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NDC leads project to build £2m portable P&A test site

The National Decommissioning Centre in Aberdeenshire.
The National Decommissioning Centre in Aberdeenshire.

The National Decommissioning Centre (NDC) has launched £2 million project to construct a new, “world-leading” test facility for the plugging and abandonment (P&A) of oil and gas wells.

The portable onshore test facility – known as a Barrier Qualification Test Chamber – will be built by Ellon-based engineering firm SengS, a Pryme Group company, and based at the NDC in Newburgh.

The developers say the site will act as a catalyst for the creation of a national research cluster in the field, involving a range of local companies and organisations.

It will be used by technology developers looking to trial new well decommissioning techniques, significantly reducing the costs and risks involved in deploying new technologies used to seal wells.

The project has been funded by the Scottish Government’s Decommissioning Challenge fund via the Net Zero Technology Centre (NZTC), which along with the University of Aberdeen is a partner in the NDC.

The North Sea has some of the world’s most stringent regulations for P&A, and the operation remains the single largest cost that operators currently face during the decommissioning process.

Current practices generally require the use of a drilling rig to plug and abandon a well at an average cost of £5m each. While newer, rigless technologies are emerging, qualifying these technologies typically requires access to an offshore well, which is risky and costly.

The new test Chamber will therefore provide a safe and inexpensive alternative for testing that can stimulate the commercialisation of new techniques.

Dr Sergi Arnau, who is leading the project at the NDC, said: “There are currently several rig-less plugging and abandonment technologies under development, including the use of thermite, bismuth alloys, and resins. But to be accepted by industry these techniques need to be verified, qualified and shown to be at least as effective as traditional cement plugs.”

He said the site would “significantly reduce the cost and risks” of testing and qualifying new techniques and will allow for the removal and analysis of the plugs – something that is impossible during offshore testing.

“Not only this, but the techniques developed and proved by this new facility will be directly exportable to basins around the world, underlining its potential on a global scale,” he continued.

NDC director professor Richard Neilson, of the University of Aberdeen, is a co-investigator in the project

“While the short-term benefits of the project are clear, in the long term it will stimulate the creation of a cluster that will benefit industry and academic research in the north-east of Scotland and beyond,” he added.

“The NDC is ideally placed to host this equipment given the strength of our in-house expertise and proximity to the North Sea, as well as the availability of other complementary testing equipment providing a one-stop shop for solutions.”

NZTC industry and partner network head, Roger Esson, also said: “As we move to further roll out our Well P&A Collaboration initiative – a multi-operator collaboration which undertakes field trials, enabling faster, lower-cost and wider industry adoption – we are confident that the barrier qualification chamber will become a key tool in assisting the initiative in successfully finding alternative barriers.”

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