Subsea makes it possible
Subsea refers to the part of the oil and gas industry taking place on the seabed. Without subsea technology, a number of the current oil and gas deposits would not be possible to extract.
Future subsea production plants will be more cost-effective and energy efficient compared to platforms. Construction costs are lower, and operational expenses such as helicopter transport and hotel for the employees are eliminated. Furthermore, subsea installations are often the only solution for field development at great depths or in waters with harsh weather conditions. One of the reasons the industry’s investments in underwater technology have been a success is the positive approach to research, development and field testing of technology. The industry’s collaboration with universities and university colleges on access to skilled workers has helped create growth in the sector.
Oil and gas production on the seabed is relatively new compared to traditional production solutions. The world’s first subsea well was brought into production in the Gulf of Mexico in 1961. Since then, the technology has moved forward in quantum leaps and the subsea industry is today at the forefront of technology development globally. However, subsea production is still at a low level compared to more traditional oil and gas production. At present, 70% of all oil is produced onshore, 30% is produced offshore and only 9% is produced subsea, but the subsea production is set to significantly increase in years to come. Forecasts show that this production segment will have overtaken traditional offshore production by 2030. The number of barrels produced from subsea wells per day will then be 35 million.
Statoil aspires to produce oil and gas on the seabed, without the support of a rig or an onshore plant, by 2020. In order to realise this vision of subsea factories, some key factors have to be in place. Underwater pumping must be possible – a challenge that has been overcome. Gas will have to be compressed and transported over long distances – an issue in the process of being solved. The stream from the reservoir comprises a mix of oil, gas and water, and this will have to be separated under water. This is also in the process of being solved. Furthermore, electric power is required in order to run the subsea factory. This power will have to be provided via an underwater cable covering long distances. In this area, some technological development work still remains.