BAE Systems is marshalling its forces to break into upstream oil&gas, with an armoury of technologies and systems that could have a major beneficial impact offshore.
However, the defence contractor insists that it is not mounting simply a short-term raid followed by rapid withdrawal, as such companies have been prone to doing in the past.
The North Sea industry has witnessed a number of defence big names pursue and win contracts only to melt away almost overnight when military business started to look up.
BAE Systems has decided on a progressive approach and has teamed up with Aberdeen marine services company Meniscus to achieve its ambitions. Behind Meniscus is energy entrepreneur Alan Evett, who set up the firm to work with the defence contractor and strategically guide its offshore ambitions.
The first approach was made by Meniscus two years ago, though a year passed before a meaningful dialogue started, according to John Mills, head of new business sectors at BAE. If the venture works then, within a few years, BAE could be achieving substantial sales across a broad front into the offshore sector. In the case of subsea, Evett believes it offers the potential to bring “aircraft-type reliability” to systems where efficiency levels are not as high as should be possible.
“BAE has robust procedures and potential clients are encouraged by that approach,” Evett told Energy.
“They have much more emphasis on proven technologies than cutting-edge and the important thing is that they are able to integrate those technologies.”
He sees five areas where a mix of BAE products and services, augmented by capabilities at Meniscus, could have a worthwhile impact on the offshore industry. They are:
“We’re developing product lines in all of these. For example, in environment, we’re developing a system already used by BAE to identify risk to mammals in the marine environment,” said Evett.
BAE had originally developed this in order to gauge and minimise the impact of naval and other defence operations/exercises at sea and it is equally applicable to offshore activities such as seismic surveys. St Andrews University has been extensively involved in developing the sea mammals system.
On corrosion monitoring, Evett said: “These guys have developed and patented a film which can be stuck on to a surface and which can be used to monitor the integrity of coatings beneath insulation.
“On pipelines, for example, coupons of this material could be attached (pre-insulation) and linked together and integrated into a remote sensing system.”
Turning to asset and integrity management, Evett said this was about the efficient use of data that already exists as to the state of equipment, vessels and so forth. The challenge is how to filter and interpret that data and BAE has a way of doing it that was developed around the taskforce concept, where the condition of ships or aircraft or other military hardware can have a critical bearing on the ability of that taskforce to do its job.
“BAE has modelling techniques that could be applied offshore, especially to corrosion,” Evett added.
Even with decommissioning, he believes the defence contractor has technologies and procedures of value to the oil patch.
This includes sensors capable of “seeing” through materials and characterising contents/composition. This is about obtaining data/building a knowledge base so informed decisions can be made.
Meniscus is already looking at the idea of attaching such sensors to remotely operated vehicle-based inspection systems.
For subsea, there are two main angles – consultancy and using some of the subsea technology that BAE has developed, such as a tiny ROV called the Archer Fish in military circles.
“We have quite a lot of unmanned underwater technology and Archer Fish is a small vehicle with a fibre-optic tether that is used in sea mine disposal. It is also helicopter deployable,” said BAE’s Mills.
“We also have what we call Talisman, an underwater vehicle that could deliver several Archer Fish.”
It turns out that Shell employed this device to assess the contents of the tanks of Brent Spar during the mid-1990s wrangle with NGOs over whether or not the oil major was being honest about what the former tanker loading facility had left in its tanks prior to its intended scuttling in the eastern Atlantic.
Evett said the tie-up with BAE Systems will be launched in Aberdeen at Subsea 08 on February 13-14.
“This is a gently, gently approach by BAE.
“They want to understand the market first. We don’t want £200million of business tomorrow. We want to develop this steadily.”