A panel session on P&A and Regulation at the OWI LATAM virtual conference explored how new technologies and techniques for cost-effective and efficient decommissioning processes could be deployed, while ensuring compliance with P&A regulations.
The session was moderated by Carl Roemmele, Subsea Intervention Director, Baker Hughes. Speakers were Carlos Eduardo, Manager – Technology and Reliability Subsea Wells, Petrobras; Marcelo Matos, Wells P&A Technical Advisor, Petrobras; Joao Guandalini Batista, Wells Technology R&D Manager, Repsol Sinopec; and Katherine Beltrán Jiménez, Research Scientist, NORCE.
Eduardo started by outlining the “strong, robust” processes whereby Petrobras evaluates new technologies to address problems and challenges, with KPIs to determine which to develop and proceed with. The company works with research departments such as NORCE, other service companies and operators to develop these technologies and test them in the field. He added that there is considerable scope for developing new technologies to enhance P&A activities and speed up processes, given the challenges of P&Aing Brazil’s subsea wells, many of which are old.
Being in close contact with the market as well as operators is key to keeping on top of new developments, he said. “We need market knowledge; research departments such as NORCE are key to improving our activities.”
He added that the focus of the company’s development portfolio has been on technologies for well construction rather than P&A. “We need to think more about P&A; we as operators have to establish what our challenges are and where we want to go.”
Marcelo added that there are synergies to be explored with other operators given that they face common challenges in P&A. However he felt “industry can’t wait for the operators to take the lead in development; services suppliers need to play a key role and take the lead, discussing with operators their needs.” He commented that P&A activity in Brazil has been increasing in the recent past due to Petrobras activities and the entry of other operators into the market and the country has a good record in terms of successful P&As.
Batista stressed that P&A is a “multibillion liability for operators; we are hungry for solutions. We are working together to establish partnerships; we need to be more collaborative.” Repsol Sinopic is involved in P&A activities in Brazil in partnership with one of the operators, he said. He agreed that service companies need to be more proactive in bringing new technologies to operators and sponsoring feasibility studies and research to assist with the international approval and regulator approval process.
Roemmele raised the question of how receptive operators are to new technologies versus tried and tested technologies. Eduardo agreed that introducing new technologies is a step-by step process, given the risks compared with established technologies. Jiménez commented that the two main challenges with testing new technologies are ensuring that new technologies comply with market regulations, and finding operators to test them. NORCE tries to ensure that when testing new technologies the risk is reduced to the operator, she added.
Asked which technologies would be gamechangers for P&A, Jiménez highlighted three specific topics that are leading development. “The first is logging; there is a big trend for logging tools and processing of logging and data interpretation and diagnosis; the second is rigless P&As; and the third is new materials, for example new cement recipes, polymers, nano materials.”
Marcelo highlighted the benefits of a risk-based approach to P&A. “We have a very developed engineering process, and today we can have a better understanding of the risks,” he said. This could enable operators to challenge the validity of prescriptive regulations and requirements, a “hot topic for operators”, he added.
Discussing new and alternative materials, Eduardo said Petrobras is actively exploring and testing new methods and materials, but underlined the need for research to ensure that their longevity could be relied upon.
Marcelo added, “Alternative materials are already a reality; they are not widespread in the industry but some operators are using new elements when they need to or at the end of a qualification process.” He highlighted a case in the Gulf of Mexico where an operator had to execute a P&A using resin. “We are seeing increasing utilisation of bismuth alloys as a barrier.” He suggested that the usage of alternative materials could be accelerated. However, Jiménez pointed out that new materials could be more expensive.
Turning the discussion to total cost of field ownership, a current focus for the industry, Roemmele asked whether there is a vision for the future of P&A at the well drilling stage.
Jiménez underlined the “change in mentality” needed in drilling for abandonment. “We need to think about the abandonment phase at the well drilling stage, not just about getting the well to produce quickly,” she said, suggesting that the design of wells could be changed so that it is easier to abandon at a later stage. She expressed the hope for “more disruptive change in the way we abandon wells” and more new technologies implemented in the field.
Marcelo said that Petrobras’s vision of the future is of a “self abandonable well, where the completion would carry the materials and technologies required for you to just push a button, and achieve a permanent barrier.” This would mean the P&A cost for the well would be zero, but “there is a long road before we achieve that.” Marcelo foresaw a step change in P&A cost reduction thanks to new technologies and techniques.
Critical role of data
Eduardo raised the challenge posed by the possibility of changing regulations in the future, and it was felt that data and digitalisation has a critical role to play in this context. “If regulations change, we can use data to design a new reality,” said Batista. He explained how Repsol is embedding sensors in the well to monitor conditions and provide data, leading to a predictive approach for well integrity and enabling a true risk-based P&A design.
“More sensors equals more data equals easier decisions,” said Roemmele, pointing however that access to data is often a challenge, and data is not always transferred when ownership changes.
Roemmele raised the issue of carbon capture and storage (CCS). “Could this be a future opportunity and do we have enough knowledge to use some of these wells to reverse the flow?”
Batista underlined the link between P&A and CCS issues and challenges, and felt geothermal offers particularly strong potential. However he urged a cautious approach; while the idea of re-using the well is attractive, and would effectively reduce P&A costs, it could pose engineering challenges; efforts would be needed to ensure the integrity of the well, after years of use, possibly in difficult conditions, would be up to supporting a new application. “More data and more interventions are needed to better understand the real condition of the well,” he suggested.
Echoing this caution, Marcelo questioned whether a well built for a different purpose with different technologies 25 to 30 years ago would be usable for the next 30 years or more, and whether CCS made sense in the Brazilian scenario, given the location of fields in deep water far from shore. Jiménez agreed a regional approach is needed, commenting that while Norway, with its focus on reducing emissions, is leading CCS research, the infrastructure needed to compress and transport CCS may not make sense in Latin America. She further pointed out that further research is also needed on the behaviour of CCS and its reaction with cement.
Summing up, Roemmele concluded that Brazil and Latin America already have a good record in terms of successful P&As, and that openness to new technologies and techniques, supporting new research, risk-based modelling, sharing data and collaboration between regulators, operators and service companies are key to successfully driving forward P&A in the future.