In what might be considered by some to be an unlikely partnership, big oil is teaming up with renewable energy to help it save costs while also recovering more oil from existing exploration sites.
Through a joint industry project (JIP) led by industry advisor DNV GL, several offshore oil and gas players have teamed up to study the feasibility of using wind-powered water injection to help increase oil recovery in offshore oil fields. The project is called Win Win—not only as a shorthand for wind-power water injection, but also as an indication of the benefits for both the oil and wind industries.
“It creates a commercial market for wind turbines, but more importantly saves money for the oil and gas industry,” said Johan Sandberg, project sponsor and segment leader of floating wind turbines at DNV GL.
“Offshore wind is taking off quite quickly in Europe,” Sandberg added, noting that 27 percent annual growth makes it the fastest growing energy source in Europe (albeit from a relatively low starting point).
This means offshore wind energy is coming down in price as well, making it an attractive consideration for offshore oil rigs. A key challenge, however, is that the oil rigs typically reside in deeper waters than their wind counterparts.
Initial study results, which Sandberg presented this week at the Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) in Houston, show that using floating wind turbines to power water injection systems not only present no technical showstoppers, but would also be economically advantageous for many offshore oil fields.
The oil and gas industry could certainly use the help. With the price of oil continuing its low-lying stint, these are certainly cost-constrained times. But maintaining innovation is more important than ever. “Today we have a strong need to reduce cost in the way we do things, and make things more efficient,” noted Peter Bjerager, director of oil and gas in the America for DNV GL.
DNV GL says about half the people responding to a recent benchmark study that it commissioned maintain innovation by working together with other industry players. About a third join joint industry projects.
“There’s increasing interest in joining these,” said Bjerager, who also noted that DNV GL has 50 or more joint industry projects (JIPs) going on right now. Not all of these, certainly, are within the industrial automation realms that Automation World reports on—three recent JIPs Bjerager mentioned include standardized forgings for subsea equipment; high-strength nickel-based alloys for high-pressure, high-temperature (HPHT) subsea applications; and risk-based plugging and abandonment solutions—but the latest announcement demonstrates how floating wind turbines can provide feasible alternative power for water injection solutions.
Norwegian oil and gas giant Statoil has been leading development in this area, installing the first floating wind turbine in the world in 2009. For the past year, Statoil and other participants from both the renewable and oil and gas industries—ExxonMobil, ENI Norge, Nexen Petroleum UK, VNG Norge, PG Flow Solutions and ORE Catapult—have worked together in the DNV GL-led Win Win JIP to develop the concept and assess its technical and commercial feasibility.
No major challenges have been identified through the study. Analysis of system performance based on site-specific cases from JIP partners have shown that Win Win is able to meet the operator’s key performance requirements such as injection volume targets, as well as reliability and minimized downtime.
The JIP shows that for suitable fields, wind-powered water injection is technically feasible, capable of meeting performance targets, and offers a cost-competitive alternative to conventional water injection solutions.
“Supplying clean power to oil and gas installations was part of the original idea behind Statoil’s Hywind concept,” said Hanne Wigum, head of renewable technology development for Statoil. “The Win Win concept represents an alternative source of electricity and has the potential to open up new opportunities for field development.”
The costs for wind-powered water injection have been compared with a conventional alternative where water is injected via a flow line from the host platform. While the Win Win technology has higher operational expenditures (opex) compared with conventional methods, the significantly lower capital expenditure (capex) makes the wind power compare favorably over the long term. Win Win is therefore a commercially competitive alternative in a range of cases, particularly when host platform capacity is limited or injection wells are located far away.
The example case is located in the North Sea, 30 km from the production host and 30 km from the Norwegian shore, at a 200 m water depth. The reservoir consists of two injection well, with normal injectivity, and a target injection rate of 44,000 barrels of water per day.
“For the specific example case assessed in the report, we are looking at a potential cost saving of approximately 20 percent compared to a conventional solution,” Sandberg said. He stressed that results are “very, very case-specific,” but added, “In general, it comes out very well.”
Cost savings are estimated at about $3 per barrel of oil, he said. Depending on the lifetime of an injection well, the wind turbine can actually be detached and moved to another well, improving the capex rate even further.
One key question the study aimed to answer was reliability in the face of fluctuating wind. “Even though the wind power will naturally vary, it injected sufficient amounts of water all throughout the year,” Sandberg said. “It was higher in the winter and lower in the summer, but exceeded the target almost every month of the year. Only in June, it just hit the target.” The system uses battery backup to accommodate periods of low wind.
“For the first time we can now see renewable energy as a large-scale source of power to offshore oil and gas operations,” said Remi Eriksen, group president and CEO of DNV GL. “By utilizing the recent developments of floating offshore wind turbines, this concept can offer a clean, reliable and cost-effective alternative for powering water injection in offshore locations.”
Phase two is being explored with some of the current JIP partners, with hopes of the next 12-month project beginning this year. The next step would be to test critical subsystems in a small-scale physical setup. “We’re already seeing interest to take this forward in industry,” Sandberg said.
“We are encouraged by recent advances in wind technology, particularly for niche applications such as offshore oil and gas operations,” said Sara Ortwein, president of ExxonMobil Upstream Research. “Such technological advances improve the economic feasibility for wind to contribute to the overall energy supply mix.”