Living longer in the North Sea

Keeping mature assets fit for the future. By Scott Martin

The past year has marked a significant milestone in the North Sea’s history, with one of the world’s largest oil producers, Shell, celebrating 50 years of North Sea production and predicting a positive outlook for the next 50. This renewed positivity and optimism has been reaffirmed recently with the likes of Gannet E coming back online, Buzzard restarting output and production from new fields, including Garten and Clair.

In January, Wood Mackenzie determined that drilling activity on the UK’s Continental Shelf was set to increase significantly over the next 12 months, following record lows due to the slump in crude oil prices, which delivered a heavy blow to the industry.

According to them, the relatively unexplored waters off the west of Scotland will be where considerable interest is focused, tapping into opportunities which could yield highly valuable results.

Put together, these promising milestones and predictions serve up a welcome boost to both production levels and the outlook for those working in the industry. But in order to sustain the next 50 years in the North Sea, it is imperative that we look at the need for ongoing investment in the oil and gas sector in order to support this extended life expectancy.

Last year saw a ten-year high for new projects in the North Sea, resulting in an extra 140,000 barrels of oil a day. But given that we have extracted more than 50 per cent of available reserves to date it is just as important to look after the ageing assets that have served us so well to date, as it is to establish new ones. So where do the opportunities lie to ensure these assets are fit for the brighter future the industry is hopeful of?

Innovation and technology are two key areas which will be integral to ongoing progress – areas which we are continuing to explore in order to breathe new life into ageing infrastructure. Our focus has been on optimising assets to ensure maximum productivity and reducing maintenance downtime. By providing innovative integrated work scopes and creating bespoke, fit for purpose engineered solutions, clients are benefiting from renewed levels of productivity from their original asset investments.

Whilst ‘optimistic’ may well be the new buzz word when it comes to discussions around drilling in the North Sea, for those in charge of the purse strings, it remains a cautious time with streamlining and improving efficiencies staying put at the top of the financial agenda. It is our job to find and implement the solutions which will enable operational cost decisions to be taken.

Oil & Gas UK also cautioned that the industry’s supply chain remains under pressure and that if the North Sea is to continue the upturn which kicked off last year, then further exploration and appraisal drilling needs to take place.

While the industry looks to prolong production and attract additional investment to facilitate this, it is the role of existing assets that will determine how successful enhanced production is over the coming decades. If industry predictions materialise and the sector benefits from a bumper year, it is vital to have a working infrastructure in place. Again, innovation through the supply chain service delivery is where the greatest value can be found and over the last few years, we’ve seen clients increasingly seeking out cost efficient solutions to extending asset service life.

It will not have gone unnoticed that the age profile of North Sea infrastructure is changing. More than 70 per cent of the world’s oil is based in mature fields, delivering around 59 million barrels per day (bpd). Managing ageing North Sea platforms is a growing issue, so life-cycle management and life-extension are of utmost importance to operators, specifically in the North Sea where more than half of assets have already gone beyond their initially conceived life expectancy.

Looking back to 2015, the rising maintenance costs to companies through an ageing infrastructure were already being recognised, prompting the supply chain to respond to the economical, technological and strategic challenges ahead. Whilst back then, the industry was looking at the widespread decommissioning of platforms, we’re now seeing a considerable U-turn and a growing requirement to ensure existing infrastructure is fit for purpose.

Ultimately, achieving optimum performance and minimum downtime is vital. Operators, and as a result their contractors, are under pressure to deliver quality repair, maintenance, and refurbishment work quickly, efficiently and above all else, safely. The move of the industry from generalists to specialists, primarily a result of the 2014 downturn, is one that has proven key to suppliers like ours, offering specific skilled products and services – and our service provision and expertise have adapted and diversified accordingly.

Platforms in later life will continue to play an important role but the priority right now is that production is maximised, in a safe manner and at the lowest cost. This is an integral part of our own work, where we aim to provide services that add value and offer customers solutions that enable them to get on with their own day jobs, safe in the knowledge that their assets are being upgraded and restored to the highest working order.

With experience across the complete life cycle, we understand the increasingly challenging environments of oil and gas recovery and the need for safe, profitable operations. We have provided specialised solutions both on and offshore, with extensive experience in the North Sea. We have seen – and navigated – both the boom and the bust and this experience has enabled us to help our clients best manage their ageing assets. With production levels on the rise again, is imperative that these assets are optimised, helping to raise the industry back onto its sturdy sea legs once more.

Just like modern medicine, there is an exact science to maintaining maturing assets for longer-term and it is important that operators have access to the right specialists, with the right knowledge, to ensure the best chances of extending the life expectancy of their investments.

Glacier Energy Services
Scott Martin is Executive Chairman at Glacier Energy Services, a UK-based energy services group operating across the oil and gas, renewables and industrial sectors internationally. The company was formed in 2011 through the acquisitions of Roberts Pipeline Machining and Wellclad. The company grew through further acquisitions of Site Machining Services, Ross Offshore and Professional Testing Services in 2012, 2013 and 2014 respectively and now delivers specialist products, services and engineered solutions relating to heat exchangers, onsite machining, nondestructive testing and weld overlay for existing and new energy infrastructure, delivered either onsite or at its workshops.

For further information please visit: