Remote operations will “change the oilfield services (OFS) world” according to Chris Jones, vice president for OFS in Europe at Baker Hughes.
Last year Baker Hughes completed a test of remote and automated systems for Equinor at its Oseberg field in Norway on KCA Deutag’s Askepott rig, allowing tasks like cementing, directional drilling and fluid engineering to be carried out from an onshore operations centre.
The successful test means operations will be cheaper, with fewer workers required offshore.
Jones said: “I really think it is going to change the OFS world. It’s going to start in Norway, be perfected there, and it’s going to cross the North Sea to the UK sector.
“I think once people see what it can do it will become the norm. I’ve drunk the Kool Aid and I’m not sure everyone in the organisation has yet, but time will tell.”
The “driving force” of the Equinor contract was to reduce the number of helicopter flights required and costly bed space offshore, with the successful test meaning Baker Hughes could cut the number of offshore staff required by half.
The move also has HSE benefits with “fewer fingers and toes in the way” at the rig site, and less chopper flights meaning reduced emissions from an environmental perspective.
Jones added: “The driving force behind this was to move the work onshore, reducing the cost associated with per bed offshore.
“Equinor quoted quite a high dollar number that surprised me, excluding pay and the cost of providing that bed space. It was way beyond any hotel I’ve ever stayed in. So really, it was about bringing it onshore.”
With that, there has been some “aggregation” of jobs but for the most part workers are moving to “different and higher value-adding roles rather than leaving the organisation”. One position that has been “swept away” is the directional driller offshore – a role that has been in place in the oilfield since the 1920s in California – but that position has now changed to a “well placement engineer” who works from the remote operations centre.
Where 60 directional drillers might have been needed for 10 rigs in the past, that is changing to about 25 well placement engineers for remote operations.
However, he said the change does not necessarily mean fewer jobs overall, adding: “It is very easy to think ‘OK there are 35 fewer roles, it’s a tough environment’. But actually one of the new roles offshore that suits a lot of the people who were direction drillers are the service pushers, the managers of the rig sites and we have 30 of those slots.
“So, effectively, we’ve gone from 60 offshore directional drillers to 55 roles that directional drillers have gone into. So we haven’t seen any major waves of redundancies.
“There is some aggregation and efficiencies but it is relatively minor at this stage. It’s single-digit, a handful of a percent, that actually allows for the benefit.”
It comes as operators look at new ways of executing efficient operations across the North Sea, with a continued crackdown on supplier costs being “unsustainable”, according to Jones.
A survey from Deloitte and Oil and Gas UK in December showed collaboration has deteriorated, albeit marginally, in the last year with some firms reporting that they are still “reeling” from years of “aggressive” cost cutting by clients. Jones said that, with more thoughtful and collaborative business models, things are turning around and the “push-pull of where the pain goes between operator and vendor is not going to fly long-term”.
He added: “I think the rig operators are pretty much operating for fuel, diesel and wages, they’re not paying the mortgages on the vessel and that’s unsustainable.
“We need to find that place where the basin can be sustainable for all participants.
“That’s not to say we haven’t got to be efficient, that’s not to say we haven’t got to be reasonable in our aspirations – I think we very much have to – but through a lot of the downturn it was very much old world behaviours of just retendering and creating a really fierce competitive environment. The pricing dropped and survivability was predicated on the supply chain largely working for cash, rather than working for a profit.
“I think that’s going to have to turn around and I do see that.”