Oilfield engineer turned entrepreneur Richard Selwa is poised to launch the offshore industry equivalent of the “nodding donkey” so characteristic of depleted oilfields onshore.
The Unmanned Production Buoy concept has the potential to unlock billions of pounds worth of North Sea oil resources that might otherwise be left below ground – whether tail-end resources from existing fields or marginal discoveries.
It offer the potential to be a game-changer.
The buoy-based concept should lessen currently massive dependence on the existing network of mostly platform-based production facilities in UK waters.
The North Sea estimate alone is some 8billion barrels oil equivalent scattered across hundreds of locations, of which about 200 are known opportunities.
And it is as applicable to the North Sea as to other offshore provinces around the world. In Asia-Pacific, the potential is even greater, with the opportunity count thought to be well over 1,000.
Plus, there is no reason why the buoy cannot also be used as an early production system for a large project.
Selwa stressed to Energy that, while the concept is new, the technologies brought together to create the package are not. This includes the seafloor storage unit, which is simply an evolution of the storage cells associated with concrete gravity-base platforms.
All are thoroughly proven; it’s just that no one has previously put them together in such an obvious and simple manner. Moreover, the UPB could potentially be managed from a mobile phone, just as many onshore fields are in Canada.
The first orders are currently under negotiation, with fabrication and assembly for North Sea deployment reasonably likely to happen in the UK.
Selwa has set up a company, UPB Ltd, specifically to pursue the development, construction and deployment of its unmanned system. The first iteration is designed for oil, but with a gas variant under development.
The UK offshore industry’s ITF (Industry Technology Facilitator) is carrying out a pre-FEED (front-end engineering design) study for a 15m version of the Unmanned Production Buoy system.
It is understood that the work is mostly complete.
Operations are not confined to just the North Sea. There is huge interest in East/South-east Asia, with the result that satellites are being established in Perth, Western Australia, and Singapore.
Selwa: “There will be a dual launch in Aberdeen and Perth when the management team are all on board.
“We are looking at Q2 for the launch. We already have our MD for Asia-Pacific on board.”
This new enterprise has attracted interest and support from the Scottish Government through the high growth business start-up support unit at Scottish Enterprise, plus overseas assistance from Scottish Development International.
This is because UPB is seen as a future Scottish business star.
Comparison with the nodding donkey onshore is perfectly valid as it, too, is a simple, effective and low-cost way of getting oil out of the ground.
There is a hunger in the marketplace for the maritime equivalent – the kind of technology that can make a return on a tiny hydrocarbons deposit as little as 500,000 barrels and perhaps even less depending on location, using a single well and production buoy.
Capital and operating costs are reckoned to be about 25% of conventional solutions and the system can be onstream within 72 hours of a drilling rig leaving location.
Selwa intends to package it as a complete system comprising a production buoy, tethers, tank, offload, risers and trees for up to five wells.
It will be re-deployable, unmanned and is reckoned to have a minimal environmental impact as there will be no flaring, while sand will be cleaned and disposed to sea and water will be re-injected or cleaned and disposed to sea.