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The Employees’ Prize

Total E&P Angola’s subsea drilling team has come up with a universal subsea drilling system for all of the fields in Block 17, in the Gulf of Guinea. Its introduction will bring added operational flexibility and safety, as well as savings amounting to almost $20 million.

Luis Benchimol

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Roland Umasabor

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Vincent Romeo

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A subsea drilling system overcoming the growing technical complexity on Block 17 - Best Innovators 2017 - Exploration Production - Total

Off the coast of Angola, Block 17 is Total’s largest deep offshore unit, with over 230 wells currently in operation. Over time this block has become a patchwork of great technical complexity, with each project designed specifically and each field developed independently of the others, with no standardization. Successive generations of subsea equipment have been installed in the block, all with different interfaces meaning they are incompatible with each other.

Focus / Block 17: a case study in pioneering
Total has been a pioneer in the development of deepwater offshore fields since the late 1990s. Production at Block 17 began at the end of 2001 at the Girassol field, followed by Dalia (2006), Rosa (2007), Pazflor (2011) and finally Clov (June 2014). Its production level currently peaks at 700,000 barrels per day, and 50% of the reserves have already been recovered. Two billion barrels remain to be extracted. Renamed the “Golden Block” thanks to its impressive resources, Block 17 is a global case study in technological innovation. The experience we have gained in Angolan waters has enabled us to reach a high level of industrialization in our deepwater developments, a fact that is widely recognized by our peers. Deepwater operations currently account for 40% of the Group’s production and more than 50% of its prospects.

Block 17: from decompartmentalizing fields to the need for standardization

The silo approach used up until 2015 was able to fend off this incompatibility problem of our subsea equipment. We therefore had one drilling unit armed with specific equipment for each of the five fields. However, given that the costs surrounding a single drilling unit were reaching $1.5 million per day, a new solution became necessary, and with it the need to decompartmentalize the operational and construction areas of the different well systems.

Total E&P Angola’s subsea drilling team therefore started thinking about designing universal subsea equipment that could be used for all of the fields in the block. The aim was to combine all of the existing systems into one single drill rig. The simple premise of this innovation belied an enormous technical challenge, because the new equipment would have to be suitable for both horizontal and vertical wellheads.

A universal subsea drilling system that will soon be rolled out to other fields

In September 2014, an initial test carried out on the Girassol field validated the concept of universality. In the wake of this, the number of drilling units in operation in Block 17 was cut from five to one between 2015 and 2017. Deployed in mid-2016, the universal subsea drilling system is now used for operations across all fields in Block 17, expanding the use of the two drilling rigs left on-board the boats. Its implementation has also improved control over deepwater technological risks if there is damage to a well. Another major benefit is that this innovation brings the subsidiary added flexibility in its drilling and well intervention strategy.

The direct savings in operational costs generated by this new well intervention method are estimated at $20 million. It will also be rolled out to future Block 17 development projects, thereby accelerating their time to production and cutting investment costs.

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