Well intervention will be the future of the North Sea long after the last production wells are drilled simply to keep hydrocarbons production going, according to Chris Nussbaum.
Moreover, Nussbaum, chairman of the Society of Petroleum Engineers and International Coiled Tubing Association Round Table conference to be staged in Aberdeen in November, sees subsea intervention as a particular challenge, given the scarcity of kit to carry out such work.
“We have called for the latest information from operators about what is happening in subsea well intervention. Undoubtedly, it’s the area that gives us the biggest challenge. We seem to have been slower in bringing that technology forward as quickly as we should do,” Nussbaum told Energy.
“Something needs to happen quite rapidly to drive forward that technology, and I hope the conference is going to provide a catalyst for that discussion to happen more than in the past.”
Nussbaum, whose day job is as CEO of Aberdeen company TecWel, thinks that, with so much experience, it is baffling as to how the offshore industry has landed itself in such a position.
“With so many years of the North Sea industry we should be better at challenging all these new barriers that we face,” he said.
Nussbaum argues that too few companies are engaged in developing the necessary intervention equipment and that those who are, such as Expro Group, should have received more operator support than appears to have been the case. However, in Expro’s case, the close working with BP is acknowledged.
He says that, of the North Sea’s current well population, at least 25% can be regarded as subsea, and that proportion is growing. Operators have to take account of this and not think they can wholly rely on the supply chain to deliver.
Another huge issue to be debated at this year’s SPE/ICOTA Round Table (November 18-19) is well integrity.
“Strangely, that’s a conversation that has parallels with the one about subsea because a great proportion of the well intervention community hasn’t really woken, in my view, to the fact that well integrity is the issue of the next two decades and probably beyond that.
“I’ve attended conferences where I’ve heard operators talk about well integrity. They live with it every day. They live with legislative, environmental, business risk every day, whereas the service providers are still lagging behind in awareness.
“I hope some of the information that will be put on the table at the conference will help people to wake to that.”
On the uptake of coiled tubing in the North Sea, Nussbaum is clear that it has a vital role to play, not only in intervention, but also production management.
“Has coil reached a mature plateau? We’re starting to see it as a highly accepted technology; it’s used in certain areas of the North Sea … look at the Danish sector. I don’t think it would operate without coil. Wells are almost designed around it.
“Go to more northern areas like Norway and coil has less use than you might expect. Some of the wells are perceived as going beyond the limit of coil in their design, so it becomes more risky putting wells into the very long laterals that are now being drilled. Part of it is maybe a history of performance with coil … some operators think it hasn’t worked well then so why should it now? That’s an old story with the sector; old attitudes die hard.”