Bergen, Norway 11 – 13 June, 2019

Learning to be Lean subsea: the way forward

This summer’s Underwater Technology Conference in Bergen will feature one of the best industry line-ups seen for years with senior executives from Schlumberger, ExxonMobil, Statoil, Aker Solutions and GE Oil and Gas providing keynote presentations.

Marilyn Tears, who has already distinguished herself within the offshore industry, most recently as an ExxonMobil project manager leading the Julia deepwater development in the US Gulf of Mexico and who is now Safety, Security, Health and Environment manager for ExxonMobil Development Company, will be bringing to UTC this year her own perspectives on how HSE issues can impact subsea developments.

She will be joined on the conference platform by Arne Sigve Nylund, Statoil’s executive vice president of development and production, whose keynote speech will be themed “Transforming for the future.”

Luis Arajuo CEO of Aker Solutions, is due to discuss the prospects for a sustainable subsea industry in a longer-lasting low oil price environment.

Neil Saunders, president and CEO of Subsea Systems and drilling at GE Oil and Gas, will outline how to prepare for operating in a digital industrial era: He will also address ways of optimising industry processes, to achieve leaner, simpler and more efficient project designs.

Marilyn Tears will be bringing her considerable experience both of the Julia development and her focus on HSE to bear on this year’s conference them, “Lean subsea – the way forward.”

Tears will talk about subsea cost reduction: This is one of, if not the single biggest issue facing the subsea industry in the current price climate.

With this in mind, Tears says, HSE sets the stage for managing all other aspects of business in the subsea sector. “We often see HSE as a predictor of cost, schedule and quality performance. This is why excellence in HSE is important through the entire life-cycle of subsea projects,” she says.

Offshore development teams need to consider all aspects of HSE and understand their implications for manufacturing, installation, operations and maintenance throughout a project cycle Tears says. “HSE design solutions that are both excellent and fit-for-purpose will ultimately reduce cost across the life cycle of subsea equipment.”

She advocates focusing on equipment reliability, and quality, which in turn requires structure and consistency in work execution: “The same focus on structure and consistency for work execution will remove variability. Removing variability from execution will reduce rework and extra costs while also improving reliability and quality,” she argues. “There have been many scientific studies which show that improving quality leads to improved cost control. A structured approach to safety, integrity, quality, and risk management is an enabler to get “leaner” while improving results.”

At UTC this year, Tears will also discuss leaner operations in more detail: She says: “Being ‘lean’ is about creating more value for customers with fewer resources. A lean organization understands customer value and focuses its key processes to continuously increase it. By elimination of efforts that do not support value to customers, costs will be reduce,” she states. “When working to get leaner, it is important to not forget to focus on the high-risk areas as they drive execution uncertainty. Teams that gain clarity around what is required to address these high-risk areas are rewarded with improved performance.”

While Tears says the industry needs to work “appropriately and collaboratively,” she says it also has to become more adaptable to market and industry development needs. Emphasising the need to learn lessons to improve performance, she says subsea technology has to support the twin challenges of higher pressure and greater depths: “Leveraging learning from others contributes to identifying risks as well as potential savings,” she says.

Advocating creative thinking to use or expand the deployment of common components in different configurations, she suggests this approach can also deliver lower cost alternatives to unique, purpose-designed and built solutions. “We have to figure out how to use technology to enable alternative subsea solutions to save costs over traditional surface solutions.”

Industry standardisation has been embraced by the subsea sector, Tears says, and real inroads have been made recently, she says, citing the DnV Subsea Forging Standard – a recommended practice for steel forgings for subsea application – as one example. Tears points out other joint industry projects are progressing subsea quality, subsea welding standards, documentation, topside control and electrical power systems. She says the International Oil & Gas Producers (IOGP) Association is also starting to standardize subsea trees for the four primary types of subsea trees used today. “I am proud to say that ExxonMobil has played key leadership roles in many of these efforts/initiatives to date,” Tears adds.


Other efforts to standardise equipment have been undertaken too: “ExxonMobil has developed standard part numbers with several suppliers on a concentric, monobore vertical tree design that was used for both the Hadrian South and Julia projects,” Tears points out. Another innovation, an ExxonMobil Universal Master Control Station, was also used for the first time on Julia. Tears says this is a precursor for standardized subsea and topside controls interfaces. “In the future for example, subsea controls will be nothing more than a node on a conventional topside (or onshore) process control system.”


Exxon is continuing research and development for producing offshore oil and gas at depths that were technically impossible a generation ago and in “challenged resource development areas.” Capex savings associated with infrastructure reductions for offshore opportunities are also being sought. “These include subsea processing technologies, where ExxonMobil has recently qualified subsea compression, subsea separation, and subsea water treatment,” Tears explains. Other technology focus areas include wet gas compression, high pressure boosting, and long distance subsea power distribution and transmission. ExxonMobil has also begun researching subsea gas dehydration, Tears reveals.


With the current oil price, Exxon staff are examining the way subsea systems work together, from their design and manufacture, through to installation and operations, to increase efficiency. This requires an “open conversation” by customers and suppliers Tears says, and an “…active discussion/debate on needs and potential options to meet those needs.”

Tears suggests this has to happen across all project phases, while maintaining a focus on quality and  the reliability of products, and execution.


Written by John Bradbury