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Unlocking the pre-salt cluster

28th January 2013

Brazil is bracing itself for upcoming deep-water developments which could revolutionize pre-salt exploration, but it cannot hope to realise its dream of becoming one of the world’s top oil producers without an equal investment in technologies across the oil and gas value chain

Unlocking the pre-salt cluster
Brazil’s vast pre-salt reserves hold as much as 100 billion barrels of high-quality recoverable crude which could turn the country into one of the world’s top oil exporters

The world’s sixth largest economy and Latin America’s economic powerhouse, Brazil aims to boost oil production from its current two million barrels a day to nearly five million by 2020. Its vast pre-salt reserves are key to this, as they hold an estimated 100 billion barrels of high-quality recoverable crude which could turn the country into one of the world’s top oil exporters. Pre-salt currently accounts for only 10 per cent of oil production.

Brazil is looking to expand energy yield from this potential gold mine. In September 2012 the country announced the highly anticipated next round of oil drilling licenses, its first since 2008. The auction included 174 shallower post-salt blocks both onshore and offshore, but also what has been exciting the industry at large – new offshore pre-salt fields which will be auctioned next November.

To help meet Brazil’s ambitious target of five million barrels per day by the end of this decade, the oil giant plans to invest USD 131.6bn in exploration and production in the next four years, as part of its USD 236.5bn business plan from 2012 to 2016, the world’s largest corporate spending program to date.

Petrobras’ investments are translating into a series of efforts upstream of the oil and gas value chain. Six new rigs which will come into production in the Campos Basin over the next couple of years will boost production capacity by 750,000 barrels per day, the company claims. Petrobras now has all the rigs it needs until 2020, Petrobras CEO Maria das Graças Silva Foster said late last year.

“With the drilling rigs and production units… we have confidence that we are on track to get production underway as planned,” Foster said.

Downstream developments are also high on the agenda. Over the next two years the oil and gas firm will deploy the world’s first floating oil terminal, to be positioned near drilling rigs off Rio de Janeiro to decrease operational costs and further new solutions to export Brazilian oil. The floating storage unit (FSU) will have the ability to store 2 million barrels of oil on the high seas, which roughly equals Brazil’s current output, and could be the first of several.

Beyond high drilling power and innovative storage techniques, developments midstream of the value chain are also crucial. There is a need to connect energy resources from platforms drilling in the pre-salt layer to refineries onshore and export vessels. The role of Western companies in this area will continue to be key to helping Brazil further its ambitious plans.

A complex pipeline network

Last year, French project management, engineering and construction provider Technip was awarded a subsea infrastructure development contract for the Cardamom field in the Gulf of Mexico to supply approximately 12.8 kilometres of its subsea flexible pipes.

The project, located in Garden Banks block 427 at a water depth of about 830 m, consists of a subsea tie-back to the Auger tension leg platform owned by Shell Offshore. It includes the project management, engineering, fabrication and installation of the East and West Loop 12.8 km pipe-in-pipe flowlines with associated pipeline end terminals (PLETs) and steel catenary risers.

Risers are pipes or assemblies of pipes used in the transfer of produced fluids from the seabed to surface facilities and of transfer injection or control fluids from the surface facilities to the seabed. Flowlines allow the transportation of oil and gas production or injection fluids.

Technip’s flexible pipes are able to withstand temperatures of up to 150°C and pressures of up to 7200 psi (with a flexible pipe with an internal diameter of 7.5”) and up to 10000 psi (with a flexible pipe with an internal diameter of 9”).

Flexible pipes for the contract will be built at Technip's spoolbase in Mobile, Alabama. The company expects the offshore installation in the second half of 2013. It will be performed by the company’s deepwater pipelay vessel, Deep Blue, in addition to the Pioneer, a multipurpose deepwater support vessel and the latest addition to Technip’s fleet.

Pipeline isolation

In terms of proven technology which is able to protect the integrity of subsea pipelines, US pipeline and equipment services firm TDW Offshore last year used its tools to successfully complete isolation works on a gas pipeline also in the Gulf of Mexico.

The isolation enabled the tie-in at a depth of 113 m of a piggable wye to the Mississippi Canyon gas pipeline, owned by Canadian energy firm Enbridge Inc. The pipeline is a 30-inch natural gas line which brings gas from the Mississippi Canyon region of the offshore Gulf of Mexico into Louisiana.

The operation used two remote-controlled 30 inch SmartPlug dual module pressure isolation tools to isolate approximately 72.5 km of pipeline. The tools provided double block isolation on the high pressure side of the tie-in location; a hydraulic locked barrier of the high pressure side for the divers installing the wye; and performed a leak test to verify integrity of the new wye after installation.

TDW also used its remotely-operated SmartTrack tracking and pressure monitoring system to monitor the locations of the SmartPlug tools as they travelled to their subsea set destinations. The SmartTrack system uses two-way, through-wall, electromagnetic communication between a transponder and a receiver to track tool progress.

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