprehensive understanding of the asset and environment to implement effective measures without jeopardising integrity. Design and execution must be achieved alongside existing and complicated infrastructure and often requires more machinery and teams operating within a limited and sometimes high-risk space.
Digital tools to the rescue
Digital twin and design technologies are crucial when addressing the future options for brownfield projects. Built using data gathered from multiple sources, a digital twin is an exact copy of physical assets, processes or systems.
FutureOn’s offering is a fully cloud-based digital twin software that uses comprehensive metadata to create a detailed 3D model that can provide design and development teams with a unique perspective that would not be possible using traditional methods.
The platforms provide operators with detailed insights and data to make better decisions when planning brownfield upgrades that will help ensure that the site is safer, more reliable and given a competitive advantage in a challenging market.
Intuitively designed, the best digital tools streamline workflows and encourage collaboration in a way that leads to improved efficiency, enhanced project management, and better cost calculations.
For reliability and integrity, the solutions supplied can help to identify opportunities for investment in the long-term health of the asset, including increased operational capacities and support for a sustained programme of maintenance.
Digital tools can also unlock production optimisation, including the requirement to address potential pain points, removal of bottlenecks and easing of constraints. This will release value from brownfields while tackling cost escalation and meeting environmental obligations.
Finally, the digital approach can be applied to reservoir management, helping to build a detailed understanding of the asset to determine how best to optimise equipment and recovery mechanisms. Twin technology is particularly important here, combined with advanced surveillance sensors, to allow for proactive interventions which increase operational excellence.
And no one should underestimate the challenges inherent in brownfield redevelopment and optimisation.
Lost asset information can mean that many issues are only identified during the execution stage, and thus result in late design revisions. Inaccurate equipment data can also hinder projects, cost-overruns, erosion of returns and lead to significant delays.
Health and safety can also be challenging if engineers do not have a detailed and accurate understanding of the existing asset and its operating history. It is therefore imperative that potential hurdles are identified early in the design and addressed onshore before equipment and personnel are mobilised to go offshore.
And while traditional methods of preparing assets for lifetime extensions can be both time-consuming and costly, the advances represented by digital technology not only accelerate this process but can help operators to increase dramatically the production and reserves from established fields.
The future is now
The digital twin tools and next-generation visualisation offered by FutureOn provide down-to-the-millimetre detail via a virtual parallel asset that can be updated with more detailed data and used to test any potential modifications or variations of the basic design. Decision-makers can leverage the insight provided to make more informed choices and take data-backed actions that will lead to fewer errors and revisions.
A key benefit is better cost-estimation. From design configurations to material choices, digital twin data can help teams understand how different equipment, materials or design configurations will perform and estimate the cost of different scenarios. Sophisticated software also enables individual pieces of equipment to be tagged to specific records, thereby enabling engineers to instantly look up a piece of equipment and access crucial details about that piece of equipment.
The result is significant levels of risk reduction. Teams can run what-if scenarios to test how their designs will withstand harsh conditions and equipment failure without putting humans or assets at risk of catastrophic failure. These vital assessments are particularly important in brownfield sites where much of the equipment is reaching the end of its lifecycle.
Digital tools also play a key role in reducing downtime, as carrying out brownfield modifications or upgrading equipment can result in periods offline which can result in reduced production. FutureOn’s digital twin technology helps engineers determine if the same part needs to be replaced elsewhere on the site and even assess how the part is functioning and if it is possible to make it work more efficiently without having to replace it. This can help cut downtime by enabling engineers to be more strategic in how and which installations they modify.
And behind the scenes, digital technologies help to centralise the asset documentation and data generated in vast amounts by oil and gas projects. FutureOn’s FieldTwin platform gathers this crucial information and keeps it in a central hub where it is automatically updated in real-time and can be easily accessed by asset teams across the project.
This helps to reduce the time spent searching for data across different platforms and formats and breaks down the more traditional data silos. FutureOn brings information, including surface, map, well, reservoir, bathymetry, industry asset and historical data from a variety of sources together in a single interactive interface.
A platform for change
The landscape of oil and gas is shifting as never before, reflecting the changing political, societal and economic environment of a world striving for net-zero.
The conditions for greenfield development are more challenging than ever at exactly the same time as difficult decisions are being made about fields reaching the latter years of their lifecycle.
An accurate digital twin, built using the FieldTwin software developed by FutureOn, provides a solid foundation for better decision making, while also identifying the best way to optimise the performance of existing assets while reducing risk.
The crucial decisions about lifetime extensions, brownfield redevelopments or ongoing optimisation can then be made based on a complete understanding of the site, with a high degree of confidence and the lowest level of risk. All based on confirmed, real-life and real-time data.
It is a landscape of decision making enabled by digital twin technologies as envisioned by FutureOn.