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New technologies can help answer the UK oil and gas challenge

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Hydrocarbon Engineering,

The disconnect between capital investment into oil and gas production and declining production results revealed by the recent Wood Report and the annual activity survey by Oil and Gas UK is a major concern for the UK oil and gas industry.

More worrying is that, according to the survey, investment is scheduled to fall by nearly half within three years. Given the maturity of most UK oilfields, a gradual decrease in investment is perhaps natural. However, ensuring that future investment is directed to the right areas is vital to maximising oil recovery and production.

Oil companies are only seeing average rates of around 46% recovery of product from North Sea oil fields, which is the highest recovery factor anywhere in the world. So, the issue right now is not solely a lack of oil in the ground – it’s finding the right tools and processes to maximise return rates on exploration in an efficient and safe manner. Technologies that can provide higher levels of information and visibility on what is happening down hole can be used to improve drilling techniques, making them safer and more efficient.

A relevant example is exploration on brownfield sites, as 70% of all UK wells are situated on previously used sites according to the Wood Report. When drilling on brownfield land, it’s difficult for engineers to truly know exactly what the state of the site is and how much product there is left. Technologies with the ability to provide better visibility of down hole procedures can increase the accuracy of well surveys to monitor the drainage of reservoirs in much finer detail than currently possible.

One of the challenges for the oil and gas industry is gaining high quality real-time intelligence to inform and accelerate decision making at every stage of the extraction process, driving the search for new tools and techniques deeper into the science lab. Once in a while an innovation in technology will create a breakthrough. In the 1990s the breakthrough was Distributed Temperature Sensing (DTS) using fiber optic cables as a temperature sensor, which started life in University laboratories but is now used extensively in the oilfields around the world.

The breakthrough technology of this decade is Distributed Acoustic Sensing (DAS). DAS uses a fibre optic cable as an acoustic sensor that senses the movement and changes in well characteristics via acoustic vibrations allowing the Geoscientists and Engineers to ‘visualise’ and record what is going on down hole at every point of the well in real time. This gives well engineers greater clarity than ever before and allows them to focus time and effort on value-adding activity and, ultimately, increasing recovery.

Investment in technologies such as DAS is the key to improving recovery and production rates – by giving engineers the information they need to improve exploration procedures and maximise the amount of product being extracted from UK wells. It has been suggested that the UK oil and gas industry faces it’s biggest challenge for 50 years. To answer this challenge, it is vital that UK oil and gas firms are using state-of-the-art technologies to help increase production levels.

Chris Shannon, CEO, Fotech Solutions 

Adapted by David Bizley

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