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Five ways early wells input reduces decommissioning risk

Five ways early wells input reduces decommissioning risk

May 3, 2023

A combination of regulatory tightening, balance sheet pressures and emissions reduction are driving decommissioning levels across an increasing number of jurisdictions.  

With 10% of North Sea assets now entering decommissioning phase and around 470 assets still to be decommissioned over the next 30 – 40 years, the UK’s energy industry is firmly focused on the energy transition. It’s a similar story in the Gulf of Mexico where 17% of assets are expected to be decommissioned by 2023.  

Despite the acceleration of decommissioning projects, there has been little change in how projects are delivered. With teams continuing to work in silos and operators contracting external support as and when needed with subsurface, wells and other disciplines often working independently of each other.

With the majority of decommissioning risk sitting with the well, engaging the wells team as early in the project as possible can significantly reduce the potential for issues and their associated costs. Taking a wells-centric approach to decommissioning not only eliminates many of the common problems associated with these complex projects but can also be a catalyst for delivering activity on time and within budget.  

Here's how…  

1. Identify the optimal solution early

Wells teams are often only brought into a project once the subsurface team has completed its phase. Engaging the wells teams early in the process allows for an open assessment of the widest range of wells and conveyancing approaches.  

The earlier the wells teams are involved the greater the opportunity there is to fully incorporate the optimal decommissioning solution into project planning, design, and contracting methodology. Over the longer term, this can save millions in lost time and project overrun.  

2. Integrate wells and subsurface teams

Taking a wells-centric approach to a project from the start allows wells and subsurface engineers to work in partnership. This enables experts to take a holistic approach to decommissioning and optimise planning efforts across the field abandonment and barrier strategies as well as well-specific approaches.

Greater collaboration between wells and subsurface workflows, not only reduces project risks but also ensures the most cost-effective and efficient approaches are identified early on.

3. Expert understanding of game-changing technology  

Wells activity is one of the most technology-focused parts of a decommissioning campaign. Expert understanding of the status of game-changing technology in the wells space, and access to that information early in the planning process, can have a significant impact on project efficiency.  

Putting this focus front and centre in the planning process allows a full assessment of the latest technology and options for new abandonment methods to be incorporated into the project.

4. Small optimisations for greater gains during well decommissioning

Wells are the single largest cost and the most time intensive part of a decommissioning campaign. Accounting for more than 50% of the project costs, small optimisations made during the wells decom phase can have major time and cost implications.

These optimisations can occur during planning, through close integration with other teams, such as subsurface, through the deployment of new technology, or through operational excellence during the execution phase.

In addition, during the operational phase of well decommissioning, the optimisation of work instructions and the ability to respond swiftly to changes in well conditions are critical to ensuring time and cost targets are met.  

5. Understand regulatory demands  

Wells activity is some of the most highly regulated in oil and gas. Expert knowledge of the regulatory landscape, the specific wells criteria that must be met, and accepted methods to optimise performance, is critical in achieving best-in-class decommissioning performance.  

Many Operators also face ongoing challenges with wells that fall outside of regulatory standards. A wells-focused approach can support the prioritisation of these ageing wells and develop work programmes that are both efficient and support the objectives of the regulator in securing legacy wells infrastructure.

With an extensive track record of successfully delivering hundreds of wells engineered, abandoned and project-managed wells, Elemental Energies is a significant hub of well engineering talent within the industry. Our track record also includes more than a decade of experience working on CCS projects which is now a key component of the accelerating decarbonisation efforts around the world.

Committed to shaping the wells-focused projects, Elemental Energies is building a world-leading offering to solve complex challenges in oil and gas, decommissioning and the low carbon sectors of CCUS, and geothermal.

Find out more about our decommissioning offering here.

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