SECC Puts New Breakaway Product to Work in North Sea

British engineering designers are breaking new ground with subsea emergency breakaway technology which brings offshore operators significant cost savings and environmental benefits.

Emergency disconnections most often become necessary when a vessel loses dynamic positioning or the downline hose becomes obstructed, and the use of conventional methods brings with it risks to staff, increased costs, and the high likelihood of unwanted spillages.

SECC Oil & Gas -- a subsidiary of the Self Energising Coupling Company -- has addressed these issues with the introduction of their Hot Make Hot Break dry break coupling system, which was patented in 2006 and is now being used for the first time in the North Sea.

Well Ops, one of the Helix group of companies, has incorporated the SECC disconnect system as part of its new subsea intervention lubricator (SIL) package on the Well Enhancer, which recently entered service to provide subsea operators with both open water and riser-based intervention services.

What distinguishes the SECC system from conventional options is the use of its pressure-balanced technology to ensure all connectors remain balanced at any pressure and any depth. This protects subsea equipment by dispensing with guillotines and uncontrolled subsea and surface disconnections in an emergency.

Instead, pressure lines can be quickly disconnected -- manually or automatically -- under full working pressure, and because the break is 100% dry there is virtually no risk of spillage into the sea and no hazards posed to personnel.

Reconnection is quick and straightforward, and can be completed at depths of 10,000 ft or greater via ROV without the need to de-pressurize or de-water the high-pressure hose line. This offers significant safety benefits as well as cost savings through both reduced downtime and fewer hours worked.

Key applications for the SECC Hot Make Hot Break system and its range of mid hose breakaway coupling and connectors include pumping and injection lines, vessel hoses, umbilicals and down lines.

Matthew Readman of SECC Oil and Gas, and the inventor of the technology, said, "Our system offers subsea operators a huge advance in breakaway coupling technology because it almost entirely removes the risk of spillage and drastically reduces the time needed to reconnect after an emergency.

"For the first time it is no longer essential for the reconnection to be made manually as the technology is specifically designed to be operated by ROV and this brings significant savings in staff costs. The approach is also much safer than any conventional system which means fewer personnel are placed at risk during the emergency disconnect process.

"We are already working successfully with Well Ops, who have adopted the Hot Make Hot Break for their Well Enhancer vessel, and a number of other major North Sea operators have expressed strong interest in the system."

Helix Well Ops (UK) Ltd Technology Manager Phil Bosworth said, "After reviewing the initial concept of the coupler a few years ago, we could see the benefit it had over our existing techniques and were keen to develop it for its first use on a live well control stack offshore."