Eighteen months ago, Chevron set up an Aberdeen satellite to its technology company in Houston. Prediction was that staffing in Europe’s energy capital would build to about 70 by now, and it has, with the prospect of growing to 120 – more than originally anticipated.
Mark Puckett, president of Chevron Energy Technology Company, told Energy that the unit, led by Dave Wagner, was already paying dividends on the original investment decision – both in the north-west Europe context and worldwide.
“We’ve put together a list of everything worked on here last year and it’s a fairly substantial list … linking with many parts of the world. Some is R&D and some is specialised services,” Puckett told Energy.
“Subsea engineering is key, but we’ve also been looking at the earth sciences … a lot for seismic processing and reservoir modelling.
“We’re actively pursuing people in the reservoir management area, plus particularly those with simulation skills. We’ve also been very active in what we call our process engineering business where there are now five specialists, with more to add as we’ve had good success in hiring and we’ve generated a lot of work.
“In subsea, we kicked off a project last year with a JIP (joint industry project) that we’re working through Heriott-Watt (University); another has been supporting the business unit in interpretation of exploration seismic data gathered from areas like West of Shetland and the Barents Sea.”
This includes the large Rosebank/Lochnagar oil&gas discovery West of Shetland, both from a seismic interpretation point of view but also potential project development.
“Within our technology organisation we have a group that looks at early concepts … early thoughts that can help drive thinking in the business unit,” said Puckett.
“This includes helping with the planning of the appraisal programme, making sure we understand the major uncertainties and how we might resolve these so we can progress them to the point of a project that might lead to sanction.
“We’re looking at the whole gamut of options. There’s a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between the Gulf of Mexico and West Africa on this. Obviously, metocean and climate conditions are different, but there are learnings from those areas that can be brought to play.”
The technology unit is also very active with more mature UK assets, such as Captain and Alba. In the case of Captain, advanced recovery opportunities are being examined, and this includes tapping Chevron expertise elsewhere in the world.
“It’s a critical question not just for Captain and Alba but probably for a lot of assets in the North Sea that are in decline.
“There’s a lot of resource in the ground … but how can we effectively develop them? That’s what we’re looking at with Captain and Alba.”
Classic enhanced recovery mechanisms such as surfactants, flooding, polymer-assisted – putting very expensive things in the ground in the hope of recovering more oil – are looked at, but Puckett pointed out that they have to be looked at in conjunction with drilling capabilities, also modelling the impact of applying such approaches.
Dave Wagner said: “I’ve seen the well paths for Captain … platform and subsea … and they’re not unlike other North Sea fields … complicated and with a range of uncertainty with regard to exactly where existing well bores are. Somehow, we’ve got to thread new wells through all of this to tap into other resources. So we have the latest tools here in Aberdeen to help us understand that … earth scientists and engineers to devise a mechanism that gets to those resources that may have been bypassed or not produced and which are still available.”
Puckett and Wagner said the future for fields like Alba and Captain lay in a mix of technologies and techniques. There wasn’t a simple solution to boosting recovery rates and the recipe could include techniques not even available to the market right now.
Puckett extrapolated this to the Gulf of Mexico and the Lower Tertiary discoveries, Jack and St Malo. These will probably require some form of artificial lift – possibly even a la Captain. But he warned that Jack and St Malo represented completely uncharted territory in terms of water depth, reservoir depth and related conditions.
Back at Alba and Captain, when these fields were originally developed, recovery rates were in the order of 30-35% (both are heavy oil). The aim now is to boost recovery to 50%.
As for subsea, per se, Wagner said the big resource resident in Aberdeen was being tapped to global advantage, notably Gulf of Mexico and West Africa.
Wagner said: “We’ve had people working here on qualification of trees and such for the Gulf of Mexico; we’ve had people supporting the installation of subsea wells in West Africa – Nigeria and Angola – and that’s ongoing.
“There’s a lot of expertise here that we’re trying to tap into. Subsea is certainly going to be one of the larger groups at the Aberdeen centre.”
A fourth highlight for Puckett and Wagner is reservoir simulation.
“We have this project with Schlumberger called Intersect … the next-generation reservoir simulation tool … which we’ve been working on for several years … pure R&D,” said Puckett.
But what’s the difference between the hive-based modelling approach that’s been around for the last 10 years or so and where Chevron/ Schlumberger are going?
“We’re harnessing advances in computing power with new algorithms … finding different ways of solving the equations,” said Wagner.
“By and large, the intent is to be able to deal with greater complexity and yet get answers more quickly.
“It’s also about being able to utilise seismic information and create a more representative earth model … the more representative that it is, the more value your simulation tool will have.
“The other piece that ties in is where we’re now trying to make real-time decisions based on data coming in from the field … and one of the tools we use to be able to do that is how fast can you turn around the simulation tool … playing with the positioning of wells and how that might impact on the amount of hydrocarbons that might be recovered.”
The foregoing is just a snapshot – so is Puckett happy with progress in Aberdeen?
“The quality of the people that we’ve attracted is outstanding,” he said.
“I’m very optimistic. When I look at what this group of people have done in engaging not just with the business unit in Aberdeen but globally, I’m very encouraged.”