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Bridge to the Future

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An ambitious and multi-faceted investment programme, centred upon one of the UK North Sea’s oldest platforms, is reaping rewards for the team at Repsol Sinopec Resources UK and the wider supply chain. Wireline explores the principles of maximising economic recovery in action.

“The Montrose Area Redevelopment (MAR) has been the most challenging project of my career but highly rewarding,” says general manager Brian Winton. A strong endorsement from someone who was there at the start and has seen it all.

Industry veteran Brian was working in maintenance offshore when production was just getting under way on the Montrose platform in 1976. He recalls the excitement of that time and the strong feeling of community.

“If there was a problem anywhere, it was all hands-on deck. It was about having quality conversations with individuals and I think that’s still important.

“And lunchtimes and evenings were for fishing – you’d often have rows of people with their lines,” reminisces Brian. “Anything we caught was taken down to the galley and it was fresh fish for all for the evening meal.”

Now, more than 40 years on, he is again playing a pivotal role in the field’s journey as it goes through something of a re-birth, with a £1.9 billion life extension programme encompassing a much wider network of fields and prolonging production to beyond 2030.

“The wider industry can look at what we’ve done and see it’s possible to execute major developments with older infrastructure and still operate it safely and economically,” enthuses Brian.

Expanding the network

The MAR project kicked off in 2011. By then, alongside the two oldest fields in the portfolio – Montrose and Arbroath – there were additional discoveries in the form of Arkwright, Brechin and Wood tied back to the original infrastructure. The MAR programme planned to expand the growing production hub further by bringing three new fields – Godwin, Cayley and Shaw – onstream. The strategy was not only about accessing new reserves, but extending the life of a network of existing fields that would otherwise have been ceasing production around now.

“The wider industry can look at what we’ve done and see it’s possible to execute major developments with older infrastructure and still operate it safely and economically.”

The project has involved installing a new bridge-linked platform (BLP) tying back Cayley and Shaw to Montrose; an extensive subsea construction programme; and large-scale upgrades to the Montrose asset to effectively match a 40-year-old platform with its new high-tech counterpart. The upgrades include a new central control room, pipework, and fire, gas and emergency shutdown systems, alongside changes to the power generators and additional living quarters to support the operation of two platforms.

In doing so, the project aims to unlock 100 million barrels of reserves, in addition to the 270 million already produced from the area, and has secured around 2,000 jobs during construction, fabrication, installation, subsea engineering and drilling.

The UK Government recognised the programme’s economic value when it made it one of the first significant projects to benefit from the then Brown Field Allowance – a tax allowance introduced in 2012 (replaced with the Investment Allowance from 2015) to encourage renewal and life extension of existing fields.

The personal touch

Around mid-way through execution in 2014, after the BLP jacket had been installed, the project was paused for review for viability, partly in response to the oil price decline. It was re-sanctioned by operator Repsol Sinopec Resources UK and field partner Marubeni Oil & Gas (UK) Limited with revised budget and timescale targets. Plans for further infill drilling around the Montrose platform were postponed so that capital could be directed to the rest of the development. New personnel were introduced to the business in 2015 to head up the journey to close-out.

“I think the fact we took time out to meet everyone that went offshore sent a powerful message.”

Brian took on the general manager role, with oversight of all operations, while Hugh McClure joined as project manager.

“I’m in the later stages of my career and wanted to do something exciting and challenging, and this looked like a great opportunity,” says Brian. “When I arrived, the Montrose and Arbroath platforms had been shut-in for remedial work. My challenge was to get both platforms up-and-running efficiently and deliver the project on time and to budget.”

The project team led a multi-faceted campaign that involved 700,000 man-hours of work offshore over just 14 months. “We’d made a commitment to stakeholders that we would have first oil from Cayley and Shaw in 2017, and the only way to achieve that was to do all three major workscopes in tandem – installing the new BLP, subsea construction and upgrades to Montrose,” adds Brian. “We had to optimise our resources to be as efficient as possible and this was driven to a large extent by the culture built up around the project.”

Delivery managers were put in place to lead each individual workscope – a simplified approach that proved effective and enabled efficient arrangements with suppliers. And Brian and Hugh also brought the personal touch to a large-scale recruitment campaign ahead of the main construction phases. They personally met everyone going offshore to work on the project as part of the induction process.

“Around 4,000 people in total have worked on the project over the past two years,” explains Hugh. “That presented a big challenge, because we were recruiting people for shorter-term work and needed to align their attitudes and behaviours with ours, reinforcing our safety expectations and enabling everyone to see what we were trying to achieve. I think the fact we took time out to meet everyone sent a powerful message.”

At the height of activity last year, the accommodation vessel Safe Boreas and rig Noble Regina Allen were in the field to provide extra capacity as peak offshore numbers reached 700.

Making the right moves

The scale of the project did present challenges for the Montrose crew. Brian notes: “The crew did an exceptional job throughout in supporting the execution of 700,000 man-hours while keeping the platform safe and production going. We came into their backyard to do a massive job and they managed that scenario safely and efficiently.”

Montrose offshore installation manager at the time – Mike Sinclair – was ultimately responsible for the safety of everyone involved in the offshore work, which routinely involved multiple helicopter and ship movements daily.

Key was a streamlined logistics set-up. Mike outlines how a “very good structure was put in place to manage as many as five helicopter movements a day, while crane operations were organised around those to minimise disruption. Materials movements were also planned in a very structured way by onshore teams with support from offshore colleagues”.

“The discussions were about taking an integrated approach for the whole hub, not just producing single fields.”

At the heart of the project’s success were also the many suppliers across the country that showcase the best of the UK’s expertise and capabilities.

Most contracts went to domestic supply chain companies. These included Amec Foster Wheeler, the main contractor for the Montrose structural upgrades and hook-up operations; Subsea7 for all subsea works; drilling activity shared between Transocean Sedco 712 and Stena Spey; Offshore Group Newcastle, which built the BLP jacket; Wilton Engineering Services, which built the BLP connecting bridge and flare boom in Teesside; and CB&I, which designed the BLP out of London.

“The project has been good news in terms of the number of UK companies involved and employment levels, particularly during the busiest periods of activity,” says Hugh. “We also sought to have an impact in the local area in the north east of Scotland – we had a lot of fabrication work done locally for equipment such as spools and subsea kit.”

Local suppliers included Huntly-based R&M Engineering, which fabricated a 60-tonne water injection manifold, topsides, and hook-up pipe spools. “On projects like this, things are often needed on a fast-track basis so it’s important to understand the schedule and make sure to deliver on time and to order,” says R&M’s managing director Alan McLean.

Of the new fields, Godwin – developed via an extended reach well from the satellite Arbroath platform – began producing in 2015. First oil production from Shaw was achieved in May 2017 and from Cayley (a gas condensate field) the following month – in both cases, several weeks ahead of schedule. Both are subsea tie-backs to the BLP.

Production performance

The production stats illustrate how much the redevelopment has transformed the fortunes of the Montrose Area.

In March 2015, Repsol Sinopec’s total UK portfolio was producing around 15,000 barrels a day. By the third quarter of this year, that figure was 100,000 barrels gross – with MAR contributing at least 40,000 of those.

“For a platform of her age, it’s quite an achievement. There’s a lot of pride around Montrose right now.”

Subsurface manager Jon Seedhouse says it’s about investing to bring the operating cost per barrel down for the whole area to a level that makes existing fields viable for longer: “The initial discussions around the project back in 2011 were about taking an integrated approach for the whole hub, not just producing single fields. Our new facilities give us better reliability for both our new discoveries and for the older fields. The term maximising economic recovery (MER) hadn’t been coined at that point but the thinking was already along those lines.”

Taking pride

The next stage is to exploit the Montrose infill opportunities to sustain the 40,000-plus daily production rates for a longer period, as well as to upgrade the Arbroath platform.

“Ultimately, we want to take it to a point where we are securing its future into the 2030s,” Brian says. “We don’t want this to be a short-fuse project in which production starts to drop off within a few years, bearing in mind the scale of our investment.”

But while there’s no room for the team to kick back, they can certainly bask in their achievements. Now onshore-based maintenance manager for the development, Mike Sinclair, sums up the rewards for all those involved: “It was enormously satisfying to see the production come onstream this year and witness significant improvements from where we had been. For a platform of her age, it’s quite an achievement. There’s a lot of pride around Montrose right now.”

This article first appeared in the Autumn 2017 issue of Wireline.

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