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SPECIAL REPORT

Next Generation Elastomer and Plastic Sealing Technology for Offshore Oil and Gas Applications

Next Generation Elastomer and Plastic Sealing Technology for Offshore Oil and Gas Applications Life in a Cold Financial Climate No Compromise on Quality for a Longer Life Not Often Visible but Always Critical A Plan for Safety Must Include Seal Technology Sponsored by

Published by Global Business Media


NEXT GENERATION ELASTOMER AND PLASTIC SEALING TECHNOLOGY FOR OFFSHORE OIL AND GAS APPLICATIONS

SPECIAL REPORT

Next Generation Elastomer and Plastic Sealing Technology for Offshore Oil and Gas Applications

Contents Foreword 2 John Hancock, Editor

Next Generation Elastomer and Plastic Sealing Technology for Offshore Oil and Gas Applications Life in a Cold Financial Climate No Compromise on Quality for a Longer Life Not Often Visible but Always Critical A Plan for Safety Must Include Seal Technology Sponsored by

Published by Global Business Media

Published by Global Business Media Global Business Media Limited 62 The Street Ashtead Surrey KT21 1AT United Kingdom Switchboard: +44 (0)1737 850 939 Fax: +44 (0)1737 851 952 Email: info@globalbusinessmedia.org Website: www.globalbusinessmedia.org Publisher Kevin Bell Editor John Hancock Business Development Director Marie-Anne Brooks Senior Project Manager Steve Banks Advertising Executives Michael McCarthy Abigail Coombes Production Manager Paul Davies For further information visit: www.globalbusinessmedia.org

Next Generation Elastomer and Plastic Sealing 3 Technology for Offshore Oil and Gas Applications Gary Burton, (Graduate of Plastics & Rubber Institute UK), Managing Director, Arefco Special Products Ltd

Hybridisation and Sealing “Systems” Total Sealing Solutions Innovative Hybrid Sealing Solution Capabilities

Life in a Cold Financial Climate

7

John Hancock, Editor

Think About the Cost Uncertainty Need Not Equal Despair Regional Differences Mean That it’s Not All a Global Issue

No Compromise on Quality for a Longer Life

9

Peter Dunwell, Corresponent

The Life of an Oilfield Managing Beyond Design Life Keeping the Product Flowing

Not Often Visible but Always Critical

11

Francis Slade, Staff Writer

Better Materials Designed to Handle Challenging Conditions and Environments A Range of Solutions for a Range of Requirements

The opinions and views expressed in the editorial content in this publication are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily represent the views of any organization with which they may be associated. Material in advertisements and promotional features may be considered to represent the views of the advertisers and promoters. The views and opinions expressed in this publication do not necessarily express the views of the Publishers or the Editor. While every care has been taken in the preparation of this publication, neither the Publishers nor the Editor are responsible for such opinions and views or for any inaccuracies in the articles.

Seal Standards are an Important Part of the Engineering

A Plan for Safety Must Include Seal Technology

13

John Hancock, Editor

Leaks Have Consequences Good Practice Pays Regulations and Standards

References 15

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NEXT GENERATION ELASTOMER AND PLASTIC SEALING TECHNOLOGY FOR OFFSHORE OIL AND GAS APPLICATIONS

Foreword T

HE PROVERB starts, ‘For want of a nail…’

various material combinations to achieve the high

and ends ‘… the kingdom was lost’. It’s

level performance needed at extremes of application.

a colourful way of saying that, even relatively

The second piece takes a broad look at the financial

unsung components in a process have a vital part

climate within which all oil and gas operations

to play and nowhere is that more true than with

are conducted today. The low price of product is

seal solutions in the offshore oil and gas sector.

a challenge in any circumstances but, given the

The greatest risk faced by any offshore oil and

immense costs involved, it’s a particular challenge

gas operation is that of a leak. It wastes product,

for offshore operations. Moving on from there, Peter

it requires a halt in production but, worst of all, it

Dunwell considers one of the answers to low prices

endangers lives and can initiate a catastrophic

and that is extension of the life and capability of

pollution event. No operator wants to have a leak

established offshore installations beyond their design

on their watch. That’s why seal solutions are so

envelope. It can be done, but standards cannot be

important, because at every point of vulnerability in

lowered, which means that components such as seals

a system or process (usually a joint) all that keeps

must also be reviewed and, if necessary, updated to

the product from leaking out is the seal.

manage the new circumstances.

In the opening article of this Special Report Gary

Next, Francis Slade looks at seals, the materials

Burton, Managing Director of Arefco Special Products

from which they are made and how their engineering

Ltd, emphasises that the performance and reliability

is every bit as sophisticated as that for any part of

of seals are often the key to the integrity of operating

the process to cope with any challenges. Finally, we

systems. Yet the evolution of sealing technology has

consider the big issue of safety and the contribution

been relatively slow. He goes on to point out that the

that seal solutions can make to maintenance of

job of the seal designer today is to understand fully

workforce safety and environmental integrity.

the operational and environmental requirements and then, wherever possible, to work with the Application Engineers to optimise the seal design and material selection. Hybridisation technology is a key to providing the optimum engineered solutions using

John Hancock Editor

John Hancock joined as Editor of Offshore Reports in early 2012. A journalist for more than 25 years, John has written and edited articles and papers on a range of engineering, support services and technology topics as well as for key events in the sector. Subjects have included aero-engineering, auto-engineering and electronics, high value manufacturing, testing, aviation IT, materials engineering, weapons research, supply chain, logistics and naval engineering.

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NEXT GENERATION ELASTOMER AND PLASTIC SEALING TECHNOLOGY FOR OFFSHORE OIL AND GAS APPLICATIONS

Next Generation Elastomer and Plastic Sealing Technology for Offshore Oil and Gas Applications

At the forefront of sealing technologies A class leading solution provider for customers with challenging applications that require advanced elastomeric, plastic or metallic technologies.

Gary Burton, (Graduate of Plastics & Rubber Institute UK), Managing Director, Arefco Special Products Ltd

C

O L L A B O R AT I V E EN G I N EER I N G partnership is the key step change in evolution of the next generation sealing technology. The current generation of materials and designs for elastomer and plastic sealing systems have largely developed through a mechanism of adaptive progression from the “tried and tested” driven principally by risk management and commercial viability. In the energy industry, seals are still viewed as commodity items although, quite often, the performance and reliability of the seal is the key to the integrity of the operating system. Given these factors it is understandable that the evolution of sealing technology has been relatively slow and limited to “just make what we have now a bit better”. The same situation existed in the 1980s in the automotive industry and latterly in the 90s aerospace industry, where risk management through “total ownership” was the preferred approach. Today things are very different and management of expertise through collaborative partnerships ensure that sealing systems are engineered for purpose from first principals through a closely regulated and gated process. Therefore, it is the challenge for the oil and gas industry not only to drive material and design innovation to meet new environmental challenges but to embrace the expertise in the supply chain in order to arrive at the optimum solution. Invariably, there is always some degree of compromise in seal design, in that compatibility will dictate the material type which, in turn, then imposes limits on other capabilities by virtue of the base polymer chemistry. There is no “one size fits all” option from either a design or material selection viewpoint and so it is the job of the seal provider to “engineer for purpose”, working in close collaboration with the end user design engineering team.

Hybridisation and Sealing “Systems” Hybrid Bonded Composite Seals – Extending the Range of Temperature and Pressure. The job of the seal designer today is firstly to understand fully the operational and environmental requirements and then work with the Applications Engineers (wherever possible), to optimise the seal design and material selection. It is increasingly the case that dynamic sealing applications, which would traditionally be serviced by elastomeric seals, are now at the limit of temperature and pressure for elastomer based materials but inappropriate for metallic or energised plastics by virtue of relative movement of the sealing surfaces. Here we are now beginning to see the introduction of hybrid bonded composite seals with both elastic and specialist plastic components designed to extend the range of temperature and pressure for “rubber” seals by both material selection and presentation. Understanding the total operating system requirements and having the opportunity to contribute from first principals enables the seal provider to engineer a total solution rather than, as if often the case, retro-fit a seal design to a pre-determined location which almost always puts the performance of the seal at a distinct disadvantage. Hybridisation of materials is one of the technologies shaping the future of sealing solutions and this is at the heart of the development strategy for the UTEX group of companies of which Arefco Special Products is a member. Fine tuning of material formulations using nanotechnology to push chemical and environmental capabilities to the absolute limit is now accepted and common place but again comes with a hefty commercial penalty. Hybridisation still qualifies as an emerging

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NEXT GENERATION ELASTOMER AND PLASTIC SEALING TECHNOLOGY FOR OFFSHORE OIL AND GAS APPLICATIONS

Hybridisation still qualifies as an emerging technology and a great deal of work is still to be done in order to fully appreciate the mechanisms at work and how far this technology can improve

CNC CAPABILITY WITH LIVE TOOLING FOR COMPONENTS UP TO 62” DIAMETER, 16 FEET LENGTH AND 22 TONNE WEIGHT

technology and a great deal of work is still to be done in order to fully appreciate the mechanisms at work and how far this technology can improve.

Total Sealing Solutions The Importance of developing “sealing systems” is becoming more of a “risk sharing” exercise between supplier and end user, requiring committed relationships and mutually beneficial commercial arrangements. Increasing pressure and temperature demands coupled with sour or corrosive environments will inevitably push past the capability of current elastomer and plastic technology and so call for more development of metallic or ceramic based sealing systems. Here again it will be “trade off and compromise” between the demands of the application and the capability of the materials that will result in sealing solution providers being called upon to contribute to the development of the total operating system from the early concept stages of design. Ceramic and metallic seals give us the temperature, pressure and chemical resistance we need in today’s HPHT environment but generally have a lower reactive sealing capability at lower pressures and are unacceptable for dynamic environments or open tolerance fit conditions. Introducing elastomeric or plastic components can help resolve this issue but, at the same time introduce an “Achilles heel” to the design and limit performance. Hybridisation technology is again key to providing the optimum engineered solution using these material combinations and getting the game changing performance we need at the extremes of application. The benefits of hybridisation using different material combinations in the form of kits or bonded assemblies are not new in sealing 4 | WWW.OFFSHORETECHNOLOGYREPORTS.COM

technology. However, it’s usually on the basis that each material element has a discreet function to perform and does this independently of the properties of the other elements. A back up ring in a “T” seal assembly will perform equally as well with soft or hard Nitrile rubber or high temperature fluorocarbon elastomers. The principal of hybridisation is that the net effect of a material combination enhances the properties of both above that which would be expected from each as an individual. This is not exactly a true synergy as the elements remain as discreet components but is more representative of a symbiosis where each benefits from the presence of the other. Hybridisation still qualifies as an emerging technology and a great deal of work is still to be done in order to fully appreciate the mechanisms at work and how far this technology can improve the capabilities of established sealing materials when placed in combination as a hybrid structure. Given that the established suite of materials has only really emerged since the late 60s with the introduction of perfluoroelastomers, advanced engineering plastics and polyaramid fabrics, there is still considerable scope to continue the commercialisation of sealing systems based on these more “exotic” polymers as the cost versus benefit relationship improves, by allowing access to otherwise unattainable oil and gas reserves. The oil and gas industry, although both innovative and motivated, is also extremely risk averse and so the gestation period for radical new materials and technologies is usually measured in years. Representative simulation of rig operating conditions, especially downhole environments, is exceptionally difficult and expensive to achieve and so to initiate qualification programs with OE participation or sponsorship using new


NEXT GENERATION ELASTOMER AND PLASTIC SEALING TECHNOLOGY FOR OFFSHORE OIL AND GAS APPLICATIONS

At the forefront of sealing technologies A class leading solution provider for customers with challenging applications that require advanced elastomeric, plastic or metallic technologies.

IN-HOUSE CONTROL OF POST MANUFACTURE SUPPLEMENTARY OPERATIONS INCLUDING PAINTING, COATING, AND ETCHING

materials with no service pedigree is a rare event, to say the least. Developing established materials to enhance the performance of sealing systems with an established service history has its obvious advantages in terms of general acceptance; however the sealing system provider must also be capable of undertaking extensive comparative analysis between first and next generation designs and material combinations. The importance of sealing system research and development is becoming more of a “risk sharing” exercise between supplier and end user, requiring committed relationships and mutually beneficial commercial arrangements, the model for which has existed in the automotive and aerospace industries for some considerable time. The net effect of this evolution in sealing development in the oil and gas industry is likely to be the survival of those most able to financially support larger research and development programs inclusive of extensive product validation and testing. Understanding the increasing oil and gas market requirements for sealing solutions and being at the forefront of sealing technologies dictates that we at Arefco continue to drive innovation forward to sustain our position of leading and not following the pack.

Innovative Hybrid Sealing Solution Capabilities Arefco Special Products and Utex Industries Inc. are synonymous with compression moulding of elastomers, composites, rubber to metal bonded components and modular systems. From a component perspective, we are recognised as leaders in the design and manufacture of oilfield packers and spring seals. Taking all that we

know about these components coupled with the increasing demands of the applications, it was a natural next technology evolution to design and industrialise the next generation of these components, both of which have been designed and developed using our hybridisation methods. Firstly, following the Macondo disaster, the control and operation of oilfield packers has been severely tightened including the restriction of packers being lubricated once in service. The impact of this is reduced service life due to increased friction and wear. In some cases packers manufactured in the same materials and by the same manufacturing techniques, resulted in life reduction from 2 years to 6 weeks. The cost of increased product requirements, inventory, management, service intervals and downtime is extraordinary. Arefco Special Products Ltd has pushed the existing technology to its limits and has now developed a hybrid packer system to combat the impact of wear, but maintain ease of installation. We have achieved this without increasing the number of components to be installed and also retrofit into existing housing envelopes. This solution utilises our technical know-how of bonding systems. We have leveraged this knowledge to develop a packer which is both elastomer (NBR) and Polyurethane; these materials are married together to become one homogenous component along with the metal end rings. Through rigorous testing, we have determined that this bonded liner does not negatively impact on the flexibility of the packer – it energises as a “standard” packer would – and that the integrity of the bond is

Arefco Special Products Ltd. Jubilee Industrial Estate, Ashington, Northumberland, NE63 8UA +44 (0)1670 819513 www.arefco.co.uk

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NEXT GENERATION ELASTOMER AND PLASTIC SEALING TECHNOLOGY FOR OFFSHORE OIL AND GAS APPLICATIONS

The oil and gas industry, although both innovative and motivated, is also extremely risk averse and so the gestation period for radical new materials and technologies is usually measured in years

ON-SITE FULLY ENCLOSED TEST CELL, PARAMETERS TAILORED TO CUSTOMER REQUIREMENTS, WITNESS TESTING AVAILABLE

stronger than that of the bulk material. This technology is available for manufacture to customer requirements in both solid and split packer designs. Our second major innovation has been our next generation HPHT spring seal. This was borne out of listening to our customers and again taking our existing technologies to the next level. The term high pressure and high temperature is quite a fluid one and what is regarded as high pressure and also high temperature has increased significantly over the last few years. Unfortunately, sealing technology has not always kept up. It is commonplace that U-type seals originally designed for pneumatic applications and rated up to 5000-7500psi are still used. The impact of using these seals in applications seeing 10,000, 15,000 and 20,000psi is invariably damaged hardware and increased downtime, so the cost is not only in replacing seals more frequently but

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also the housings. Another constraint of using the U-type seals is that there are normally “standard” sizes; the Arefco Special Products seal can be manufactured to suit industry recognised grooves but also non-standard grooves which may have larger extrusion gaps, giving the customer better flexibility in design. This seal design is also a hybrid and is so exciting that the technology is now patent pending. Wanting to develop a solution which would again retrofit into existing housings was paramount in our design concept as was producing a single piece component. Taking the benefits of springs in spring seals and back up rings in multi-component systems, we have designed a seal which has two anti-extrusion defence elements. Usually when developing a seal for high pressure applications, there is a price to pay (sealing at low pressure); so again, our design concept had to include an elastomer which maintained its elastic properties and sealed at both low and high pressure. Our hybrid HPHT seal has also been extensively tested externally and has successively passed a collection of tests including 30,000psi at ambient and 20,000psi at 150°C. The HSN elastomer also boasts Norsok M710 and API 6a Annexe F PR2 immersion testing for Sour Gas applications. The seal itself is available in a collection of elastomer, engineered plastics and spring materials depending on the application conditions. This seal is a homogenous hybrid single piece component and to service the needs of both OEM and aftermarket is engineered to retrofit into existing housings. If you are interested to learn more about these new developments or any other sealing requirements, please contact us and we will be more than happy to discuss your application.

Contact Arefco Special Products Ltd, Jubilee Industrial Estate, Ashington, Northumberland, NE63 8UA, Tel: +44 (0)1670 819513


NEXT GENERATION ELASTOMER AND PLASTIC SEALING TECHNOLOGY FOR OFFSHORE OIL AND GAS APPLICATIONS

Life in a Cold Financial Climate

At the forefront of sealing technologies

John Hancock, Editor Worrying about the current low price oil market is less useful than understanding it and realigning processes to live within the new constraints

N

OBODY EVER said that winning oil and gas from beneath the world’s oceans is easy but at least it has always been well rewarded… well, up until June 2014 when the price for Brent crude stood at $115.19 a barrel, it was well rewarded; but in the year that followed the price trend was all down. At the time of writing, oil prices had steadied but around the very low level of c$50.00 for a barrel (bbl) of Brent crude having briefly, in late August, fallen below $45.00/bbl. Some more alarmist predictions have forecast prices as low as $20.00/bbl in 2016: it seems unlikely but then who, in early 2014, would have expected prices to fall below $100.00/bbl let alone $50.00? It seems that the offshore oil and gas sector has to make up its mind with one option being to shut down and hand the market back to the onshore giants like Saudi Arabia: but once the competition had left the field (excuse the pun) where would the onshore producers take prices?

Think About the Cost The alternative to shutting down the offshore sector is to find a business model that will work during a prolonged period of low prices and a great deal of thought is currently engaged in exploring this possibility. With recent tax breaks for the North Sea offshore sector and promised further support, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osbourne recognised that there is a longterm strategic and economic value in having control over indigenous hydrocarbon reserves to offset the risk of a reverse price war come the economic upturn. As recently as June 2015, Mark Adeosun of Douglas-Westwood addressed this matter in Offshore magazine, ‘Falling Oil Prices – how will they impact the deepwater market?’1 He starts constructively with, “Now is the time to refocus on standardization in the oil and gas (O&G) industry and reduce costs to ensure the viability of high capex [capital expenditure]

A class leading solution provider for customers with challenging applications that require advanced elastomeric, plastic or metallic technologies.

deepwater developments.” As he sees it, there is a degree of natural selection that will assist in this purpose. “As suppliers work through backlogs, the reduction in component orders will increase competition and, consequently, lower costs.” It is also the case that some parts of the supply chain will continue to work at a reasonable rate while supplying components whose inclusion in any offshore oil and gas project is non-negotiable – safety related and/or required by regulatory authorities. Rigzone2 in February 2015 suggested that, “not all firms felt the full impact of lower oil price simultaneously – those operating in the development segment are mostly continuing business as usual…” Also, the SURF (subsea, umbilicals, risers and flowlines) segment has not yet felt the chill wind of low prices because they are still working on orders placed earlier or for jobs that cannot be delayed. In fact, some would say that having the chance to catch-up on their backlog of orders is almost a welcome position for these businesses. Nevertheless, the expectation is that they will need to think about the impact of low prices before that becomes a problem. If low prices persist for the next couple of years, and there’s little to indicate that they won’t, and if investment capex is reined in, then the effects will soon enough be felt all through the supply chain.

Uncertainty Need Not Equal Despair On the other side of the coin, Douglas-Westwood expects demand for maintenance, modification and operational (MMO) services to rise over the period 2015-2019 from 2014s $95 billion. And, with the closer focus on price, it is reckoned that, while conditions and productivity will vary from field to field, most deepwater operations could learn to be profitable within an $80/bbl price and it would be a reckless for anyone to predict that energy (i.e. oil) prices will remain low for ever. However, as Jason Waldie, also of Douglas-

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NEXT GENERATION ELASTOMER AND PLASTIC SEALING TECHNOLOGY FOR OFFSHORE OIL AND GAS APPLICATIONS

AREFCO - EXPERTS IN MULTI-COMPONENT BONDING SOLUTIONS INCLUDING RUBBER TO METAL, RUBBER TO PLASTIC AND RUBBER AND PLASTIC TO METAL

West Africa has seen increased activity and Brazil’s offshore market has boomed. Companies have also been watching Mexico with keen interest

Westwood, explained in the Rigzone article (see reference above) “This is a period of uncertainty. Companies are not sure at this point what will happen going forward, projects are being pared back this year, next year and certainly until things get back into a natural equilibrium ... expensive projects such as… some of the ultra-deepwater … will be delayed until oil price gets up to the right level.” Demographic predictions suggest that between 2010 and 2025 the world’s population will grow by more than 1.1 billion with 1 billion being added to the urban consumer class as growing populations migrate from rural, low energy consumption areas to cities where their expectations of ‘things to own’ and consumption of energy will rise exponentially. Growing populations around the world with continually rising expectations; combined with the finite nature of hydrocarbon resources point to a long term sustainable price. Also, whatever developments there might be in the renewable and sustainable energy sectors, they are likely to take time to come to fruition and to not be financially viable for the foreseeable future, which makes them less attractive in a time of straitened global financial circumstances. For these and other reasons, the medium-term (the next two or three decades at least) outlook for oil and gas demand is strong. Nevertheless, taking a global view, although Oil & Gas 360 in July 20153 reported that “The EU is the only major economy showing steady declines in natural gas demand...” the same article concluded, agreeing with the International Energy Agency (IEA) assessment that demand is unlikely to fully recover for five to ten years – a short time on the scale of offshore

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field life but enough to make planning for better costs worthwhile.

Regional Differences Mean That it’s Not All a Global Issue Another key factor is the growing importance of production from subsea fields off Central and South America and Africa. Some of these fields are still in the early stages of development and so wouldn’t expect to be getting a return on expenditure yet anyway. Heidi Vella, writing in Offshore Technology in January 2015, ‘Future outlook: the offshore oil & gas industry in 2015’4 reported that, “West Africa has seen increased activity and Brazil’s offshore market has boomed. Companies have also been watching Mexico with keen interest…“ The same article quotes the International Energy Agency (IEA) special report published in October 2014, “… almost 30% of global oil and gas discoveries made over the last five years were in SubSaharan Africa.” To conclude, Vella quotes Infield Systems’ Caterina Podevyn; “Low energy prices will continue to affect investment decisions, particularly on capital intensive developments where economic gain is marginal – high risk areas, whether this be environmental or political, will undoubtedly be met with caution when operators assess development plans.” We can, though, conclude with a positive thought from Lorenzo Simonelli, President and CEO of GE Oil & Gas5. “The key to maximizing value in this price-challenged environment lies in providing cutting-edge solutions quickly, and delivering cost savings and operational efficiency for our customers’ existing and future operations.”


NEXT GENERATION ELASTOMER AND PLASTIC SEALING TECHNOLOGY FOR OFFSHORE OIL AND GAS APPLICATIONS

No Compromise on Quality for a Longer Life Peter Dunwell, Corresponent Life extension is a good way to get more value from current assets but it

A class leading solution provider for customers with challenging applications that require advanced elastomeric, plastic or metallic technologies.

cannot be at the expense of standards for any component

I

N LIGHT of the last year’s fall in oil prices, it should be no surprise that across the oil and gas sector, companies are looking for ways to either reduce costs and/or improve net returns on their hugely expensive offshore installations. One way of dealing with the financial challenges outlined in the previous article is to spread the period over which an investment can generate a return by extending the life and/or reach of current assets. This is not, though, an unmitigated boon: life and reach extensions, while increasingly common, can only be achieved within strict regulatory and management parameters. Nevertheless, it is an option that allows current installations to take advantage of the improvements in recovery techniques since the installations were first installed to extract more reserves from fields where the main capital expenditure (capex) has already been incurred and covered.

The Life of an Oilfield In order to properly understand field life extension, we need first to establish the life stages for an offshore oil and gas field. Atlantic Canada Offshore6 identifies four such stages: exploration (locating the resources), development (planning and construction), production (when every technology to optimise productivity will need to be employed) and decommissioning (closing the installations and safely removing any infrastructure). Cairn Energy7 takes a similar view but in greater detail, over more than 30 years and consisting of eight stages plus decommissioning:1. Due diligence; 2. Prequalification; 3. Exploration, seismic survey; 4. Site survey; 5. Exploration drilling; 6. Appraisal drilling; 7. Development;

At the forefront of sealing technologies

8. Production; 9. Decommissioning. Overall, as the IFP School puts it in ‘What are the main steps of an oil or gas field development project?’8, “A hydrocarbon field has a long life cycle: from the discovery of a petroleum deposit to the first oil/gas, exploration and production, activities are spread over several decades.” As we’ve already said above, there will be other considerations than simply the desire for more production from facilities already in place and largely paid for. This cautionary note is clearly apparent in Sushil Palkar’s and Tore Markeset’s Springer Link paper, ‘Extending the Service Life Span of Ageing Oil and Gas Offshore Production Facilities‘9; “… petroleum fields are still producing substantial levels of hydrocarbons which are recoverable and profitable if the field’s lifetime is extended. Thus, parts of this infrastructure are being considered for use beyond their planned design life. However, focusing on safety considerations, the condition of systems, structures and components (SSC) may not be acceptable for extended operation.”

Managing Beyond Design Life Given these constraints, a number of experts in the field have set their minds to the question of, ‘how can an offshore asset be profitably managed when it’s past its design life?’ In one thorough contribution, Anupam Ghosal, of the The Standards Agency, DNV, has compiled a very useful paper, ‘Helping offshore assets age gracefully’10 in which he states, “The structures of fixed offshore platforms are constantly exposed to a hostile environment. The approach detailed in the RLA [remaining life assessment] identifies the structural asset reliability, integrity, vulnerability and risks associated with safe operations that need to be managed before the fixed offshore installation is considered acceptable for operating beyond its design life.” In particular he

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NEXT GENERATION ELASTOMER AND PLASTIC SEALING TECHNOLOGY FOR OFFSHORE OIL AND GAS APPLICATIONS

Managing the technical

prices such as is the current experience. But that proper support must be integral to any life extension programme.

integrity of offshore

Keeping the Product Flowing

assets is one of the most challenging tasks imposed by a life extension project

AREFCO - EXPERTS IN COMPRESSION MOULDING OF ELASTOMER AND RUBBER TO METAL BONDED SEALING SOLUTIONS

highlights that, “Offshore pipelines are expected to be operated safely and securely in a variety of hostile environments.” In a similar vein, The Wood Group11 also focuses on safety “Managing the technical integrity of offshore assets is one of the most challenging tasks imposed by a life extension project.” As can be seen, life extension is not, in itself, a cost-free or even a very low cost option and so anything that will contribute to enhanced production and/or reliability from the field or through the installation will almost certainly be cost effective. And, of course, there is no purpose in extending a field’s working life unless that can be achieved profitably so factors such as the quality and integrity of seals will be a very important factor in achieving that end. Life extension has become an important factor in optimising the profitability of fields even when oil prices are high; properly supported by the best technology in all areas, it will be a critical contributor to profitability in times of low

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Notwithstanding all of the above, the critical factor in the operation of any offshore oil and gas installation, within or beyond its design life, is to be able to maintain continual production. Any break in production will incur a range of costs: personnel standing by on full pay, the costs associated with starting and stopping production, lost revenue… the list is long. This would be true for any oil and gas production facility but it’s especially important for offshore facilities which have to operate in the harshest environments and usually a long way from shore. In these circumstances, the reliability of largely unseen but vital components such as seals becomes all the more critical. Oilfield Technology’s ‘Meeting offshore oil and gas seal standards for optimum results‘12 nicely summed up the importance of appropriate and good quality seal solutions; “Offshore oil and gas facilities are known for their rough environment, which often makes for a burdensome sealing environment. Matching the correct seal can extend seal life and cut down on maintenance – both planned and unplanned: thereby optimising production costs for the long term. In the oil and gas industry, it is especially vital to comply with industry standards and new sealing materials as they come into the market.” Every component in the production process is vital, including seals on whose integrity the whole operation will depend.


NEXT GENERATION ELASTOMER AND PLASTIC SEALING TECHNOLOGY FOR OFFSHORE OIL AND GAS APPLICATIONS

Not Often Visible but Always Critical

At the forefront of sealing technologies

Francis Slade, Staff Writer The integrity and durability of seals is a key component in the viability

A class leading solution provider for customers with challenging applications that require advanced elastomeric, plastic or metallic technologies.

and safety of any offshore oil and gas installation

R

EADERS WILL have gathered from the preceding articles that technology and engineering employed in the offshore oil and gas sector will be challenged to contribute greater efficiency, lower costs or, preferably, both towards the sector’s viability during a time of unprecedented financial constraint. That applies to seals as much as to any component in the process and manufacturers of these little seen but vital parts have been making their own efforts to push the boundaries of materials, structure and capabilities for their products in order to improve operational effectiveness, increase the time for which they can remain in place and reduce the likelihood of failure with all that entails.

Better Materials Designed to Handle Challenging Conditions and Environments One area of development has been in the field of hybridisation, the combination of different materials into one new material – more like breeding the perfect specimen of an animal, rather than simply mixing substances. Whereas mixed substances remain what they are, albeit in a mixture, with hybridised materials, the result is a wholly new material enjoying the qualities of its ‘parent’ materials but being a discrete material in its own right. This has helped seal manufacturers handle the extreme HPHT (high pressure and high temperature) environments in which their products have increasingly to operate. Hybridised materials combine the qualities of materials able to deal with either condition and to deal with other challenges that will increasingly arise as exploration pushes the envelope of exploitability ever further out to deeper, colder and rougher oceanic environments. Plus, as well as deeper holes encountering greater pressure and temperatures, some of the latest recovery processes also introduce high temperatures and pressure either as part of their process or as a result of their operation. And we mustn’t forget

that traditional challenges such as vibration and the corrosive nature of the product will remain. As the previous article made clear, the offshore working environment is at best challenging and at worst hostile. A combination of climate, oceanic conditions, salt water, sub-sea pressures and movement and a product that is often very corrosive poses significant challenges for any engineering and none more so than the seals that ensure integrity of joints where polluting product could leak out or contaminating sea water leak in. Quality of component is the best way to ensure that doesn’t happen. As Oilfield Technology put it13; “By working with a supplier that has an extended offering of compliant materials, oil and gas organisations receive greater processing performance…”

A Range of Solutions for a Range of Requirements As well as materials developments, makers of sealing solutions have created a whole range of seals to meet the varying requirements for different stages of the oil and gas production process and, in the case of offshore installations, the very harsh conditions. While this Report is not the place to catalogue available seals, it is important to note that the seal, which might once have been a simple mono-material, single structure component, is today a piece of precision engineering in its own right with not only hybridised materials but also a multi-part structure to ensure that it is able to handle challenges from every part of the process and every type of environment to which it is likely to be exposed. The best seals today will be designed and constructed to be able to handle 20,000psi working pressure (with test capability up to 30,000psi) and temperatures in the range 150/177°C (302/350°F). It is also the case that sometimes a standard seal might not be right for a particular application; in that case, operators will turn to providers who can create a bespoke solution to exactly match the needs of a specific job.

Arefco Special Products Ltd. Jubilee Industrial Estate, Ashington, Northumberland, NE63 8UA +44 (0)1670 819513 www.arefco.co.uk

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NEXT GENERATION ELASTOMER AND PLASTIC SEALING TECHNOLOGY FOR OFFSHORE OIL AND GAS APPLICATIONS

RUBBER TO METAL BONDED SEALS INCLUDING METAL END CAP SEALS, FLOWLINE SEALS AND OILFIELD PACKERS

A key to lowering downtime is to understand how seals will react over time when exposed to severe working conditions

Seal Standards are an Important Part of the Engineering Given the challenging nature of where they have to work and the catastrophic potential for any failure, regulators have always taken an interest in the standards applied to every aspect of seal solutions production, installation and operation. For instance, the UK Health and Safety Executive (UK HSE) has established detailed guidelines for each element in seal technology. Take their paper14 on Elastomers used for fluid containment in offshore oil and gas production. Not only does it explain what the subject materials do, “…elastomers are employed extensively throughout the industry for fluid containment in offshore oil & gas production, often in critical locations. Important applications use elastomeric components as seals…” but also, the guidelines set out the challenges, “the nature of elastomers is such that, when used in contact with fluids and/or subjected to applied forces, significant deterioration may occur. However, modes of deterioration can follow predictable routes such that an elastomeric component

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so-exposed can continue to function, often to completion of design life.” The importance of seals for the offshore sector is summed up in Empowering Pumps May 2015 article, ‘Meeting Offshore Oil and Gas Seal Standards for Optimum Results’15: “Downtime for planned or unplanned maintenance on an offshore platform or FPSO (floating production storage and offloading unit) is a significant cost to the operator and minimizing this directly impacts the operator’s bottom line. A key to lowering downtime is to understand how seals will react over time when exposed to severe working conditions. Extending the long term life of the seals is one priority but ensuring safety is paramount.” Seal technology is in a state of constant development to not only improve the performance of seals in the sector as it is today but to prepare for the additional challenges that will be posed as operators move ever further offshore and into rougher, deeper waters. In that sense, buyers will always need to be aware of future as well as current needs when selecting their seal solution.


NEXT GENERATION ELASTOMER AND PLASTIC SEALING TECHNOLOGY FOR OFFSHORE OIL AND GAS APPLICATIONS

A Plan for Safety Must Include Seal Technology

At the forefront of sealing technologies

John Hancock, Editor Seals are often the first line of defence against leaks and the appalling

A class leading solution provider for customers with challenging applications that require advanced elastomeric, plastic or metallic technologies.

consequence that can follow

T

HE WORST event for any offshore operator is a disaster such as that which befell the Piper Alpha platform. With 167 lives lost, the July 1988 event remains the worst offshore disaster in history. Like all process-related disasters viewed with the benefit of hindsight, it was avoidable and, according to Offshore Technology16, “occurred due to gas leakage from one of the condensate pipes at the platform.” It was not directly the failure of a seal but rather a failure of procedure that left an inadequate temporary seal in place when the process was incorrectly restarted; however, it shows what catastrophic consequences can ensue where volatile gases or liquids are able to escape into an environment where ignition sources are all too numerous.

Leaks Have Consequences Oil & Gas UK’s paper on ‘Oil Spills’17 sums up how and where leaks can occur; “Accidental discharges of oil can arise from equipment failure or from human errors during a range of offshore operations, e.g. the transfer of diesel from supply vessels, overfilling of tanks, well operations and incorrect operation of produced water treatment equipment. Recently there have been concerns that the ageing of infrastructure may increase the risk of incidents.” In short, leaks can occur anywhere in a system where there is a perforation or heavy corrosion but the most vulnerable places for leaks are joints and that is where seals can make the difference between vulnerability and integrity in the component. And the consequences of a leak are not only counted in human lives lost, though that will always be the greatest cost. The problem is that, as the World Wildlife Fund18 has identified, “Many of the planet’s most diverse and ecologically important areas – including the Arctic and Virunga National Park in the Congo Basin – also happen to hold large underground deposits of oil and gas.” Nowhere is that more true than in the oceans, where offshore exploration and

production take place. The cost of leaks on the immediate ecosystem in which an installation is operating and on the wider environment is immense and often irreversible. Consider the damage wrought by the disaster when the Deepwater Horizon rig failed which, allowed an estimated 4.9 million barrels of crude oil to enter the marine environment of the Gulf of Mexico. On a more specific scale, fisheries can be destroyed by oil leaks with consequences for livelihoods and for food supplies. The European Parliament considered this in its 2013 paper, ‘The impact of oil and gas drilling accidents on EU fisheries’19; “Accidents occurring offshore in relation to the Oil and Gas (O&G) industry may produce significant damaging effects on the marine environment, and particularly on the fishing and aquaculture industries.” The paper continues to set out penalties for failures.

Good Practice Pays The importance of all the above as far as this Report is concerned is that good practice and component selection with seals will help operators to minimise the risks of leakages and, in the event that a leak occurs, will at least enable them to demonstrate a serious approach to the matter. Oil & Gas UK even offers a cash prize for the best safety practice through its annual ‘UK Oil and Gas Industry Safety Awards’. Of course, as is so often the case in life, with leaks and spills, prevention is better and probably less costly than cure. The UK Health and Safety Executive (UK HSE) takes that view and devotes a great deal of thought to ‘Prevention, Control and Mitigation of Explosions’20, including, “…the emphasis should always be on explosion prevention (e.g. through prevention of leaks or elimination of ignition sources)…” There’s a lot of monitoring and management that goes into any safety issue on an offshore installation but, where leaks are concerned, the quality and technical ingenuity of seals will offer a good basis on which to build any safety plan.

Arefco Special Products Ltd. Jubilee Industrial Estate, Ashington, Northumberland, NE63 8UA +44 (0)1670 819513 www.arefco.co.uk

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NEXT GENERATION ELASTOMER AND PLASTIC SEALING TECHNOLOGY FOR OFFSHORE OIL AND GAS APPLICATIONS

challenges with a solution provider who not only has a record for innovation and ingenuity but also will be happy to consider an exact requirement.

There’s a lot of monitoring and

Regulations and Standards

management that goes into any safety issue on an offshore installation but, where leaks are concerned, the quality and technical ingenuity of seals will offer a good basis on which to build any safety plan

RUBBER TO METAL BONDED SEALS INCLUDING METAL END CAP SEALS, FLOWLINE SEALS AND OILFIELD PACKERS

In previous articles, we have seen just how challenging is the environment in which any offshore engineering has to function and even a cursory glance at any oceanic oil and gas installation will identify many dozens of places where different parts of the process meet or where pipework is joined up to machinery (pumps, filters, splitters, etc.). At every joint, there is potential for leakage into or out of the process, especially where the two joined parts are of different materials. Only a welldesigned (sometimes bespoke) seal will offer the maximum assurance for the continuing integrity of all those joints. I won’t offer a list of seal types but readers would be well-advised to discuss their sealing

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As in any area of offshore oil and gas operation, there are copious regulations and standards around the engineering and management of seals. This is always important but becomes a particular concern where assets are being operated beyond their design life. Apart from the integrity and performance of seals designed to work in the original set-up, regulators will also be concerned that seal solutions in any life extended programme will also keep up with any additional challenges that the system might face. For instance, life extension will often go hand-in-hand with the exploitation of previously uneconomic products that have been rendered recoverable by new technology but where the seal technology on which the integrity of the system rests must also be brought up to date. To close with a quote from Oilfield Technology21, “As sealing requirements continue to change and become more challenging, new sealing compounds and technologies are being developed to meet these demanding conditions.” It’s a fitting note on which to close.


NEXT GENERATION ELASTOMER AND PLASTIC SEALING TECHNOLOGY FOR OFFSHORE OIL AND GAS APPLICATIONS

References: 1

Offshore Magazine http://www.offshore-mag.com/articles/print/volume-75/issue-5/international-field-development/falling-oil-prices-how-will-they-impact-the-deepwater-market.html

2

Rigzone http://www.rigzone.com/news/oil_gas/a/137372/Oil_Prices_Leave_Uneven_Impact_on_Offshore_Sector

3

Oil & Gas 360 http://www.oilandgas360.com/europes-natural-gas-demand-down-22-since-2010-and-falling/

4

Offshore technology http://www.offshore-technology.com/features/featurefuture-outlook-the-offshore-oil-gas-industry-in-2015-4443293/

5

GE Oil & Gas http://www.gepowerconversion.com/press-releases/ge-tackles-offshore-challenges-while-optimizing-value

6

Atlantic Canada’s Offshore Oil and Gas Industry http://atlanticcanadaoffshore.ca/offshore-oil-gas-lifecycle/

7

Cairn Energy http://www.cairnenergy.com/index.asp?pageid=554

8

IFP School http://www.ifp-school.com/upload/docs/application/pdf/2015-02/3_main_steps_oil_gas_field_development.pdf

9

Springer Link http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-3-642-33980-6_25

10

DNV http://www.dnv.com/industry/oil_gas/publications/updates/Oil_and_Gas_Update/2013/02_2013/Helping_offshore_assets_age_gracefully.asp

11

Wood Group http://www.woodgroup-psn.com/about-us/benefits-we-bring/extending-field-life.aspx

Oilfield Technology http://www.energyglobal.com/upstream/special-reports/22082014/Meeting-offshore-oil-and-gas-seal-standards-for-optimum-results/

12

Oilfield Technology http://www.energyglobal.com/upstream/special-reports/22082014/Meeting-offshore-oil-and-gas-seal-standards-for-optimum-results/

13

14

HSE http://www.hse.gov.uk/research/rrpdf/rr320.pdf

15

Empowering Pumps http://empoweringpumps.com/meeting-offshore-oil-gas-seal-standards-for-optimum-results/

16

Offshore Technology http://www.offshore-technology.com/features/feature-the-worlds-deadliest-offshore-oil-rig-disasters-4149812/

17

Oil & Gas UK http://oilandgasuk.co.uk/knowledgecentre/oilspills.cfm

18

WWF http://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/oil-and-gas-development

19

European Parliament http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/note/join/2014/513996/IPOL-PECH_NT(2014)513996_EN.pdf

20

UK HSE http://www.hse.gov.uk/offshore/strategy/mitigation.htm

Oilfield Technology http://www.energyglobal.com/upstream/special-reports/22082014/Meeting-offshore-oil-and-gas-seal-standards-for-optimum-results/

21

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Notes:

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