North Sea Production Solutions for a Low Oil Price Era

Herd explained that his company is well-suited to develop the concept, given that it is already a specialist in dynamic positioning, having used the technology in subsea vessels. Dynamic positioning in FPSO promises lots of advantages, according to Herd.

"You cut out a lot of the subsea architecture and the flowlines can be reduced. We can sit right above the well, more or less, whereas conventional FPSOs are generally sat a fair way off. This is because the moving parts that they have would then have to be looked at in conjunction with a potentially moving pattern for drilling rigs to get in to do any drilling work that was needed in the well," Herd said.

"So, we've got much lower upfront CAPEX. We can site much closer, so our subsea architecture costs are reduced. And at the end, of course, decommissioning costs are significantly reduced as well. So it's a much lower cost solution for the operator."

With oil at $30 per barrel, Herd recognizes that operating in the North Sea "is tough for everyone no matter who you are" but he points out that Amplus' production solution "is much lower cost than any conventional FPSO or platform".

The next step is to get a dynamic FPSO built. So far, the company has gone a long way down the road with two North Sea clients, according to Herd, while it has also had interest from other parts of the world.

"We thought when we started off that we'd be focused on the North Sea originally, but we also have people talking to us about Angola, Brazil, the Gulf of Mexico and Mexico itself... I thought when we started we'd predominantly focus on the small fields and the small reservoirs here, but we're getting a lot of interest in our ship for long-term early production in some of these more deepwater areas," Herd said.

"They like the idea of our ship being out there for a year or two, in order to see what the reservoirs are actually doing and then they will decide where the permanent facility is going to be, whether that's a million-barrel FPSO or a platform, and we'll stay there producing while they build their permanent facility. So it gets them early cash flow, it gets them some reservoir understanding and it generally gives them a much better place to make their final investment decision."

Wintershall's 'Minimum Facility' Platform

One company that is already operating an unmanned mini-platform in the North Sea is Wintershall. Although this facility is designed for gas production, the German firm believes that its so-called "Minimum Facility" platform – which was built in just nine months – could be one of the smallest topsides in an oil and gas application.

North Sea Production Solutions for a Low Oil Price Era
Wintershall believes its L6-B mini-platform, currently operating in the Dutch North Sea, has one of the smallest topsides in an oil and gas application worldwide.
Source: Wintershall

Anchored to the seabed through suction piles, the facility rises about 60 feet above the Dutch North Sea and has three decks. Its substructure weighs 1,100 tons, with the topside weighing 100 tons; other platforms in the vicinity weigh as much as 4,500 tons. It can accommodate a maximum of two producing wells, with a pipeline transporting gas produced at the well to a neighboring platform.

There is only minimum processing equipment on the platform, so the expected visit frequency is low, according to Wintershall.


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