Alongside over thirty years of oil and gas production Scotland has developed an internationally recognised, broad based oil and gas research community involving its universities, test centres and other institutions. As long term players Scottish research groups have developed strong relationships with a large number of global oil and gas operators, contractors and manufacturers and others in the supply chain, government departments and overseas research institutes and universities Consequently Scotland’s research capabilities are inevitably closely aligned with the various stages of development of any potential oil and gas resource.
Understanding the structure of sedimentary basins
Looking at these stages of development and starting at the earliest it has been shown to be of critical importance that a good understanding is achieved of how the resource was created. This includes having to develop techniques so that the structure of sedimentary basins such as the North Sea can be properly understood. Research on this topic provides valuable knowledge on issues such as how fluids have migrated to form reservoirs so enabling much more informed decisions to be made regarding exploration procedures and programmes.
Allied to this is research in areas such as basin modelling, palaeontology, geochemistry, hydrogeology and geomagnetism all of which Scotland’s researchers are experienced in and actively working on. This has led to the development of – for example – new subsurface imaging technologies for looking with greater detail at rock structure to enable better and more accurate modeling. One such development called “multi-channel transient electromagnetic technology” was successfully commercialised via a university spin-out company which is now part of a multi-national geophysics company.
In Exploration Technologies such as drilling Scotland also has a great deal of research expertise, in areas such as problems related to stuck pipe associated with the inefficient removal of drilled cuttings which is often encountered when drilling deviated wells, when the drillstring may be lying sometimes close to the horizontal. Improving drilling speed and controllabity is also a research topic that could provide huge benefits and this has led to a project based on the development of an “ultrasonically enhanced drill bit” where the drill bit is vibrated at or close to the harmonic frequency of the material through which it is drilling. This causes it to break up much more easily and enables far faster progress.
Flow assurance capability
This balance of theoretical and modeling based research and practical engineering design and development is a hallmark of Scotland’s research capability. Flow Assurance is a term covering issues related mainly to problems encountered during production and includes two main topics namely scale deposition and hydrate formation. If left untreated both these problems can lead to a loss of production and extremely costly remedial work. Understanding what causes both forms of these flow restricting mechanisms, how they can be prevented and cleared still involves a large research effort between industry and academia. Production based research also includes work on dealing with heavy oils, managing multiphase flow, designing better water injection systems and other similar work where the constant improvement of techniques leads to higher recovery levels.
Production and transport techniques
Work is also being undertaken on production hardware. Improving separation techniques and especially environmentally acceptable water removal remains an on-going challenge as reservoirs get older. So called “Smart Well” technology is also being examined in terms of what it achieves in reducing production risk through better well monitoring and control. This technology is also being looked at as a means of reducing well intervention
frequency and its general impact on safety and reduction in operating costs.
The modern offshore oil and gas industry also includes extensive use of ships. Scotland has had a significant influence on the development of both these systems through extensive research programmes. These have led to design standards being produced in Scotland being used globally in areas such as the design of floating production systems and anchor systems.
Scotland has considerable research expertise in ship stability and safety, hydrodynamics and complex marine structures such as tension leg platform. Many of today’s offshore subsea operations are conducted using remotely operated vehicles and Scottish researchers are working with new control systems for remote and autonomous vehicle design, control systems simulation, image processing and the use of digital video for navigation purposes.
A Scottish university is also recognised as a global leader in the design and development of composite material transducers for both civil and military sonar systems and has created a successful spin-out to commercialise the technology. It is developing similar technologies for the acoustic monitoring of rotating machinery as a means of providing the early detection of a potential failure.
Whilst research in exploration and production technologies is critical to ensure the ongoing availability of oil and gas resources it is equally important to understand the economics of oil and gas exploration and development. Hence, evaluating the effectiveness of R&D policies, the security of UK oil and gas supplies including gas
storage and the economics of third party access to infrastructure. Alongside the economic aspects of the oil and gas sector there is also the important field of international business transactions and natural resources and energy law and policy which is also a topic for research in Scotland.