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Ultra-Deepwater Achievements

The overarching goal of the RPSEA Ultra-Deepwater research and development portfolio is to “ensure that the understanding of the risks associated with ultra-deepwater operations and associated mitigation methods keep pace with the technologies that industry has developed to tap reserves in increasingly challenging conditions.” Because of the potential environmental impacts to marine life and to coastal communities, UDW research must address challenges related to high-pressure, high-temperature sour environments; the presence of heavy oils, paraffin, asphaltenes, solid particles, and/or hydrates; and the impacts to required hardware or measurement/sensing systems. Research must develop inherently safer surface and subsurface designs to reduce the risks accessing UDW oil and natural gas resources, while expanding the capabilities of facilities and other equipment. Specific to these challenges is the need for enhanced topsides facilities, improved hulls, stronger moorings and risers; advanced subsurface tools and monitoring equipment; improved modeling tools for safer vessel designs from explosion hazards and violent sea events; as well as the development of “next generation” metocean and meteorological predictive techniques - all with the goal of reducing or eliminating risks and uncertainties and increasing the likelihood of seamless operation under a wide range of environmental conditions.

Accomplishments from Subsea Systems Reliability/Automated Safety Systems projects include novel technologies and the results of analysis using predictive models that provide valuable contributions to industry understanding. The following selected examples of accomplishments recorded by these research projects illustrate how they are influencing subsea operations: 

Flow Phenomena in Jumpers and its Relation to Hydrate Plugging Risk – The recipient, University of Tulsa, performed transient flow experiments in pipe geometries typical of low spots encountered in “jumper” systems (the seafloor piping used to connect subsea wellheads to subsea production manifolds prior to its transmission to the surface) where methane hydrate plug formation can be a serious safety problem. The water displacement was measured as a function of operating parameters and compared to state-of-the-art transient simulation results. An accurate prediction of the water phase location and behavior during flow restart conditions is necessary to properly simulate hydrate formation and evaluate the risk of plug formation in jumper systems following shut-ins. This project will improve confidence in the performance of transient flow simulators when applied to jumper geometries and/or the identification of their shortcomings. The phenomena resulting from this work was incorporated into existing commercial modeling tools and is now being utilized by industry.
Autonomous Inspection Of Subsea Facilities - Lockheed Martin developed an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) that provides precise, rapid assessment and “on-the-fly” 3D modeling capability. The AUV provides a powerful new structural integrity management tool that increases inspection efficiency and reduces cost compared to traditional remote operating vehicles. The AUV autonomously captures a baseline status of underwater structures and subsequently notes any changes from the baseline, which allows for quick identification of potential problems and reduces both the human fatigue and data overload of existing assessment methods.
Improving Inspection through Laser Scanning – The recipient, 3D at Depth, LLC developed laser scanners that can conduct more-effective underwater inspections. The researchers used an operational underwater laser sensor to scan targets in a pool environment; this capability was integrated with the power and communications from an industry ROV developed through another project and will be commercially marketed. It was subsequently adapted and tested on an automated underwater vehicle developed in a separate UDW research program project by Lockheed Martin.
Ultrasonic Sensors and Processing for Pipe, Riser, Structure, and Equipment Inspection to Provide Detailed Measurements - For this project Blueview Technologies developed a high-resolution ultrasonic imaging technology that provides significantly better views of subsea components than traditional visual methods, especially in cloudy waters or in the midst of an oil spill.
Modeling Shows Impact of Hydrate Dissociation under Different Conditions – The University of Tulsa developed an engineer’s estimation tool for designing appropriate methane hydrate dissociation methods for different operational conditions. This tool has been released for public use and is being used in the field for selecting the best dissociation method for application in specific situations.
Small-Scale Sensing Technologies Improving Pipeline Monitoring – Award recipient University of Tulsa developed a prototype small-scale sensing “capsule” with encased electronics that is compatible with hydrocarbon fluids and can be used inside pipeline maintenance pigs of any size and configuration to measure fluid conditions, map pipeline features, and identify potential wall buildup or defects. The tool can be used in pipelines that conventional in-line-inspection tools cannot traverse, significantly reducing deployment cost and risk. It can also be used to provide near real-time monitoring of critical pipeline characteristics. The prototype is scheduled to be tested in a major long distance pipeline soon. If the trial is successful plans are to utilize the design in commercial applications within 1 – 2 years.
Using Bacteriophages Rather than Biocides to Inhibit Bacteria – Phage Biocontrol, LLC tested the use of bacteriophages (bacteria-killing viruses) to reduce the prevalence of corrosion causing sulfate reducing bacteria (SRB) in production equipment and pipelines, as an alternative to the traditional method of controlling bacteria by injecting chemical biocides into the flow stream. Researchers used a novel sequencing approach to identify the diversity of bacteria in samples. Naturally-occurring phages were located, isolated, and determined to be effective against bacterial concentrates. Individual phages were found to not only inhibit SRB growth by six orders of magnitude or better, but, unlike biocides, were long lasting.
Improved Evaluation Technology for Identifying Microbially-Influenced Corrosion – For this project, Livermore Instruments, Inc., along with many industry partners and universities (including Phage Biocontrol, LLC; Texas A&M University; ConocoPhillips Company; and Shell International Exploration & Production) completely redesigned an existing single particle aerosol mass spectrometer (SPAMS). Its optical system was simplified, reducing the system’s nine lasers to only two with a corresponding decrease in the complexity of laser alignment and completely rewritten driver software. The redesigned SPAMS was deployed to Ecolyse, Inc’s (now Phase Biocontrol, LLC) research laboratory, where it was successfully used to analyze eight species of microorganisms prepared in dozens of cultures. The new device was able to discern different microorganisms with minimal preparation at concentrations of up to roughly 109organisms/ml. The SPAMS 3.0 instrument is now commercially available.
Wireless Subsea Communications - GE Global Research applied new wireless technology to subsea communications and created a system that allows high data rate communications through seawater using small antenna elements. This technology may ultimately replace connectors required for subsea applications and also allow temporary connection to mobile devices such as remotely operated vehicles (ROVs).
Deep Sea Hybrid Power System - The Houston Advanced Research Center and its partners studied the feasibility of new subsea hybrid power generation systems that can be located on the seafloor, closer to the equipment in need of operating power. These studies could help to accelerate the creation of seafloor-based power systems that provide efficient, cost-effective generation and storage capability.
Sponsored an award at the senior level for the Science Engineering Fair of Houston.
Received the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission’s Stewardship Award in the Environmental Partnership category for the Unconventional Resources Program’s Environmentally Friendly Drilling Systems Program project.
Elected to Supporting Organization status to the Offshore Technology Conference.
Provided testimony to the House Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment regarding the role of present and future cooperative R&D in drilling management and oil spill response technologies.


Accomplishments from Surface Systems and Umbilicals projects include novel technologies and the results of analysis using predictive models that provide valuable contributions to industry understanding. The following selected examples of accomplishments recorded by these research projects illustrate how they are influencing UDW producing system development:

State-of-the-art hurricane modeling – Applied Research Associates, Inc. is mapping Gulf of Mexico hurricane risk—as expressed by n-year wind speeds—to offshore and coastal locations for current and future climate scenarios. This risk model will provide a more reliable means of assessing the risk associated with rare events than standard hind-cast techniques. This research supports the development of standards-based design parameters for extreme winds, waves, current, and water levels at an acceptable level of risk. These design standards will in turn be applied by all manufacturers of offshore structures to ensure safe operation and human survival.
New concepts for very large floating systems – Det Norske Veritas, Aker, and Houston Offshore Engineering evaluated design concepts for two very large floating systems suitable for drilling and production in up to 10,000-foot waters using conventional dry trees. They are now evaluating vortex induced motions expectations for the vessel designs. These alternative designs for deepwater platforms could lead to lower costs and improved safety.
New study of fiber rope integrity – Stress Engineering Services studied the effects of repeated seabed contact on fiber mooring rope, including the degree to which the cyclic-wear process reduces the strength of fiber ropes. This research could lead to qualifying mooring rope for pre-installation on the seabed. Pre-installed rope could greatly reduce risk by reducing the time required to hook up mooring lines to a floating facility, thus reducing the time required for safe mooring before severe weather arrives.
Climate variability impact study – The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research is conducting a follow-on study to RPSEA Project 07121-1801 on the effects of climate variability and change on hurricane activity in the North Atlantic. This project is quantifying future changes in the frequency, duration, and intensity of Gulf storms and hurricane impacts using a combination of theoretical, statistical, and enhanced dynamical modeling. Hind-cast tests conducted through this project have been able to predict 7 days out where a hurricane will come ashore within 25 kilometers. An assessment of the potential future increase in the number of intense hurricanes will inform the structural design process and lead to improved operating procedures and reduced environmental and safety risks.
New operational prediction system for 3D ocean currents in the Gulf of Mexico – Portland State University generated a probabilistic predictive system for ocean currents that provides both a forecast and an uncertainty estimate for that forecast. Both estimates provide information and guidance for a wide range of applications in the public and industrial sectors. The forecast system generates probabilistic forecasts by perturbing the initial state of the ocean field as well as the surface atmospheric forcing (wind and heat flux fields). Over the course of the project, the team used the predictive model to successfully predict a break off of the loop current 4 weeks in advance.
Composite Riser for Ultra Deepwater High Pressure Wells - Lincoln Composites developed new designs for flexible composite drilling risers and tested the designs for strength and ease of deployment.
Qualification of Flexible Fiber-Reinforced Pipe for 10,000-Foot Water Depths - GE Global Research and DeepFlex have prototypes of two different UDW flexible composite production riser designs that may prove easier and safer to deploy.
Robotic MFL Sensor for Monitoring and Inspection of Deepwater Risers - Rice University developed new structural health monitoring techniques for deepwater risers to track damage due to vibration and fatigue.
Riser Lifecycle Monitoring System for Integrity Management - Closely following the previous project, GE Global Research is creating system requirements for a real-time, telemetry-based marine Riser Lifecycle Management System (RLMS): a system of hardware and software tools comprised of sensors located on riser joints, a wireless subsea communication system for linking a surface vessel with instrumented risers, and software for data collection, processing, riser fatigue analysis, visualization and operator alerts. A commercially-viable RLMS has the potential to reduce the likelihood of riser failure events, thereby enhancing safety and reducing the risk of environmental damage.


Accomplishments from Drilling and Completion Operations projects contribute to safety and environmental sustainability and improve the understanding of the UDW subsurface environment. The following selected examples of accomplishments recorded by these research projects illustrate how they are influencing drilling and completion:

Coil Tubing Drilling and Intervention Systems Using Cost Effective Vessel - This research, led by Nautilus International LLC, resulted in the design of supporting equipment for a sophisticated Self-Standing Riser (SSR) to support coiled tubing intervention in ultra-deepwater. The riser enables a full performance envelope of coiled tubing abilities. A successful test will prove that a small vessel can operate coiled tubing through an SSR in deepwater, demonstrate improved safety and environmental protection, and achieve that at a cost less than half that of a Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit. It has the potential to open up many deepwater (1000 to 5000 ft. water depth) shallow gas plays (3000 to 12,000 ft. depth subsurface) that are currently considered to be noncommercial using conventional deep water technologies. In addition, SSRs can solve the looming challenge of the premature abandonment of hundreds of deepwater wells in the Gulf of Mexico, West Africa, and Brazil that could be re-completed to unproduced zones. Recompletion requires costly use of Mobile Offshore Drilling Units (MODU); the cost is prohibitive, and abandonment leaves thousands of barrels of oil unrecovered.
Modeling and Simulation of Managed Pressure Drilling for Improved Design, Risk Assessment, Training and Operations - The project, conducted by Stratamagnetic Software, LLC, resulted in new and innovative capabilities of modeling fluid flow in highly eccentric annuli of drilling and cementing systems. The work has been published in a new book titled Managed Pressure Drilling: Modeling, Strategy and Planning. Multiple models are covered: steady state and transient flow, 2 and 3-D flow in single and multi-phase fluids, and Newtonian and non-Newtonian rheologies for both drillpipe and eccentric annuli. This book is now in use by the managed pressure drilling industry and is contributing to an increased utilization of the technology.
Smart Cementing Materials And Drilling Muds For Real Time Monitoring Of Deepwater Wellbore Enhancement - Experiments, lead by the University of Houston demonstrated that drilling fluid and cement levels can be monitored consistently and effectively by measuring resistance. In addition, changes in their properties and surrounding conditions, such as composition, degree of curing, internal stress, occurrence of cracks, fluid loss characteristics and temperature, can be correlated to resistivity changes to support the monitoring of cement and drilling mud/fluid behavior over time.
Deepwater Reverse-Circulation Primary Cementing - CSI Technologies LLC evaluated Reverse-Circulation Primary Cementing (RCPC), which involves fluid being pumped downhole via the annulus, around the casing shoe and then up into the casing, in contrast to a conventional cement job in which fluids are pumped down the casing and up the annulus. This study evaluated the applicability and benefits of RCPC under deepwater conditions on a case-by-case basis. Researchers found that the technology needed for future development includes the modification of float equipment and a switchable crossover that will divert fluids on demand. In addition, tool development should allow for non-mechanical operation of tools from the surface by incorporating technologies such as RFID, chemical-activated triggers, or mud pressure pulses. Mud removal and fluid separation will remain a major challenge for deepwater RCPC since physical separation will need to be maintained through the use of viscous plugs instead of traditional plugs, darts, or balls. Simulation of various wellbore and casing string combinations revealed that the cement slurry is often exposed to a higher downhole circulating temperatures, and that placement time can be shortened significantly in some cases via RCPC. Hydraulic analysis of these deepwater strings has confirmed the critical depths at which placement by RCPC results in a lower equivalent circulating density (ECD).
Intelligent Production System for Ultra Deepwater with Short Hop Wireless Power and Wireless Data Transfer for Lateral Production Control and Optimization - Tubel LLC and its partners developed a safe, full internal diameter flow control system that can be placed in wellbore laterals and requires less than one Watt of power to open or close sleeves. A wireless power transfer concept was determined to be feasible at much higher efficiencies than originally conceived and at much longer distances than anticipated. The downhole wireless communications system was also shown to be reliable, capable of two-way data and command transfer, and immune to the downhole environment.


Accomplishments from Geologic Uncertainty projects contribute to safety and environmental sustainability and improve the understanding of the UDW subsurface environment. The general challenge is to improve the reliability of reserve measurements and reduce the uncertainty of finding hydrocarbons that usually results in drilling unnecessary wells. By doing so, industry will reduce its footprint through fewer well sites resulting in improved safety. This will result because of fewer offshore man-hours and the risks associated therein. Fewer wells reduce or eliminate unneeded emissions which would otherwise be associated with drilling and producing unnecessary wells. Other challenges include better pressure prediction methods to identify shallow hazards and deep over-pressured or under-pressured reservoirs before encountering them The following selected examples of accomplishments recorded by these research projects illustrate how they are influencing geologic uncertainty:

Characterization Database of Deepwater and Ultra-Deepwater Assets in the Gulf of Mexico for Improved Recovery Technologies - The information compiled in this project, managed by Knowledge Reservoir, expanded the industry’s understanding of current and emerging IOR methodologies and, specifically, the relevance of these methodologies as they apply to deepwater and ultra-deepwater oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico.
Multi-Level Drill Pipe Deployed Fiber Optic 3C Receiver Array for Deep Boreholes - Paulsson, Inc. developed and tested the first two six-level array prototypes in shallow wells and demonstrated that recording frequency at 2-3 times of commercial geophones was real, and deployment feasible. The higher frequency resolution capability is less than 1 vertical foot compared to existing technology of about 100 feet. Inversion of such data into geologic and engineering investigations has the potential to radically improve subsurface knowledge of reservoirs, fracture growth, and induced micro-seismicity. The tool can operate in both vertical and horizontal wells at pressures up to 30,000 psi and at temperatures up to at least 200ºC (392ºF).