New equipment to aid North Sea exploration and production activity

The University of Aberdeen has taken delivery of rock mechanics equipment that could play a major role in maximising oil and gas recovery in the North Sea and West of Shetland area.

The High Pressure/High Temperature Rock Deformation Apparatus, worth £500,000, has been funded by the Oil and Gas Innovation Centre (OGIC), and supplied by Sanchez Technologies in France.  

The apparatus can test rock and cement samples under conditions of extreme temperature and stress, replicating conditions deep beneath the sea floor.

By providing accurate data on the properties and the behaviour of rocks under such conditions, the equipment can aid exploration and production activity at depths far in excess of current drilling activity.

Dr David Healy, from the University’s School of Geosciences, said: “Taking the central North Sea as an example, operators have gone deeper and deeper and there are significant technical challenges to overcome as conditions become hotter and more pressurised.

“Operators can be reluctant to pursue these types of projects because of the costs and potential hazards involved, and this is especially true in the current climate.

“This apparatus can make a tangible difference by providing companies with accurate data about the properties and behaviour of the rock at depths of up to 10 kilometres, which is far deeper than current drilling activity.

“Not only this, but it can also be used to measure the properties and behaviour of cement lining the well bores, so there’s an important engineering element to what it can deliver. 

“This is the kind of valuable data that can reduce the risks to operators, and potentially encourage new exploration activity in the North Sea and other areas of potential, such as West of Shetland.”

The equipment is housed in a newly refurbished laboratory at the University’s Meston building, and the University is working with OGIC and companies with interests in the North Sea and beyond to deliver innovation on deep drilling projects. 

“There was a competitive bidding process for this apparatus, and discussions are already taking place with potential industrial partners whose endorsements were instrumental in ensuring the equipment came to Aberdeen,” Dr Healy said.

He added that the equipment will be used in conjunction with a new X-ray Computerised Tomography (CT) Scanner based at the Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde, also provided by OGIC following a joint bid from the three institutions.

“The CT Scanner uses X-rays to scan the internal structure of a rock sample, and we will use the scanner in tandem with the new rock deformation apparatus to quantify the internal structure of any rock sample, before and after deformation.

“This is an immensely powerful combination that demonstrates how we can use state of the art research to aid exploration activity and drive innovation in the North Sea and elsewhere.”

Ian Phillips, Chief Executive of OGIC, said: “The development of new technologies and processes for deep drilling applications will have a key role to play in exploration and production activity at home and in international deep-water environments.

“In Scotland, we have an opportunity to leverage our North Sea experience to be at the forefront of this work and OGIC’s investment in equipment at the University of Aberdeen will help to facilitate this.  Open access to this equipment on the doorstep of our oil and gas industry will be of great benefit. 

“Indeed, promoting Aberdeen as a global centre for technology and innovation in the industry will ensure that we maximise the North Sea opportunity in the years ahead and maintain high value jobs and expertise within the region beyond the operational life of fields in the UKCS.”

University of Aberdeen Principal, Professor Sir Ian Diamond, said: “The fact that the University has been selected by OGIC to receive this state of the art equipment is testament to our position as a leading university in energy research.

“Through the City Region Deal we have worked closely with our partners to promote the development of a high-value innovation agenda for the region, spanning both universities and industry.

“With this apparatus we will work closely with industry to develop solutions that will aid exploration and production in the North Sea and elsewhere, thus demonstrating our contribution to the innovation landscape within the region and beyond.”

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