Home: Issue 3 2012 › Advanced technology
03/04/2012 | Channel:
Technology, Equipment, Subsea
In recent years the ROV market has been one of the fastest growing in the oil and gas industry
The last decade has seen a remarkable growth in the number of operational ROVs in the global oil and gas industry, particularly among the sector’s major independent oil
companies, which are looking to replace their depleting reserves with oil and gas developments that have been characterised by exploration and production in ever-deeper waters.
In fact, in a large proportion of these types of modern development the ROV has become the technology of choice, as its ability to work and loiter for long periods of time in depths greater than 1000 metres gives oil companies the opportunity to work in areas previously inaccessible; a vital factor in the continued thrust for energy production. They also eliminate the danger of using divers and trained persons for increasingly dangerous tasks, their endurance allows operators to complete projects in one single effort and the technological capabilities and reliability of the hardware involved makes them an efficient, cost-effective option.
In the last ten years or more the largest demand for ROVs has come from companies involved in oil and gas production, as well as from green energy companies, particularly those involved with the difficult task of wind farm construction. Of course, much of this demand is in direct correlation with the geographical spread of oil and gas operations. For example, Africa and the US, where a large proportion of the world’s deepwater exploration is currently being carried out, represent some 20 per cent and 21 per cent respectively of total global demand by region. Other high areas of demand are Europe (18 per cent), Latin America (19 per cent), Asia (12 per cent) and the Middle East and Caspian Sea (six per cent).
Latin America represents a potential growth area of massive proportions within the ROV and deepwater fields in general, as the exploration in the region exemplifies the exact nature and profile of deepwater demand that desires ROV operation. Of all Latin American developments it is estimated that Brazil will see a sharp increase in ROV operations in the coming years and will be a prolific user of the technology. The country has some of the largest deepwater fields in the world, with estimates stating that some 33 per cent of its recoverable hydrocarbons are in deep waters up to 1000 metres and another 35 per cent are in even deeper water. The nature of some of these fields however is necessitating considerable investment in technology from energy companies, and the difficult subsea conditions mean that ROV developments are essential in order to achieve success.
As far as innovation is concerned, ROV manufacturers such as Canyon Offshore, Deep Ocean Engineering, I-Tech, Oceaneering International, Perry Slingsby Systems and Seaeye have continued to push the boundaries of the technology used in the industry. Indeed, today ROVs are used throughout the energy sector for some of the most demanding and complex tasks including the drilling and development of wells, installation and construction of production facilities, inspection, repair and maintenance (IRM) and decommissioning. It is estimated that globally this fleet comprises some 900 vehicles, with around 200 falling into the light work class category and the remainder being of the more powerful medium and heavy work class variants, which are capable of more demanding task and have a much higher power rating.
One major development in the ROV market has been the rise in electric powered vehicles as opposed to the more traditional, hydraulic variants, which for some years were the mainstay of deepwater oil and gas exploration. However, the previously discussed market demand has seen a significant push by manufacturers in the development of ever more powerful and capable craft that can undertake many of the jobs previously carried out by hydraulic ROVs. The emergence of the electric ROV has been aided by two key factors. Firstly, the dedication of manufacturers and producers that have worked to push the boundaries beyond simple technological developments, and more importantly, the emergence in the global oil and gas sector of a new breed of independent exploration company with a willingness and desire to use the latest breed of equipment to source resources.
Of course, with the industry still cautious in terms of investment and many projects being carefully handled in the current climate, the electric ROV provides a number of distinct advantages. Most important among these is that the technology is cheaper to produce and operate, is easier and faster to deploy and needs less deck space onboard and fewer crew to operate. Furthermore, greater power and versatility than hydraulic ROVs gives the electric class a distinct advantage when operating in
challenging conditions, including operating in tight places where movement is restricted – conditions that can be found in many of the more extreme exploration areas such as Brazil and South Africa.
Closer to home, the increased market demand for ROVs and associated equipment has brought a number of benefits to the UKCS oil and gas industry. Not only is the North Sea subsea market a hotbed for technical development, and in many cases a world leader in technological developments, but the extreme growth in recent years has seen a steep rise in the requirements for skilled ROV personnel. In the UK, The Underwater Centre in Fortwilliam is leading the way in providing a number of training courses and examinations to serve the global industry with the expertise required.
The large curve in technological developments means that these courses are more complex and demanding than ever before. For example, the development of increasingly capable ROVs and associated technology has meant that new specialist skills have become increasingly important in ensuring that the ROVs in the field remain in service. This ‘new’ skills set values mechanics, hydraulics, fibre optics and mechatronics – all skills that are needed to ensure that deep water construction, maintenance and repair work can be carried out. Such developments are providing the energy industry with much needed personnel in a challenging area where previously there have been limited employment opportunities.
Looking ahead, the ROV market is only expected to grow. While many may be concerned about slack in the market, or over-cautious investment on the part of many of the major oil and gas companies, it is estimated that this caution will be overcome by the robust demand that is expected in the coming four or five years. Furthermore, new growth areas in the market, such as that of decommissioning, will also provide new opportunities for ROV operators, and combined with the fact that for the foreseeable future, deepwater exploration will be the main focus of the industry, it means that the ROV will likely be one of the key enabling factors in energy production for many years.