How important is structural integrity management in North Sea asset life extension?


The oil and gas industry was once at the absolute forefront of digital technology. In the late 80s and early 90s, the industry was recognized globally for its pioneering approach to new tech. 3D seismic, linear program modeling and advanced process control for operations, all unleashed new hydrocarbon resources and delivered operational efficiencies across the value chain.

It’s no secret that until recent years this had plateaued. Even with the reality of a maturing basin in the North Sea, a backdrop of circa $100 per barrel kept the urgency for digital transformation at bay, compared to other industries consistently kept on their toes by narrower margins.

Fast forward to today and you have supermajors with teams of people all over the world focused entirely on adding value through digital transformation, organisations like the OGTC committing significant resources to finding digital solutions to maximize economic recovery, and new technology entrants – like Akselos – being asked to bring their expertise to the table.

Implementing Digital solutions on Asset Life Extension

Digital solutions are being considered and in many cases implemented at every stage of the oil and gas lifecycle, but one of the areas where it has the power to help unlock at least a decade’s worth of production across the basin is ASSET LIFE EXTENSION (ALE).

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In theory infrastructure can continue to operate past its design life, for a limited time, but the harsh conditions North Sea assets have withstood over a number of decades cast a massive shadow of doubt over this in practice. Consider that some fixed platforms have sunk around four meters deeper into the seabed than intended, because of reservoir depletion, and that rogue waves are much more powerful than the platform designers had anticipated 30 years ago. Some of the structures are experiencing issues that designers didn’t see happening in 1000 years, never mind 50! With increased regulatory scrutiny into the integrity of aging assets, how do operators build the safety case to extend the life of infrastructure long after its intended design life?

The answer is of course multi-faceted. But, the internet of really big things has a huge role to play, IF the data is put to good use. Most oil and gas assets are armed with thousands of sensors, but few, and in some cases none of these are dedicated to structural integrity. The little data that does exist is rarely interpreted in any tangible way. It’s not used to inform the decision making process and as crazy as it may seem it’s certainly not used to reassure operators and regulators that an asset is, beyond any doubt, structurally safe to continue operating for the remainder of a producing field’s life.

Next level of engineering simulation technology

Enter Akselos and the next evolution in digital twin technology. Inspired by the need for modern society to revolutionize how we build and manage our critical infrastructure to support economic growth (and the Space Race – more on that next time), our technology is physics-based and couples engineering simulation technology and big data analytics that result in not only 24/7 eyes on the asset – but a window into the future.

The concept of a digital twin isn’t a new one; there are numerous successful versions on the market. But they all have one limitation in common – scale. The science behind the tech –Finite Element Analysis – can’t model assets of a large scale in the level of detail needed to make predictions and real-time decisions. The science behind Akselos’ technology is next generation. The patented algorithm comes from 15 years of research in leading research institutes including the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, and is under license from MIT. It has the power to model assets of huge scale, from a bridge, to a production platform or even a space station.

How does this relate to ALE? It enables condition-based modelling, meaning that engineers can augment their understanding of the asset’s condition to make informed decisions about structural integrity. This is a huge contrast to the intermittent inspection model that’s standard practice during design life. Engineers can now have access to real-time data that reduces uncertainty around the asset’s condition. And to build on that – it offers engineers reliable predictive analytics that can tell them how the asset will cope with various scenarios (large breaking waves for example) and predict emerging issues.

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Once an asset has passed its intended design life, the inspection model is arguably not enough to manage late-life structural integrity risk. Physics-based monitoring is the only way to understand the risk, and the only way to manage that risk when it comes to Asset Life Extension.

In 2016 we received funding from Eurostars and we are now running an oil and gas industry-focused Joint Industry Project (JIP), to prove the transformative power of our technology. Akselos is leading the JIP together with its engineering partner, LICENGINEERING, a company specializing in offshore engineering with a 30 year track record in global oil and gas projects. WE’VE ALREADY ATTRACTED A SUPERMAJOR TO THE JIP, and have begun working with them to deliver cutting-edge condition-based models and prove the technology can be used to support the structural side of ALE for up to 20 years.

We’re calling for additional operators to join the JIP, for a significantly reduced price thanks to the Eurostars funding. If your company has an offshore asset that can be equipped with sensors, and can provide subject-matter experts, then we want to hear from you.

It’s a great time for the oil and gas industry to be pioneers of frontier technology, once again.