International Research Institute of Stavanger (IRIS)

Exploring the unknown

The International Research Institute of Stavanger (IRIS) is an international research, qualification and testing facility for the oil and gas industry.

The organisation’s research abilities include the seven wells it has on site and the Ullrigg drilling and well centre; a full-scale testing rig which has been a mainstay of IRIS since its inception in the early 1970s. In addition, the research institute encompasses a number of laboratories and additional research facilities to cover its key areas of automated drilling, multiphase reservoir flow and integrated marine environmental monitoring, as well as the up and coming focus on sustainable energy, CO2 capture and energy efficiency.

Oddvar Skjaeveland, vice president of IRIS, outlines the institute’s background: “IRIS was founded as a general research institute in response to demand from the social science sphere, looking into investigating the safety of personnel on drilling platforms. The Ullrigg drilling and well centre was created in order to allow the presentation of new concepts and ideas from drilling contractors and oil companies to the industry on a big scale. Our abilities grew rapidly over the years and in 1981 we became the host of the national drilling technology laboratory, which received practical support from Norsk Shell. This facility has become globally recognised as internationally unique in relation to size and the full-scale rig. Over the years companies like Statoil have established research programs within our set up, putting R&D units into our facility and gaining funding for the expansion of concepts.”

Aiming to challenge the known and explore the unknown through advanced research and technology, the organisation’s 250 highly skilled and experienced workforce are divided throughout IRIS’ five main sectors. These units of focus include social science, centred around innovation and political formulation; bio-environment, looking at the impact of petroleum and current development on the marine environment; petroleum technology, operating within the Ullrigg drilling and well centre to develop smart and safe well technology; gas and energy, which is centred around the Risavika gas centre ideally located next to the main gas pipe line for extensive gas testing and research; and finally the commerce unit that collaborates with commercial companies to gain investment for new developing concepts – the Badger Explorer exemplifies applied research turning to commercial solution. Further research in the unknown is combining the initiative of Seabed Rig AS, a whole new concept evolving as a fully automated sub sea drilling rig for exploration drilling and the new research project of Hole in One Producer, HOP, enabling production drilling over distances of 30+km opening up possibilities of production from shore or from existing offshore infrastructures, reducing the environmental exposure.

IRIS’ main strengths lie in the best-in-class scientists, outstanding operational personnel and full-scale infrastructure it offers. The institute has facilitated the testing and research needs of a number of innovative companies, challenging projects within a well-established symbiosis. Research in energy and the affects energy has on the environment has become an increasingly hot topic for the industry, especially for the marine offshore side of the market.

Oddvar explains some of IRIS’ main projects: “We are focused on modern safe wells; creating ideas and supporting the current challenges the industry is facing. We have been involved in a concept called eLAD, which incorporates the gathering of data and experiences to evaluate new drilling technology, advisory system and process drilling work. This is about to be tested on the IRIS virtual drilling rig to note the consequences of the findings, this is a big project which has received funding from oil companies, as well as the Norwegian Research Council. Our work with Drilltronics fits into our vision of creating value added solutions for oil companies as it is a drilling optimisation project that enables the drilling of more challenging wells at the same cost. Similarly, MaxWells is evaluating algorithms for automatic drilling operations for maximum value creation throughout the whole chain, from geologist to driller.”

As a test facility IRIS has to ensure that it is at the same level as the market in terms of technical set up, supporting laboratories and the rig itself. The organisation’s wells range from 150 to 2000 metres in depth with the multilateral well coping with pressures of up to 5000 psi, while the Ullrigg drilling facility utilises 350 tonnes of weight and a top drive of two times 550 watt power.

The important role that the Ullrigg test centre plays in today’s innovation and development working environment is crucial to allow new ideas, methods and technology to be verified and tested prior to market introduction. This repeatedly proves to save the industry considerable value in time and money. To continue this, the greatest challenge is in obtaining funding for new equipment and infrastructure to maintain a leading position in the market, and to support basic and applied research.

Looking to the future, Oddvar outlines his vision for IRIS: “The challenge that lies ahead for us is in the development of more cost efficient wells to counter the fact that the cost of drilling and recovery has increased dramatically over the past few years. This change of focus to green energy and CO2 storage lies very close to our expertise within drilling, giving us an instant competency in the market. This is also closely linked to our work within the petroleum sector, which, though a politically focused area, remains our mainstay. In addition we will be developing in the areas of multiface reservoir flow and down-hole equipment. Our practical and expert facility holds a vital role in solving future challenges; from basic science and research to the test facilities and through to the market, we are a very definitive part of the overall value chain. The positive feedback that we receive from companies who have achieved success because of the quality report gained from IRIS is what boosts us to go to the next level.”


Services: Drilling research facility