NSRI Unveils Roadmap to Overcoming Subsea Storage Challenges

The National Subsea Research Initiative (NSRI) is on a mission to develop technology that will make subsea storage more viable, helping to increase the recovery of hydrocarbons and prolong the life of the North Sea.

The industry-led, technology organisation has issued a report on the outcomes of its recent subsea storage workshop which aimed to identify ways to stimulate investment in and encourage the development of emerging technologies which will speed up the shift from costly surface platforms to new lower cost standalone facilities.

Technology developers and the wider industry addressed the challenges and discussed the different routes to commercialising new subsea storage technology and ways to progress concepts through to infield implementation.

Industry professionals from across the country and Norway shared their knowledge and experience during a series of presentations on subsea storage issues, flow assurance and the transportation of fluids. 

The ideas generated from the workshop have allowed NSRI to create technology roadmaps – clearly documenting the challenges and potential solutions for subsea storage, for both processed and unprocessed fluids. 

Categorised into four groups – adopt, adapt, develop and collaborate – the roadmaps set out the short, medium and long term activities which will help progress the development of subsea storage facilities for widespread commercial use.
The roadmaps aim to encourage the uptake of technologies which will deliver immediate efficiencies, establish best working practices in the long term and see the industry working together to overcome barriers. 

NSRI believes the roadmaps could play an integral part in supporting the new Oil and Gas Technology Centre in its drive to maximise economic recovery from the UKCS through the exploitation of small pools. 

Dr Gordon Drummond, project director of NSRI said: "Subsea storage will play an important part in the future of the industry, when there will be less need for surface platforms and 'subsea factories' and autonomous, low cost production buoys are likely to become a more common solution. This will allow us to recover resources from smaller oil and gas fields and access hard to reach fields.

"It is vital that we focus on the technologies which will offer safe, cost effective methods to exploit the opportunities in smaller fields and tough sea conditions and move us towards a new field development solution.

"It was considered that, like many of the ideas generated, considerable focus was needed to tease out the specific barriers and enablers for the adoption of subsea storage technology in order to determine the gaps and to identify the viable routes to market. The roadmaps summarise these findings and aim to direct the developer community’s efforts towards the market driven solutions that will mature subsea hydrocarbon storage solutions.” 
NSRI’s report revealed that there is a market need for subsea storage solutions and potentially a new business model capable of fulfilling the perceived gaps.  

Subsea storage is presently considered for processed fluids only, however significant value could be achieved if storage solutions were able to perform the function of partially processing fluids. Gas separation and handling remains the primary technology challenge, because of its comparative high volume to value ratio when produced in small quantities in oil fields. 

According to NSRI, subsea storage tanks need to be considered as an industry wide solution. Although methods of subsea storage are well established, the industry would benefit from a more standardised approach. 

In contrast, the technology development needed to bring subsea storage of unprocessed fluids into widespread usage is significant and requires further exploration. 

There were also a number of ideas generated that could reduce the cost of transporting and maintaining storage tanks. It was believed that using small tanks would remove the need for heavy lift vessels and onshore maintenance.  

"The market opportunity for subsea storage as part of the stand-alone facilities may increase through decommissioning as a result of nearby small pools being stranded. It was revealed that there is an equally emerging market in the discoveries that are ‘yet to be found’ – developments which may come to light through the government’s recent seismic survey,” Dr Drummond added.

"Tanks cannot be considered on a single field basis, they must be assessed within the context of enabling the formation of multiple pools and equally must be considered as reusable.”

It is anticipated that a series of similar workshops will be conducted on separate subjects that will help the industry progress in its ambition to fulfil Maximum Economic Recovery (MER) from the UKCS. 

As the technology arm of Subsea UK, NSRI is the focal point for subsea research and development, bringing together industry, developers and academia to collaborate effectively to fast-track the introduction of new technology which will unlock the challenges facing North Sea fields and help the UK maintain its global position.

Read the full report here.